How to Make a Return Cut on Molding

Solve appearance issues on the ends of molding by making a return. We'll show you how.

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Although most people are enthusiastic about the appearance of a wood's face grain, there are very few fans for a wood's end grain. This is the cut—usually on the end of a board—that reveals the wood's annual rings and the tiny structures that moved sap through the living tree. But even after a tree becomes lumber, the ends of these channels suck stain and finish in greater amounts than the face grain. That's why end grain turns unattractively dark.

The ends of moldings or window stools that display end grain have an additional drawback because the design on the face doesn't continue around the end. It looks cut off because it literally is cut off.

A return on the end of a piece of molding solves both of these appearance issues, eliminating end grain and continuing the design around the end. Try it and you'll discover that it's an easy technique that gives your projects an upgraded look.

If you're dealing with painted moldings, you could also try the faux return described later. It's a bit more labor intensive, but there may be times you'll want it.

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Step 1: Make Cuts

Make a miter cut on the end of a piece of molding, then position the wood so that the blade edge will precisely meet the edge of the miter cut. To make the blade's path easy to see, temporarily attach 1/4-inch plywood to the saw's base with double-faced tape. Cut a kerf into the plywood to show precisely where the blade cuts.

Step 2: Glue Together

Brush a tiny amount of glue onto the return and the mitered molding. Rub the two pieces together until the glue starts to grab. Add a couple of pieces of masking tape to immobilize the parts while the glue dries.

Tool Tip: How to Cope Quickly

Orient the teeth of your coping saw to cut on the downstroke when holding the saw as shown in the photo. This position gives you maximum power and control. Clamp the wood to slash the total energy required and reduce the risk of slicing your hand.

Bonus: How to Make a Faux Return

Here's another way to continue the pattern around the end of the molding. Make a miter cut, then a vertical cope cut along the molding's design. For the smoothest results, sand the cut line. Because of the exposed end grain, this technique is more suitable under paint instead of a clear finish.

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