Author Topic: Reproducing period moldings  (Read 5994 times)

sstocker

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Reproducing period moldings
« on: July 17, 2007, 06:40:58 PM »
I've noticed that many 18th- and early 19th-century period cornice moldings are single-piece sprung moldings glued to triangular full-length backing blocks. As an amateur and hobbyist maker of period furniture, I've assembling a good working collection of period hand tools and wooden molding planes. I've used these planes to make cornice moldings using the method described above but I'm not sure why early cabinetmakers used this method. Was it to save valuable mahogany? Some of these cornices were small enough that it seems the effort was not worth the trouble.

Some other things that became apparent to me (or rather, more questions):
1)  Was it not easier to make the individual elements of a complex molding and then laminate the elemnets to make a "built-up" molding much as one would do today with a router table?

2) Were other moldings constructed in similar fashion such as the surbase and base moldings? It seems these were stuck individually when the design called for a complex profile?

3) How does one efficiently form the delicate bead at the base of many cornice moldings where, for example, a cove or an ovolo transitions into a bead (not an astragal). Scraping seems inefficient.

4) Did early cabinetmakers have several sizes of snipes and side rounds to work these difficult transitional areas mentioned above?

While I appreciate any comments, I'm particulary looking for advice using traditional tools and early cabinetmaking methods. Thanks.

Simon Stocker

dkeller_nc

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #1 on: July 18, 2007, 10:40:25 AM »
Simon - I'm not an expert, but do primarily make moldings for reproductions without a router table, so I can offer a few observations.

Wood in the 18th century was a lot more expensive in relative terms than today, particularly exotics that had to be shipped by sail, so it makes sense that secondary woods would be used extensively and that moldings, which would otherwise waste a much thicker wedge of wood, would be backed with a less-expensive species.

While I've seen examples of "built-up" moldings on period furniture, it seems that 18th century examples were more often one-piece.  I can speculate why that might be so - most wide crown molders available on the antique tool market tend to be early, since water-powered factory made moldings were widely available after 1850 or so.  If you've a crown molding plane, it's a heck of a lot faster to strike a molding as one wide piece rather than as little individual pieces made by smaller molding planes. 

It's definitely been my experience in the shop that it's harder to make a 3-piece molding than it is to rough a wide piece out with a moving fillester and hollows and rounds and finish it with a crown molder, principally because it's easier to clamp and hold a wider board, and sharp edges in the middle of a wide molding come out well with a wide molding plane, while these same parts would be on the edge of smaler built-up pieces, and those edges are hard to keep from getting damaged.

For what it's worth...
Period Furniture & Carving as a hobby - about 20 years woodworking

gvforster

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #2 on: July 18, 2007, 11:13:58 AM »
Simon - this SHOULD be a great thread. I've put the subject of molding plane use out on many woodworking sites over many years only to see its quick demise or as often a quick detour to who makes a better router, Porter-Cable or Bosch. There are a few people who contribute great knowledge, but they can't keep the thread going by themselves. This is a complex subject; can we create a permanent "slot" for moldings -like "Chairs" ,and "Tables" have?




sstocker

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2007, 07:02:13 PM »
I don't own any crown molding planes but I do have a few steep-pitched cove, ovolo, and ogee planes in smaller sizes, which I assume belonged to a cabinetmaker and not a joiner. These planes are designed to be used singly; that is, not in combination with other planes in making a single-piece crown molding. The body of these planes interferes with adjacent surfaces. Maybe these are joiner's planes? Maybe I'm using them incorrectly. I've had good success using hollows and rounds in conjunction with rebates to make single-piece moldings. Do you think early cabinetmakers' shops relied on H&Rs primarily for this type of work? Or were certain shop aesthetics the result of using the complex molders available to that particular shop? Most complex molding planes I see available appear to be joiners' planes - chairail, base cap, door and window casing. Are the cabinetmaker's complex molders all spoken for?

chamfer

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2007, 11:08:31 PM »
Hi Simon et al,

Regarding the question about forming the bead in conjunction with a cove, you seem to already have some grasp of the answer. There are several ways this could be tackled, but one would be to remove much of the waste to begin defining the cove with a moving fillister and/or rabbet plane. Possibly, even a plough plane. This could be a single rabbet, or "step," or a series of them, with the floor of the lowest one defining the height of the bead. Then a snipes bill plane coud be used to establish the inside limit of the bead. It can be guided by the shoulder established by a couple of passes with a plough plane and a 1/8" iron. A rabbet plane could be used to establish the outside limit of the bead if there is a fillet. Then a side round of appropriate size could be used to establish the portion of the cove adjacent to the bead. Finally, the bead could be formed with a small hollow plane of the appropriate size. If carefully defined and struck, such details can be accomplished in such a way as to require very little clean-up.

