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How To Create A Chair Rail Return

The Phenomenal Woman
Maya Angelou, 
once said:
“When you learn, teach.
When you get, give.”

And so my friends, I humbly give to you what I have recently learned.
If you ever find yourself installing a chair rail that will have an exposed end – like at window or door trim, or an outside corner of a room, you can create a little end piece that finishes, or caps off, the chair rail. This piece is called a return. Although I knew what it looked like, I didn’t know the term before my bookcase project, and also, I was very leery on how to make a return and do it well.
Little did I know this little trick of finish carpentry is actually pretty easy, and makes such a difference in the end result!
Look at the difference of trim that doesn’t have a return, and one that does. Without the return the chair rail ends in a 90 degree cut.
With a return, the chair rail is cut on a 45 degree angle, and a little pie-shaped piece is used to cap it off, give the end a pretty detail.
Before I get to how to make that little end piece, some quick reasoning on why I trimmed out the bookcase with a chair rail at all.

Prior to building the wall o’bookcases, I thought a lot about ways to add some architectural interest to them.
I considered covering the bottom two shelves of the bookcases with doors – something I might revisit at a later date.
In the end I decided to add a chair rail to the lower third of the bookcase wall.
The bookcases flank the opening between our living room and the dining room, in which there is already a chair rail. The dining room chair rail does not line up with the shelves on the bookcase.
While I still wanted to put up a chair rail, I thought it would look better to keep apart the two mismatched chair rails, so I decided not to wrap the one on the bookcase around onto the side panel. This meant that the chair rail would just run across the front of the bookcase, with a plank on the side panel to echo it.
My husband asked why I didn’t bring the chair rail all the way to the end of the bookcase, and that is because I know from experience those exposed edges get all banged up in a busy house, and this is a high-traffic room.
The chair rail gives some depth to the that shelf and adds a little detail to the bookcases.
Now for the how-to, in the event you are ever confronted with the need to end a chair rail with a return. If you’ve never done one before, rest easy – if I can do it, so can you!

To create the return, you are going to make the opposite 45 degree cut that you made to the chair rail, with a 90 degree cut on the other side of that little piece.  The 45 degree cut on the return will abut the chair rail, and the 90 degree cut will sit flush with the wall (or in this case, the side of my bookcase. A piece of lattice was run along that side of the bookcase to fill that gap you see above).

The little pie-shaped return piece is attached to the edge of the chair rail with wood glue.

After the glue sets up, fill any gaps between the return and the chair rail with wood filler. After that has dried, sand and paint the entire piece, and the seam between the two pieces will disappear.

Honestly now that the whole piece is finished, you can’t even see where the return meets the rest of the chair rail.

Way, wayyyyyy beyond my enjoyment of how these little corners turned out, is my sense of glee at learning something new. Never gets old, does it?!!

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Vel Criste

Friday 30th of May 2014

This is one detail I wasn't able to do with ours, but I love it truly, you did such a great job.

It too will miss this Phenomenal Woman !

Dana Frieling

Friday 30th of May 2014

Love that you worked Maya Angelou's amazing words into this post! Your attention to detail and willingness to learn definitely paid off and produced a gorgeous end result.

pam {simple details}

Friday 30th of May 2014

You are a whiz with woodworking, I'm always so impressed with what a professional job you do!! :)

Kris @ Driven by Décor

Friday 30th of May 2014

I've never noticed that detail on a bookcase before but I love the look of it! Pinning for when-i-finally-get-a-miter-saw use!

Cassie @ Primitive & Proper

Thursday 29th of May 2014

this was a great way to add detail- looks awesome!rip, maya angelou- love her! she was a professor at wake when i was there, but she was not teaching after i declared my english major and i never got to take her class.