Moulding Quality Issues

A batch of mouldings with quality problems sets off a discussion of proper dimensions, back-relief, and surface smoothness for base, casing, and jamb stock. December 15, 2005

I am a cabinet/furniture maker type guy who also makes molding and does occasional finish work. I just finished installing a few rooms full of my built-ins for some people who are playing at being their own contractors. They decided that they wanted me to install stain grade rock maple trim in the rooms that I furnished for them. They have a working relationship with a molding supply company and they had their personal painter/finisher stain, seal and deliver the mouldings to the residence.

I set my equipment up on site and when I started to install the casings, I noticed that they did not have a relief channel/groove machined in the back side. I mentioned this to the homeowner and he called the supplier. The supplier told the homeowner that this was their standard practice - to omit the back relief - and that they had piles of contractors who love their moldings and prefer to smash the sheetrock with hammers to get the casings to lay flat, instead of paying extra to get the casings with a back relief on it.

Am I some kind of whiner or primadonna to think that casing without a back relief is B.S.? (I took it all back to my shop and ran a groove, since the supplier said they did all they were required to do.)

Also, all the jamb stock delivered had saw marks on both edges, although the finisher had someone run a palm sander on them, which sanded out about 60% of the saw marks. After I saw the saw marks on all the jamb and sill edges, I checked the edges of the casings and found that they all had saw marks on both edges as well. What do you think about that?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
You are correct, the moulding should have a backout in it. The backout's job is pretty important. It allows for any unevenness between the framing and sheetrock, and it also allows for some airflow and helps keep the moulding stable. If you take all the cut from one side of the moulding and none from the other, you could have a cupping or warping effect in the mouldings, depending on the depth of cut and grain patterns.

I believe your products have been run on a four spindle moulder instead of five or six, not allowing the manufacturer to put a backout in on the last bottom spindle without running it twice. Most moulder manufacturers do not recommend putting a backout relief cutter on the first bottom spindle due to a small cutting circle on that spindle along with the rebate cutter. It can be done, but the backout in most cases is about 1/16". This should be enough to help you with the unevenness of the sheetrock.

As for the saw marks, it sounds like the lumber was pre-ripped too small. In most cases, the lumber is ripped 1/4" oversized from the finished dimension. Maybe the operator took too much lumber from the right spindle, not leaving enough for the left to take off.

Whatever the excuse was, it was that indeed - just an excuse. If I was the homeowner, the mouldings would be going back to the manufacturer to be done right. There is no reason why you shouldn't expect a mill job to be done right. You're a skilled craftsman and you expect all craftsmen to have the same quality standard and pride in their work as you do in yours. Keep your head up - there are a lot of highly skilled craftsmen in this industry with the same quality standards as you and I. I believe this company will not be around too much longer, for they will be the victim of a going out of business sale.

As to the first part of your question, it sounds like someone is also "playing" moulder operator/supplier. The relief in the back is not there to span over drywall mud, although that is a common misconception (and added benefit). It is there to relieve the tension across the wood fibers on the back of the moulding in order to discourage the wood from cupping away from the drywall. It is industry standard, even if it is not their standard practice. We relieve our jamb stock, also. Sounds like this guy is fairly clueless, and I am really glad to hear that you took the time to do it yourself. That just might save you a callback.

No, I don't think you are a whiner or primadonna for expecting things done correctly. I would be embarrassed if a carpenter or any other customer had these problems from my product.

As for the saw marks, it is obvious that we are talking about someone using a one head moulder, like a W&H or similar. A production moulder would not leave saw marks on either edge, even on S4S jambs. Also, it would machine a relief cut at the same time as everything else. That is why (I suspect) he indicates he would charge extra - for him it requires another setup and pass. This guy is obviously ripping his material to width and shoving it in his moulder, without regard for quality. Now, before all you W&H fans out there jump down my throat, I know this is a great machine that produces quality material, but this guy isn't taking the extra steps necessary to produce production moulder quality.

My advice would be to create a file in the old cranium about this guy and avoid him in the future. This guy is a hack. If these customers want to trim their entire house with this stuff, then you may need to educate them on the quality issues you had to deal with. You shouldn't have any problem finding a shop with a production moulder to match that profile without all those issues. If they don't want to change suppliers, maybe you should add to the price for your extra labor.

I am curious about his pricing. Have you had the opportunity to see his prices? I suspect that he is pretty cheap. You get what you pay for.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I am relieved that I am not just fussy. I have a planer style molder myself, that I hand grind molding knives for. When I noticed the saw marked edges on the casings, I too suspected they were run on a planer style molder.

