Organization is key to cornice moldings - Applying the 'frosting'

Article Index
Organization is key to cornice moldings
Applying the 'frosting'
All Pages

• When devising a cornice molding, the general arc of the molding’s profile should lead the eye down into the piece.

Applying the ‘frosting’
A wide cornice molding can be tricky to install because on the sides of the many cases (highboys, for example), the grain direction of the molding runs perpendicular to the grain direction of the material to which it’s attached. While moldings can be nailed to the case — in that manner avoiding the perils of cross-grain gluing — nail holes are unsightly.

I use a different method of attachment that allows me to sidestep cross-grain gluing without the filled holes indicating set nails (without also the risk inherent in swinging a hammer at finished moldings).

Underneath the cornice molding, I attach a thin (about 1/4" thick) piece of wood wide enough to provide a backing for the entire width of the cornice molding. The grain of this backing material runs in the same direction as the grain of the molding I’ll later apply, which is perpendicular to the grain direction of the case side. At the front of the case, where the miters in the molding will meet, I’ll glue this thin strip to the case side, but along the rest of the backing material’s length, I’ll tack it to the side of the case with 10-15 small nails. I then glue (press-fitting for a 60 count) the elements of the cornice molding to this backing material.

The glue under the front 2" to 3" of the backing material keeps this material (and the moldings glued to its face) in place at the front of the case where the miters meet, while the nails fastening the rest of the backing material’s length allow cross-grain movement.

Sometimes I hide the full width of this backing material under the cornice molding. At other times, I cut a profile on the bottom edge of this backing strip, incorporating it into the cornice molding.

The language can be vexing
Molding maker terminology can be confusing. In part, this is a result of the inadequacy of language in the tricky business of providing accurate and useful nomenclature for often subtly different molding profiles.

Consider planes for cutting beads, for example. The Sandusky Tool Co. catalog of 1925 lists a variety of “astragals” (planes for cutting semicircular beads with a fillet on either side). It also offers a number of “side-beads” and “center-beads”. “Side beads” are planes that produce a semicircular bead along the edge of a board, cutting a “quirk” (narrow groove) on one side of that bead to separate the bead from the adjacent stock. “Center beads” are unfenced planes designed to be used against a batten, in this way permitting the semicircular bead — set off by a quirk on either side — to be cut anywhere across the width of a board. The catalog also lists planes designed to cut “torus beads” (elliptical beads of less than 180 degrees) of several sizes.

Things get even more complicated in the realm of the ogee shape, which is based on the cyma curve — one of the most important constructs in the field of moldings. The 1925 Sandusky catalog offers “common ogees,” “reverse ogees,” “Roman ogees,” “Grecian ogees,” as well as combinations of these like the “Roman reverse ogee.”

And if that terminology isn’t confusing enough, during the heyday of the molding plane, there was disagreement among toolmakers about what term(s) should be used to identify a particular profile. For example, in the Edward Preston and Sons Ltd. tool catalog from 1909, the profile indicated as “scotia” in the 1925 Sandusky catalog is identified as “oveloe” (an English-ism for “ovolo”). And the disagreement was even more pronounced in the case of complex molding planes that united several different simple shapes on the same cutting edge.

(In his book, “The Wooden Plane,” contemporary writer John Whelan offers a perfectly rational method by which the naming of molding planes can be standardized, which offers some hope for furniture makers and tool collectors who value these tools.)

Even today, a term that means one thing to one toolmaker can mean something a little different to another. For example, the “ogee fillet” router bit currently offered by Amana Tools and the “ogee fillet” router bit sold by Rockler Tools have related, but not identical, profiles. Each features a small fillet above an ogee shape, but those ogee shapes are expressed in significantly different ways. The Amana version is narrow and compressed, while the Rockler version is wider and more expansive.

This means that when you’re buying molding makers — whether those edge tools are planes or router bits or shaper cutters — it’s best not to rely too much on molding-maker terminology. Instead, before buying, look at the cutter itself and imagine the negative shape that cutter will produce.