Because I don’t have any drawings and very few dimensions to lead me on this interpretation of a two-tier corner cabinet, I wanted to visualise the proportions of the cornice before embarking on the upper tier.
The untrained eye may be forgiven for assuming all mouldings are stuck as one. Indeed, modern crown moulding, skirting and architrave are typically machined from single pieces of timber (all be they straight-grained). Surviving complex wooden moulding planes also demonstrate wide, one-piece, intricate profiles were being stuck as early as the seventeenth-century (the moulding planes, often with rope holes so the plane ‘drivers’ could harness the additional grunt of an apprentice or two). By far though, the most commonly seen mouldings of this complexity are built up from smaller, individual arcs (ovolos and scotias) and flats that were stuck with smaller, more manageable moulding planes or scratch stocks.
Alternative methods of building up mouldings.
Composite walnut cornice moulding circa 1730. (Christies)
I don’t have a single large moulding plane capable of sticking this cornice in one go and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d be keen on tackling this quantity of cross-grained ash in one hit anyway.
Cross-grained mouldings inevitably shrink across the grain leaving the characteristic splits and gaps, but to minimise shrinkage, the moulding stock is prepared by gluing small sections of ash onto pine grounds.
The various ash blocks are rubbed onto pine boards.
The ground of the ogee section was bevelled before gluing on the ash blocks…
…and then moulded using ‘hollow’ and ’round’ moulding planes.
love your blog – great mix of woodworking and history – thanks
I’m glad you enjoy it and thanks for being a part of it.
Thanks for showing this. I have to say I’m surprised how the ash looks very fine grained. My guess is that it’s due to the orientation of the grain. Essentially the profile is made up of exposed end grain. Did you have to take any different approach hand planing this? Were you using standard pitch? Have you had any experiance working detail like a narrow quirk in this cross grained work?
The orientation of the grain is key to the appearance of much cross-grained moulding. High relief profiles dip in and out of the grain tangentially, creating swirls and patterns not normally seen in most flat cabinet work.
Cross-grained mouldings work like any other cross-grain work (think flattening a board across the grain with a standard pitch plane). The wood comes off easily and if not attacked too aggressively, quite smoothly too. As you surmised, it’s difficult getting cross-grained mouldings to hold fine detail. I avoided it on this occasion (because the mouldings I’m copying don’t incorporate any quirks or small astragals etc.), but they can be worked with care.
As often is the case with mouldings, straight or cross-grained, any and all waste that can be removed by other means before the moulding plane is applied, pays dividends. With quirks in cross-grained mouldings, a saw cut will usually provide the leeway prior to using the plane.
I have wondered, from time to time, how some astonishingly fine mouldings were stuck in early cross-grained work; after all, you can only sharpen a blade so much. I have experimented with solidifying and lubricating prepared cross-grained stock prior to sticking mouldings. Linseed oil functions well on both counts, but then precludes any water-based staining or ageing of the wood. Turpentine and meths are suitable lubricants, but can play havoc with prized antique wooden moulding planes! A saturated sugar solution and soap are other substances I’ve tried with some success.
You make me want to attempt this.
I haven’t had the opportunity to look at much cross grain work. In the built up examples you have seen, are all elements cross grain, or do they sometimes mix cross and straight grain? For example a cross grained cyma above a straight grained bead or fillet.
I have also heard of but haven’t tried using kerosene as a lubricant.
Straight and cross-grained mouldings are seldom encountered in the same piece (certainly in unadulterated form). Cross-grain beads and astragals smaller than 1/4″ are too prone to damage are therefore rare.
I would be thrilled if you found time to experiment with cross-grained mouldings and reported your findings.
Kerosene, parafin or any light mineral oil should help with lubrication, but flushing the oil away afterwards would be my main concern. Finishes won’t adhere to non-drying oils.
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