I make quality molding with my small shop molder by first machining an S4S molding blank, which I then face mold and back relief cut with a second molder setup or a dado on the tablesaw, depending upon the profile, since some profiles must be back cut first, due to their shape.

I would never dream of putting out moldings or jamb stock with saw mark edges. Incredibly, this is apparently a large supplier. I think the supplier is lying to the homeowner to cover for the fact that they don't stock hard maple and they were behind in production, so they subcontracted these moldings out to some clueless jerk with a Foley Belsaw and a tablesaw. I agree that the homeowners got ripped off, but the husband has had previous dealings with the molding supplier and he is inclined to believe the BS this guy is feeding him.

I didn't even tell you about how the supplier treated me on the telephone the day before yesterday, when I asked him why the jamb stock he provided for the two pocket doors I had to trim was brought in at .75" x 1.5" to replace the existing paint grade jambs that measure .625" x 1.375". He acted like I was a whiner, and why don't I just "rip them down," if I am, after all, a finish carpenter. I explained that the homeowners had already paid to have the pocket door jamb stock stained and lacquered, and he replied that I could just put the sawmarks toward the pocket door and they wouldn't be seen.

And the kicker is that this pocket door jamb material is some of the most crooked I have ever seen! Anybody ever see how flimsy the walls of a pocket door cavity are? I'll just bet that the 1.25" bow in the edge of the rock maple is going to win the battle of which one retains its shape.

Sounds like the mouldings were purchased from a small shop that doesn't have high-end clients. Yes, trim should have a plow in the back, and for all the reasons mentioned - cupping, and easier to hang on the drywall.

I do have to say though the purchaser should have refused the order from the get go and gone with a better source. As far as the jambs, it all depends on the width and how they are being hung. I have manufactured thousands of shapes and sizes, with or without a plow, but the sides should have a nice, clean bevel cut, or door could hang up. I have even run quality jambs on a shaper, just depends on how it's set up and if it's going into a pre-hung door machine or hand done. I guess I would complain, but like I said, the purchaser should have refused the order if not happy.

Another vote here from a mill shop guy for the opinion that a back-out in casings, jambs and even baseboards is SOP. A statement to the contrary is, in my opinion, a bunch of hooey, and is more than likely born from constraints on equipment or experience.

Most of the work done at my place of employment is custom mouldings. Very often, a drawing of a casing is faxed or emailed to us without a relief cut drawn in. I always verify that that is indeed what the customer wants, and 9 out of 10 times, it is not. I suspect that many in the biz assume the relief cut as a given, and therefore can't be bothered with the labor-intensive and time-consuming process of drawing that offset parallel line. Down at the bottom of the food chain, it is a fancy optional extra. Pity.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for all the input. The saga continues. Today I got around to unwrapping the baseboard and discovered it is a big fat .375" thick (3/8"). I was wondering just how I was going to pin nail the outside corners without splits and shiners when the lady of the house put her foot down and said if she wanted base board that thin, she could paint it on! The paint grade base I was replacing with stain grade maple was 9/16" thick. Is this becoming a common thickness (3/8")? I have never seen any before.

3/8"??? Sounds like that poly-foam crap you can buy at the home center. This guy is someone to stay clear of. I would not install this base myself.

I don't think any of this is your problem, unless you don't want your name attached to it. Show the homeowner the saw marks, explain about the back relief, ask them if they really want 3/8" thick base... and it's up to them.

Sounds like the manufacturer is trying to stretch his 5/4 and 6/4 on the resaw end of production to be more profitable (doesn't sound profitable loosing customers). But, I have had customers who wanted thinner material, so we designed the casing and the base to fit each other, reviles, etc. This job sounds like it had a lot of lack of communication and you got caught in the middle of it all. In these times of MDF and fake mouldings, quality wood trim with quality carpenters still shines through. Keep up the good work - it never hurts to make sellers and purchasers honest in our line of work.

From the original questioner:
Yes, I did get caught in the middle and it will hang me up because I have my equipment set up on the second floor of a very fancy house that you are not allowed to wear shoes in. It takes quite a while to bring tools, etc. in or out. The boss lady said she is definitely rejecting the 3/8" base board, so I must now wait until new base is acquired and sent to the finisher. I am wondering if 3/8" base is a sign of things to come? Once upon a time, a "two by" was a full 2" thick, a "one by" was a full inch, and quarter inch plywood didn't measure 3/16".

3/8"??? Holy cow. Interior door stop where I work isn't this thin. All of our manufactured mouldings are, and (I'm not sure if this the right term) "architecturally correct." Our interior jambs are 3/4, not 11/16 or even 5/8. Interior door stiles are 4 1/2 wide, exterior 5 inches wide, etc. Is that 3/8" thick or 3/8" thin?