Most tool inventories I've seen only list one pair of snipes bill planes, so I'm not sure if they came in more than one size. And, if they did, how many people would have had more than one pair. As to side round planes, they may have come in different sizes, but most of the early trade lists I've seen simply list "side rounds," or "side rounds, per pair," so don't shed much light on the possible range of sizes. Guess I'll have to look into that.

Most  dedicated moulding planes, because of their integral fences and depth stops, do not allow for use in conjunction with other dedicated moulding planes to create more complex mouldings. Though slipped side bead planes do allow for this in a limited set of conditions. So, this is not what determines whether a moulding plane was primarily intended for cabinetmaking or not. It has more to do with the size and/or the nature of the profiles, as well as the "pitch" of the moulding plane, as you seem to have already surmised. Though, there can be some overlap regarding pitch, as well.

In general, common pitch (45 degree bed angle) moulding planes work best on relatively soft and mild working woods. So, yes, they would more likely be useful to carpenters/joiners working pine, etc. York pitch (50 degree bed angle) works better with moderately hard and difficult timbers. Woods more likely to be used by cabinetmakers or joiners working cuban mahogany, oak, etc. Middle pitch (55 degree bed angle) moulding planes will handle all but the hardest and most difficult timbers, and would most likely be used by cabinetmakers. Half pitch (60 degree bed angle) planes would be reserved only for the hardest and most recalcitrant of materials.

It shouldn't be surprising that more "joiners" dedicated moulding planes seem to have survived. Historically, there have always been far more carpenters and joiners than cabinetmakers.

As to built-up mouldings, they seem to have been more common toward the end of the 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century. I. e., during the "Walnut Period," when many of the mouldings, especially on high style pieces, were of cross-grain construction (on a long grain ground). Sometimes very complex and bold.

Not sure if any of this has answered any of your questions, but hope it has helped a little.

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR
« Last Edit: July 19, 2007, 06:14:23 AM by chamfer »

gvforster

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2007, 04:11:38 PM »
Thought for the day: could "one piece " complex molding eliminate having to fit ( fine tune) the individual built up moldings? Any "errors" would be contained in the molding- no unsightly gaps.

sstocker

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2007, 06:31:29 PM »
Don,

Did you find any references to complex molding planes in your early cabinetmakers' inventory lists? I'm still curious to know if hollows and rounds were their primary planes for forming complex moldings. I've seen contemporary reproductions with moldings formed by custom ground hand scrapers but I can't imagine this was an efficient method of working. Any thoughts?

Simon

chamfer

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Re: Reproducing period moldings
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2007, 12:33:32 AM »
Hi Simon et al,

One of the earlier inventories of someone identified as a cabinetmaker (as distinct from a carpenter or joiner) that I know of is for the estate of William Howell, of Boston, dated December 31, 1717. Below is a list of the planes appearing in the inventory:

1 Long Jointer, 1 Short Jointer, 1 old Jointer
1 Strick [strike] block & Smoothing Plain
1 pair of Hollow & round Plains
2 quarter Rounds, 2 Phillisters
One Rabiting Plain & one austickle (astragal)
one Small Round & one tooth Plain
4 old Plains, 2 old Smoothing Plains
1 Phillister & bed [bead?] Plain

Overall, this list of planes seems a little austere, but note the presence of three complex/dedicated moulding planes as well as one H&R pair and one small round.

Some eighty years later, Benjamin Seaton,  cabinetmaker, inventoried the tools purchased for him by his father, also a cabinetmaker. I doubt that many journeymen cabinetmakers started with this range of tools, but think it to be instructive as to the moulding planes they felt would be useful for someone about to embark on a career as a cabinetmaker.

16 Pairs of Hollows and Rounds
1 Base Ogee
2 Box Ovolos (3/16", 1/4"), 4 Common Ovolos (5/16", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8")
Pair of Side Rabbets
Pair Snipe Bills
4 [5] Ogees (1/4", 5/16", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8")
2 Cock beads, 2 Do [Cock bead] filister
4 Astragals (bead widths:     1/8"    3/16"    1/8"       1/4"
                   overall widths:  1/4"    5/16"    5/16"     1/2")
2 Pair Table [Planes]  (9/16" & 3/4" radius)

I'm somewhat surprised that there were no side bead planes present in this kit of tools. Also, note the absence of any cornice planes, indicating, I think, that it was anticipated that cornices would be worked out using hollows and rounds.

Though it's tempting to add more comments, I think it might be more useful and interesting to see what questions, thoughts, and observations others may have.

Don McConnell
Eureka Springs, AR