Stop-fluted pilasters


New member
I am trying to reproduce a desk that in the museum description states that there are “stop-fluted pilasters flanking the drawers”. What is actually meant by ‘stop-fluted pilasters’? I saw a fluted pilaster in which the bottom third of the flute was filled in with a dowel of the same size as the flute so that it stood proud of the pilaster (becoming a reed?) and this was described as a stop-fluted pilaster ???.  I thought stop-fluted just meant that the flute did not extend to the terminus of the pilaster.  Help!  Any good visual references out there?
A stop-fluted pilaster looks as you describe, with a reed-like portion at the bottom 30-35 percent and fluted at the top. If you happen to have molding planes or shaper cutters that are exactly opposite profiles of one another and of the width you need, you easily mold the reed at the bottom, the flute at the top, and carve the top of the bottom reed where they meet. Also, many high style tall-case clocks have the quarter colums on the waist and the corner hood columns stop-fluted with brass- where the lower third or so of the reedings is filled with brass to fit the reed. I will try and take a picture of one at home tonight, I think I have two nice examples on case pieces.
I am not aware of a furniture dictionary that confirms the following but here is my understanding of the terms.

"Fluted" means the flutes extend the whole length of the piece that is fluted and the flute extends to and abutts the next piece  (typically a capital on fluted columns).

"Stop fluted" means the flutes end typically in a carved semicircle before the end of the fluted piece, typically with capitals above and below

What Mike describes is "reed and fluted" which can be stopped or unstopped.

Howard Steier
    While there is no "proper" dictionary of furniture terms I would recommend to anyone the 10 volume collection of American Antiques of the Israel Sack Collection. Volume 4 happens to be on my desk this morning and you can easily see examples of columns, described as simply "fluted " and the flutes always stop above the base and below the capital, and yes, you do have to "carve" the very terminal end of the flute- but it really only takes a quick swipe with the proper gouge. Also in Volume 4, you can see examples of Massachusetts tall clocks with brass stop-fluted columns, and described as such in at least one example.
      Before these volumes were published, Nuttings Furniture Treasury(which contained three or four volumes, I fail to recall) would have probably been the closest one would have had for a furniture "dictionary". I am fairly certain that the final volume contains Nuttings scale drawings of a Willard tall clock with the brass stop-fluted columns, and that they are described as such on his plans.
      I seem to remember that there are at least a few known errors in descriptions in the Nutting work, and for this reason the 10 volumes of the Sack collection are, in my opinion, probably the best reference anywhere. While some might find fault with the fact that Sack's family was making a profit buying and promoting this furniture for sale, I would say that the descriptions and insights on proportion, beauty, and attention to detail make this the ultimate resource for the period furnituremaker. If Sack and later his sons and following generations had not truly loved and promoted this art, we would all be poorer.
      I do think that reed and fluted is a fair description of these columns, but I believe that term is more typically associated with bed descriptions.
      I apologize for not remembering to photograph a stop-fluted column last nite. I will try again tomorrow. If you look at the columns on my Frothingham chest-on-chest posted in the member gallery, you can see ordinary "fluted" columns, as Sack describes in Volume 4. There are two similar chest-on-chests by Fropthingham in Volume 4 that I used as reference to build this in 1989. I would not be surprised if these are not very similar(although not stop-fluted) to the columns on the desk you describe, ghuff. These flutes do stop between the base and plinth- as photographed in Sack. I really cannot recall an occurence of the flutes extending all the way to base and capital with no little "carved" terminus on a truly fine piece of furniture. I wonder how Sack might have described it.

Actually, Mike is describing stop-fluted pilasters and quarter columns as they are referred to today. Like you, I can't find any clear definition for the term, but in talking with knowledgeable furniture makers over the years I've heard it applied to quarter columns where the fluting is 'stopped' 1/3 or so the way down to the column bases (capitols only terminate the tops of columns) by reeds either carved in wood or in applied brass. I've seen several examples in museums and some day hope to challenge myself by building a piece with this very nice decorative element. 

In Hurst and Prown's "Southern Furniture 1680 - 1830" there are several references to stop fluting on case pieces and tall case clocks. In each mention that is accompanied by a photo, you clearly see the reeds completing the fluted columns down to the column bases. The clearest example of this is the quarter column photo on page 378 (Fig. 118.2) where you see the reeding present inside the column flutes and is in a semi-circular pattern where the reeds and flutes meet. The caption for the photo reads, "Detail of stop fluting on cat. 118."   

On page 128 of Sack's "Fine Points of Furniture" there is an example of a tall case clock which he rates as 'good' and provides this criticism, “The fluted quarter columns and hood columns do not contain the brass stop flutes and the columns begin at the base of the door instead of part way up..."  This particular piece is of the Willard school and the other examples he uses for comparison all have the reeding present in the quarter columns. Conclusive evidence? No. But we are left to infer that because the fluted quarter columns in these pieces contain both the fluting and the brass reeding coming up from the column bases, they are 'better' and 'best' because they have these stop flutes. 

I think "reed and fluted", which can be stopped or unstopped as you say, refer to columns or pilasters with alternating reeds and flutes (and no stop fluting) from column base to column capital. Sometimes these were cut with purpose made molding planes. In John Whelen's "The Wooden Plane" he says on page 207 that “a wide toted plane has been seen which cuts a multiple alternate REED and FLUTE." (Emphasis his)  He provides a diagram of the sole in figure 10:69 which he calls a Multiple Reed and flute.

All of this to say that common usage of the term "stop fluted", at least as far as I have heard discussed and seen referred in the books I have goes beyond just the stopping of the fluting in a quarter column part way up (or down) to include the reeded element that provides some additional punctuation in the manner as Mike described.

