How to cut molding end caps (return pieces)

I’m installing new molding in my house and am battling with cutting the end caps on exposed ends. The square ends are easy (45 degrees for each), but I have compound ends in a couple of places. I’ll try to describe the type of end I’m trying to do, and I would appreciate any help from the more skilled carpenters out there.


Molding main piece is cut 42 degrees on the end with a 45 degree bevel. I need to cut the end piece (return piece?) so the finished side is exposed and fits neatly in the 9/16 width of the end of the molding.


Amateur Carpenter…

I’m having a real hard time visualizing what you are doing. Let’s start here -

What kind of molding (base, casement, crown, chair rail, trim) are you talking about?

What are you doing (i.e. casing a window, etc.)?

Where are you having the trouble (i.e. interior room corner, head casing to side casing, etc.)?

What are end caps?

What do you mean by square ends at 45 degrees (should be 90 degrees, at least in my head)?

Is the 45 degree bevel face to back, or reversed?

Is the 42 degree the face slope of the pattern of the molding, or what?

Without a visual, I’m guessing you are trying to join an interior corner and the molding design is getting in the way. Have you tried coping it? See below:

Compound cuts (that fit) are going to be hard to do with out a very good power miter box.

I think I do know what you mean by the end cuts though. — No return for the 45 degree cut.

Hmmmm. Is it really needed? Will you ever see it? You won’t if its painted, you will have to look for it if it’s stained.

My first two posts were lost, so this will be short and sweet.

From what I can tell, you’re installing a rather complex profile of crown molding, which is much more difficult than some would imagine. Whatever it is, however, the return is vital to making it look acceptable. It’s a mark of craftsmanship. Don’t skip doing it.

First, accept the fact that most of the experts out there in the real world don’t know what the heck they’re talking about–and I’m including lots of production carpenters and the boys over at Home Depot and Lowe’s. These guys usually get by with lots of caulk and bad lighting. The more I learn about woodworking and carpentry–I’ve got a lot of time on my hands and a big house and barn–the more I realize that these Professional BS’ers know next to nothing. (End of rant.)

Second, make sure you acclimate the wood properly. Bring it into your house and let it sit there a good couple of months. Many people neglect this step, but when the wood later shrinks and your lapped joints and mitered/coped corners open up, the results will be disappointing. And make sure to spring the longer pieces.

Third, make sure you’re using a power miter saw. I’ve got a very fancy compound miter saw, but I’ve found that cutting my crown standing up allows for more accurate fine tuning than laying it flat. And forget about a miter box and back saw. The results are bad and it’s a royal pain in the butt.

Fourth, build yourself a jig. I can’t explain how over the Net, but check back issues of Family Handyman. Jigs make for easier work. Ever notice what a pain it is to work with 16-foot lengths?

Fifth, accept the fact that getting good at finish carpentry–especially crown molding, the king of moldings AND the king of headaches–takes time. If you want to speed the learning curve, get a quality craftsman to give you a lesson or two.

Last, take notes as you go and build a few sample pieces with the settings on them.

As for the end/returns/caps, they are mirror images of the longer pieces. I cannot explain how to do it over the NET–and have it make sense to you–just play around and you will get it. Make sure to make notes as you go.

I have been a cabinetmaker for twenty years.
My credentials are linked here:

(I post on that forum as Pablo)
From your description it sounds like you are trying to do returns on crown molding. Crown molding is fit to the wall/ceiling sprung. That is, it is angled. One way to cut it is to use compound angles set on a power miter box, and lay the molding flat. I prefer to place the molding upsidedown on a conventional miter saw and saw it in the same manner in which is installed on the wall. In other words, the molding does not sit flat on my miter box, but is sprung there as well.
A mitered return, accomplished within the total throw (distance the molding projects from the wall) of the molding is easily accomplished by following this technique:
1-Miter the main piece of molding. This piece runs along the wall, and ends suddenly in you return, where it makes a 9o degree turn and dies into the wall.
2- Miter a return piece, extra long. Ultimately it will be only as long as the throw of the molding, but for now leave it long.
3-Glue the return to the main run. Nails may help too, but the point is to fix it to the main run, so they will form a single assembly. The glue is important however, don’t use nails alone. If you must use nails, they are only to hold the pieces in place until the glue forms a bond.
4-Cut the extra length of the return so that it is equal in length to the throw of the molding. A tablesaw can help, but it can be done with a handsaw.

5- Install the molding in the ordinary fashion, lining the return up to it’s desired location.
** tsunamisurfer** is correct when he says not to skip this step. It is the hallmark of craftsmanship.
{rant mode}
He is wrong, however, to speak about handtools the way he does. I work in the trade professionally, and use them all the time. Few do, and few know/remember how to, but I do it all the time. I work fast and precise, and can often beat another craftsman who works with power tools. It worked for Thomas Chippendale, and it works for me too. You can do it too, and with a minimum of patience and application of skill, get the job done. One does not need a lot of expensive power tools to do woodworking.
{/rant mode}
Hope this helps.

Oh, and cope your inside corners too BTW. Always!


Note that the cornice of my Blockfront linked above (2nd link) the crown is returned four times. It is a bit different to do on this piece of furniture, but is this the look you are trying to get? Also note that each return is longer than the throw of the crown itself.
I made a point of telling you to do the returns long, but failed to explain my rationale.
It’s simple.
The long returns will be easier to control, and once the glue forms a bond, cutting them down will be easy. make sure the teeth of the saw point toward the main body of the assembly, so that they will in effect push the pieces together while cutting; an important detail, for working with this somewhat fragile assembly.

This improved message board has lost another of my long posts, so here’s a shortened version.

No, Forbin, I’m not wrong, but I appreciate your rant.

If you read my post again, it is you, not I, who is making categorical statements. I said nothing derogatory about “hand tools” in general. I spoke only of miter boxes; specifically, the crap one is likely to find at the big-box retailers. It is awful.

Second, given equal expertise, no craftsman can possibly rival the speed of a power tool–saws, sanders, planers, jointers, etc. I’ve heard people claim this before, but they are simply wrong; it’s a matter of physics. As for quality, I would say that the craftsman’s own skill level has much more to do with it than the tool s/he uses and also add that there should not be a bias against power tools. I’ve several friends who are professional custom woodworkers, one profiled awhile back in a national magazine, and all of them use power tools, some a great deal. Also, nowhere did I make a categorical slam of hand tools, nor did I say that anyone needs “a lot of expensive power tools.” I spoke of a power miter saw, plain and simple.

Third, you may be a 20-year professional, but perhaps you have forgotten that learning any aspect of woodworking is not acquired through a “minimum of patience and skills.” I recommended a power miter saw/compound miter saw because it allows for lightning fast micro-adjustments in your cuts. Most DIY’s want to do the job fast (and well). But pushing a novice to learn the fine (and lost) art of hand tooling without adequate mentoring/practice is not likely to yield satisfying results.

Last, I’m glad that folks like you still exist. Your method is time honored. Best of fortunes to you and yours.

To all of you who replied to my question, thanks for the helpful information. With your help and a little experimenting, I figured it out.