Built for Speed: Efficiency and Production Trimming part 1

If you’re doing production trim and general finish carpentry, it’s all about efficiency. Developing systems to speed up processes while still putting out a good product sets you apart from others in the market. The biggest time-sucks doing to trim work are moving from your cut station to the work, setting up a cut/beveling the saw, changing tools, and moving material. Every time you’re digging through a tool box, rearranging stacks of trim boards, beveling your saw, or anything else other than cutting or nailing, you’re losing money, I’m going to show you how to streamline all of these processes. Here’s how I tackle trimming a whole house.

Setup a game plan

Every house I trim, I approach the same way:

Set the cabinets–that means all of them.

  • Set every cabinet in the kitchen, butler’s pantry, wet bar, vanities, pre-built mudrooms, etc. This has several advantages:
  • Gets the cabinets out of your way
  • Less likely to damage them while moving things around
  • Allows time for replacements of any incorrect cabinets or damaged doors
  • Gets ready for plumbing and electrical final (and gets them out of your way)

I’ll do a future post on setting cabinets. It’s often the most demanding task on these jobs.

Coffers and Crown

  • Do it now before there’s a bunch of trim and tools in you way.
  • Pre-build blocking.
  • Measure every run and cut.
  • For crowned coffers, build the whole frame on the bench, then fit into place!

Hang the doors

  • Stock every door (with a helper ideally)
  • Hang and case every door
  • Trim all your shims

Case the doors

  • Measure all your casings
  • cut, glue and clamp every casing **pre-assembled on a bench and stacked against the wall in order**
  • stock every casing (ideally with a helper, carrying them in pairs
  • Fix any out of plane drywall or mud build up
  • Run air hoses to top floor, furthest room
  • Nail off casings, starting top floor, furthest room, and work your way back out.


  • Make a story pole with stock heights for each cleat. Write the material thickness your using for each.
  • Walk closet to closet with your story pole and a stud finder. Label each closet with a letter or number. Mark each height and any non-standard features. Mark center of each stud.
  • Measure every closet with a laser and framing square. On the framing square, put painters tape on one leg at each shelving depth. Measure the back of the shelf, check for square, notate variance at the shelf depths (1/4″ out of square at 2 inches is way different than 1/4″ out of level at 12″). Make a note of front and back dimensions and which sides are out.
  • Cut all your cleats and put a clamp around the stack (like an irwin quick grip). Profile edges as needed.
  • Stock cleats in each closet.
  • Nail them off. Put a torpedo level on the top of the cleat, level it off your mark, nail to every stud. Put the clamps on your story pole and take them back to your cut station.
  • Cut and stock shelving, labeled for each closet, each position, clamped together with a quick grip clamp.
  • Nail off shelving, bulkheads, angle bracing, closet rod supports.


  • Measure the whole house. Cut and stock a room at a time. Nail the whole house.
  • Splices get a butt joint, glue, and biscuit.
  • Outside miters get an accurate angle measurement, pre-assembled with glue, collins clamps, and left to dry.
  • Inside miters are coped or, for 1E1, butted, but never inside mitered.

Windows and jambs:

  • Box in windows at the bench, pre-assembled with pocket screws and glue.
  • Cut all casings at once. Apply 4-sided “picture frame” casings to boxed window assemblies before mounting.
  • Jambed openings are built with boxed windows. Bypass doors are done with windows.
  • Aprons and sills are measured and cut all at once, then leveled and nailed off. Apron miter returns are done at the bench and micro pinned.

Miscellaneous Millwork and Stairs

  • The fancy stuff. Do it last so it doesn’t get messed up as you move all your materials around and other subs do their thing. This is your reward for schlepping baseboards for weeks.

Organize your material

Stack your material the way you trim!

Stack it this way. Set up or build your racks, then load it in the opposite way.

Stack it this way. Set up or build your racks, then load it in the opposite way.

trim lumber rack for on site storage

trim lumber rack for on site storage

Aliexpress Tool Finds: new blog series

I’ve been curious for a time about the quality of tools that are available on import sites like AliExpress. I have a feeling that there are some gems out there to be found, and given the incredible prices on some of these items. In short, I’ve decided to give it a shot. I’ll be posting reviews of small hand tools and multitool blades here to start.

First up, some stop collars for drilling. Stop collars are cool because they allow you to have more control over your drilling depth without using a drill press. They’re good for doing repetitive tasks in the field especially. This set was $2.29 shipped to my door from China.


Here is how they came. 8 collars and an allen key packed in a poly bag.


Everything is as described. All the set screws are in place. Decent fit and finish.


The verdict? Worth every penny! Do any of these look familiar?

Identical sets on Amazon.com

Identical sets on Amazon.com


Smarter Business: Vetting Contractors

In the skilled trades, we often accept work from people we know little to nothing about, often with some form of contract, but especially for small jobs this can be a simple as a verbal agreement. When collecting payment, we’re often taking these people at their word. With communities become more populous and alienated, the social pressures that once existed to enforce these contracts have all but vanished. There are luckily a few things that a tradesman can check before doing business to minimize risk. Granted, this is not a fail-proof approach; I’ve been burned by people I’ve vetted this way. However, you can at least minimize the risks.

Business Filings

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Check that their trade name is registered and in good standing. The state secretary’s office manages this records and most states’ records are online now. Try searching for “your state”, SOS. This will provide several valuable pieces of information.

  • How long they’ve been in business
    • Do you see numerous DBA changes? Has the business owner told you they’ve been in business for decades, but is working under a new trade name?
  • Their business address or registered agent
    • Many legitimate businesses use registered agents for a number of reasons, but it could be an attempt to obscure the primary stakeholder’s identity.
  • Legal name
    • Does their legal name match the name they’ve given you?
    • Are there other businesses filed by the same person?
  • Filing status
    • If they haven’t kept up with their tax filings, they will be in delinquent status. If they don’t pay the state promptly, will they pay you?

If their address listed is a home address, check the property records. Do they own their home? While there’s nothing wrong with renting, it’s not exactly normal for a successful contractor to still be renting, especially when they have the tools and income to buy an affordable home and remodel. Do they have poor credit? Is it their real address? I wouldn’t necessarily rule out doing business someone based on this alone, but it is the beginning of a trend.

Residential Records

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These records are held by the respective county in which the person resides. Many property assessors records are now online and searchable by multiple criteria.

  • Chain of Title
    • Has the home in foreclosure?
    • Is the contractor still the current owner?
    • Is the property owned by a landlord or other party?
  • Spouse
    • Another name to vet for business entities
  • Former HUD
    • There are very specific criteria that must be met to qualify for a HUD home, most of which would disqualify a successful businessman.

Contractors Licensing Office

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Many cities are beginning to make their contractor databases publicly searchable. Is this licensed contractor active for the county and building classification you’re supposed to be working on?


Check permutations of the contractor’s full legal name, nicknames, maiden names, etc. Have they had businesses in other states recently? Are they still active? In good standing? How is their rating with the Better Business Bureau? Are they members? Check contractor review and lead generation sites for their names and trade names. What are customers saying? Are there any reviews from former employees or subcontractors? Tip: Use quotation marks to tell google exactly what you want.