Perhaps additional research might reveal something more definitive. All I know for certain is that I believe it to be a very appealing design feature.

Rick Yochim 
In order to add even more confusion to the issue: On page 128 of Lonnie Bird's Period Furniture Details, he describes and illustrates the construction of 'Reverse  Stop Flutes'. There are no reeds with this feature, just the flutes with the 'reverse stops'.

For a picture of the fluting on the desk in question, go to page 271 of American Furniture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Heckscher. Notice the abrupt change in the fluting on the pilaster on the left side about half way down the pilaster. This seems to lead me to believe that the pilaster has a combination of flutes and reeds. Any thoughts on this or has anyone seen the desk in person who can confirm the construction details?

A picture's worth a thousand words! I've never made a piece with stop fluted pilasters or quarter columns.  Yet, anyway.  I turned 85 this week. It might be time for me to try it! Thanks Jeff.
John McAlister
Interesting and erudite.
Now the next question is "how is it done?"
As far as fluting is concerned, Gene Landon taught me to mark out the flutes with a mortising gauge (a difficult task on a round column) and then carve the flute with a #11 veining gouge. This works but is tedious.
On my last project I made a molding box like that in Jos. Hemingway's recent article and used a scratch stock to make the flutes. This was much easier, though the "trick" was to make sure the column was tightly secured so I actually screwed it into the box through the side, not the end, to make sure it didin't rotate, and changed it's position and rescrewed for each flute.
But what about the reeds? How does one do the reeds? I've thought of marking with a mortising gauge as above and then carving with a V-gouge along the marked lines and rounding over with a backbent gouge. Or does one make an appropriately sized and shaped scratch stock, do the reed, then change the cutter to do the flute?

Howard Steier
I have a homemade round maple cylinder, I think it is about 36 or so long, with a quarter section sawn out of it for mounting a quarter column in the lathe, in this way you can use the flat bed of the lathe as the base/reference for your fluting/reeding scheme, and rotate the quarter column in the lathe for each flute. I divide the face mathematically, by measuring the acutual length of the face of the quarter column with a flexible tape to determine the spacing between volutes and then draw the lines on with pencil. From here you could use  shop made scratch stock to carve the reeds and flutes, but I must admit I have a very old, very complete, very small set of delta brand shaper cutters with a shop-built router that cuts both the flute and the stop flute, I only need carve the ends and the top edge of the stop flute.

I have a maple post with a scratch stock blade in it that is in place of my lathe tool rest.  I leave the column in the lathe and lock it in place.  My pulley has 60 indexing holes so I can lock it in place for any spacing.  I slide the tool rest carriage along the lathe bed to scratch out the flutes.  Replace it with another cutter to make the stop flutes.

At one of the mid-year conferences Jeff Headly showed another method of locking the lathe for any choosen number of spaces.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
This is very interesting. I have wondered how the reeded portions of columns are done on the all wood stop fluted quarter columns. On the original pieces with brass reeds, I'm guessing they just glued the brass reeds in each flute.

So, instead of carving or using router/shaper cutters to form the bead profiles, could the reeds be stuck with a bead plane, carefully ripped from the stock and then glued into each flute? Would this be a lot of effort for marginal results?

Assuming you could get decent profile crispness on each reed and flute, you'd also have to be careful about getting the grain and color matched and so on. That said, having the column  details all of the same piece of wood is probably superior to trying to mix and match reeds with flutes.

I was just wondering if anyone tried this method and with what success.

Rick Yochim 
Rick's idea seems to be the most logical to me, but wouldn't it be possible to rout the flutes to desired length and then glue dowels of appropriate size in the bottom third or half of the flute to achieve the same result? 

First, I would like to wish John a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I hope you got everything you wanted.
We use many different ways to do quarter columns. One method is to use a sraper, one convex and one concave and a jig ( I love jigs ) to hold the stock.


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I am going to post this one picture at a time. My computer skills could be better but!
OK, so my last post was of the cradle and the scraper handle. It doesn't matter how you get the stock quartered, but once it is quartered I will set it it the cradle. The cradle has a 1/4" shoulder on both sides so as to rest the sraper handle on. The handle is sawn in half and then rescrewed together. Here is the sraper handle beside the sraped stock.


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We will use what we have to make scrapers. Pictured is a band saw blade. It actually is a little soft. I have gotten card scrapers and had them cut into 3/8" pieces and then ground a concave contour on one end and a convex on the other.


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Here the scraper is sandwiched between the handle. It is setting out to far but the next picture will show it seated. I will line up the marks. One side will do one flute or bead and then flip the handle around to do the other side.


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After scraping both flutes and beads you will need to go back and carve the transition. Notice the arched beading,. This is a Winchester Virginia feature. Which will continue down the Shenandoah Valley into Tennessee and Kentucky and Ohio. Philadelhia's stop fluting transition is normally straight across. John Shearer outside of Martinsburg W Va (then Virginia) arched his stop fluting downward.


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Jeff, Many thanks for the Birthday greetings. Afraid I didn't get all I wanted but  probably got more than I deserve. I did get an SUV; Socks, Underwear and Viagra! Wonder why anybody thinks I wanted socks and underwear! I will probably hear  (and probably should hear) from the Forum police for waisting Forum space.

I have a jig that mounts on my lathe which enables me to slide a router up and down a quarter column (usually 2 quarters at a time) with a small round nose bit.  My lathe has an index head which takes care of the spacing. The jig is fully adjustable and you can clamp stops on it.

Not exactly the18th Century way and of course this would not work for stop fluted stuff. If anybody is interested in details on this jig they can email off forum and I'll be glad to fill them in.

John McAlister