end-return
The fancy end return on this window trim was created with a small cap like the one shown here. Photo: Bruce MacNab

Can you tell good trim work from bad trim work? Some flaws are obvious, like sloppy joints filled with caulking and mitered joints that aren’t sanded flush.

A sure sign of a lazy finish carpenter is exposed end grain. End grain is the butt end of a board. In other words, it’s where you can see the tree rings. It’s almost impossible to paint end grain. It just keeps drinking paint and leaves a flat finish. This is why it should be covered.

Most trim ends are hidden, like where a baseboard butts into a door casing. You can’t see the baseboard end grain here.

Sometimes mouldings are installed in a way that end grain is visible, like a piece of baseboard that stops at the top of a stairway. Probably the best example is the piece of trim under a window, called an apron.

The best way to hide end grain is to install end returns. These are tiny bits of trim that cap the ends of mouldings by using an edge miter.

There was a time when it was tough to cut little pieces of trim because cutting was done by hand with backsaws and miter boxes. Nowadays it’s pretty easy to cut these little caps with electric miter saws.

Keep your fingers well away from the blade by cutting caps off the ends of pieces that are at least a foot long.

Cut the 45 degree cap miter first then turn the piece of trim upside down, flat on your saw. This way you can see where the miter cut meets the back of the trim. This is the point where you make your square cut.

Some of the caps will split or fly away with the sawdust. You’ll probably cut some backwards, as well. Don’t forget to cut left-hand pieces and right-hand pieces.

End returns don’t get installed until after the main piece of trim is fastened to the wall. The caps are too small to nail. Instead, just glue them with yellow carpenter’s glue. Once the glue sets go back and neaten up the miters with sandpaper.

These caps do something else besides hiding the end grain. They also copy the face of your trim, transferring this profile to the ends. This can create some interesting shapes especially with colonial trim.

End return caps can be fussy to work with, but with a little practice you’ll be amazed by the results. Until next time, I hope you have many happy returns.

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