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Last winter I started replacing the casings on the doors and windows in my house and have continued this off and on over the summer and fall. When the weather turned colder this fall, the miters on all the casings I completed in the warm weather opened up. (See below photo). The ones I made last winter are fine, as are those on interior doors regardless of when they were put together, so I’m pretty sure this has to do with wood contraction in the cold.

What is the best way to repair these miters? I was thinking of squirting in wood glue with a needle applicator, then filling and painting. Bad idea?

Also, what could I have done to prevent this in the first place?

Many thanks!

enter image description here

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    Just fill and repaint, no need for the glue, it'll do nothing. Incidentally this is why wide simple mitres were avoided if possible in old trimwork and casework, it was nearly impossible to ensure you wouldn't get the mitre opening up in the corner or at the point. The potential for this is always present, and even higher presently with the poorer wood we have access to now.
    – Graphus
    Dec 28 '20 at 10:42
  • I don't think the joints opening are the result of wood contraction. More likely it is because the entire structure expands and contracts seasonally due to temperature, wind loads & etc., and the frame sides are secured to different pieces of the framing and may move differently. The interior frames are secured to structure that remains pretty constant in temperature and are not directly affected by the movement in the exterior shell of the building. As for the ones from last year, it depends upon a lot of factors so...who knows?
    – Ashlar
    Dec 29 '20 at 1:53
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It's not so much wood contracting in the cold, as wood contracting when it loses moisture. Depending on where you are, summer is probably more humid than winter.

I'd hit it with a bit of spackle and repaint. If you want less of this in the future, glue the joints thoroughly and backprime the trim. (Backpriming slows moisture loss/gain.) Some people will even use biscuits, but I'm not a huge fan.

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  • Yes all of this (although I'm not sure spackle is the best filler option). Since you list glueing the joints more thoroughly as one part of a future solution it might be a good idea to mention sizing to improve the glue bond.
    – Graphus
    Dec 28 '20 at 10:44
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Also, what could I have done to prevent this in the first place?

Don't use mitre joints.

I love mitre joints as much as anyone, but one has to be aware of why those mitre joints fail. When you built those frames you were undoubtedly careful to cut perfect 45 degree angles, proudly fit two pieces together and checked their fit with a square and proudly thought to yourself, "man o man, I am THE craftsman!" (I have done the same thing many times.)

One of the favorite responses in this stack is to comment on the shrinkage or expansion of wood across grain due to changes in humidity. Indeed, that is most likely what is at work in your window casings.

In a mitre joint the geometry changes when the width of the board changes. Sure, a right angle cut will remain 90 degrees (assuming the grain is parallel to one leg of the angle and the other leg is perpendicular to the grain). But if you measure the perfect 45 degree angle that you cut after humidity does its thing, it is no longer 45 degrees. Recall that both legs of a 45, 45 degree right triangle are equal in length. Now the legs of that formerly perfect angle are no longer equal and the actual angle might be as much as 1/2 degree, making the opening twice as wide or up to 1 degree, very noticeable.

In response to your suspicion that the movement is due to thermal expansion and contraction, you might be right. I did a little internet surfing and found that the coefficient of thermal expansion for for pine perpendicular to the grain is about ten times as much as parallel with the grain. (For oak, the two coefficients are almost equal to one another.) You commented that the interior door frames are giving you no problems. Perhaps because the interior temperature and humidity are relatively stable throughout the year, keeping the changes in the size of mitre cuts small enough to prevent opening of the joints. Of course, at the windows everything turns cold so the relative changes parallel and perpendicular to grain might be enough to cause the joint to open.

In the case of your windows, some sort of butt joint or lap joint would not develop the opening, but alas, would not be as cool as the mitre joint.

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  • Lots of useful information here. Thanks to everyone who replied. For repairing the existing casings I’m going to try using wood filler, then sanding and painting. As for prevention, my plan is to do back priming, more glue than I had been and biscuits. I’m also considering using a butt joint for the wide inner piece of the casing (with biscuits) and only mitering the raised outside edge. I’ll try and remember to reply back to this thread in a year with results after another freeze/thaw cycle.
    – Van
    Jan 2 at 16:28

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