Williamsburg Finial.


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Does anyone know if there are drawings for the construction of this finial at Williamsburg? What would be the best way to duplicate this? Would I need two drawings (flat side and corner-down side profile)? My neighbor wants me to make one for the top of his pergola. TIA


  • WBG Finial6.jpg
    WBG Finial6.jpg
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I have no expertise with this particular object, but it appears to be symmetric about the vertical axis from side to side in two orthogonal vertical planes. If that is the case, I could imagine making it by having a single template and cutting square stock  on a bandsaw in the manner of a cabriole leg; i.e., cut from one side carefully leaving the scrap attached at a few critical points, shift the template 90- degrees and repeat the cutting. You might even rough out the openings in a smiilar manner using Forstner bits.

However, I would strongly recommend that you give consideration to a material other than wood if you expect it to survive out of doors for an extended period. I can see something with so much exposed end grain disintegrating on weather, and it certainly woule require frequent and careful painting if of wood - not always the fate of a pergola decoration.

I would build it out of separate 4 pieces of stock. Then cut out like Karl suggested ala cabriole leg style.  Leaving some flats for clamping on the pointy end then to a final shaping of the pointy end after it is glued.

not sure what the scale is but you could easily nail it to reenforce glue joints.

Choose your materiel wisely.
The words "cabriole leg" seem to make the most sense for the layout and cutting of this finial (thanks Karl). It seems to be made up of 4 pieces of wood glued/nailed together to form the 4 corners (23" high) and I'll approach the construction that way. I also think that the "steeple" (11" high) above the legs is an added feature, I'll cut this separately and add it to the top piece. My plan is to make a prototype out of some 4"X4" pieces of lumber before proceeding with the real thing. I'm going to use either straight grained cedar or mahogany for the finished piece (which would be the best???). I've told my neighbor that I'm not responsible for the short grain of the wood splitting and that he'll have to keep it painted.
I would not choose wood, but if I was forced to use it , I would pick the cedar alternative and give careful consideration to saturation of the bare wood with West epoxy before painting.

You might also think of teak; it is remarkably stable under changes of environment.

It seems to me that the wood we can buy today , largely not first growth anymore just does not stand up well to cycles of moisture and temperature.
I believe this is the price one pays when using wood whose growth rate has been maximized to produce a "crop".

...... and you would use, besides wood? At my favorite planing mill (Hicksville, MD) they will allow me to sort through the piles cedar/mahogany/teak for the tightest, straight grained, lumber that they have.

If I were making it for a  neighbor for outdoor use, I would probably choose one of the white solid PVCs ( I think)  in plank form that were developed to use on boats. They machine well with woodworking tools and are white no matter where you cut them. You can drill and tap them to fasten things together with machine screws,and they can be glued.

Please don't get me wrong, I love wood.  I just don't to want to see you make something that dissolves in a few years, and it is unlikely that the neighbor wil ever appreciate how much work it was to make.


Thanks for the tip. You've given me some food for thought. I don't know if the photographed finial, at Williamsburg, is the original one but I can always remember that there was this form on top of the pergola (late 70's). I'll let my neighbor decide what kind of material he wants, though.
Prototype is finished and the construction consists of 4 cabriole-like leg blocks, plus the steeple,  that are glued together to form the finial. I'm still uncertain about the wood/PVC to use for the project. I'll let my neighbor decide.
I have made a few capitols similar in design for the same situation, some turned some pierced. Locust, white oak or mahogany or even cedar and out of a solid piece with the heart off of the post, or at least to one side. With this being up in the air you are probably talking 10" -14" square or bigger if further up in the air. As Karl noted draw on pattern flip 90 degrees and copy pattern. The trick is finding a saw that will saw the inside contour.
Jeff raises an interesting option. I had suggested doing the inside cuts with Forstner bits, but if your band saw has a welding attachment you can cut a blade and reweld it with the blade passing through a bored hole and then remount on the saw and cut the inside. However, I personally would not do that becasue I seem to have trouble with rewelded blades breaking at the welded joint of it is not annealed exactly right, and I do not do enough of them to have a sense of what that is. Maybe others are more successful.

Jeff and Karl,

Thanks for the added information. My neighbor hasn't decided if he wants this done. I'm thinking that the quote of $300-400 (including materials) might be too high for their budget. I can't imagine the amount of work that would be required to make this finial out of the solid, although, using drill bits to "cut" along the insides of the lines might work best. The leftover, center piece of wood could then be removed and everything cleaned up inside/outside. My preference would be to use 4 separate pieces and then join them together for the finished product. I also had the idea to carve a ball and claw foot (X4) for the lower edges of the cabriole legs and then join them together. That would be a spectacular finial and if I have some time, I may attempt this just for the "sake" of it.