Cross-Grained Mouldings

Mouldings on oak-framed buildings – and thence joyner-made oak furniture – followed the timber’s grain and were comparatively simple to produce. Then circa 1685, a new breed of specialised furniture maker appeared. Cabinetmakers developed more sophisticated techniques for making and decorating furniture, in particular, the use of veneers and cross-grained mouldings in the newly popularised European walnut (Juglans regia).

It has been suggested that cross-grained mouldings were employed to better ‘come-and-go’ with seasonal cross-grain expansion and contraction of carcases, however, this conjecture has no foundation as cross-grained carcase mouldings are backed with strips of long-grain timber.

Rather than cross-grain mouldings being made up of thick individual blocks of wood, short walnut ‘veneers’ of between 1/8″ and 1/2″ thick (in which the moulding was formed) were glued onto continuous, long grain pine or oak cores to assist in controlled shrinkage and potential catastrophic failure of the mouldings.

Controlled shrinkage was the cognisant intention of the cabinetmakers and its deformation is part and parcel of the appearance of cross-grain mouldings: Light reflecting off the individual, often slightly cupped ‘veneers’ coruscates like candle light on a crystal chandelier (fig. 1).

crossgrain_moulding_c1735_01aFig. 1. Circa 1735 shrunken and cupped cross-grain moulding sections reflect light like jewels.

Larger mouldings such as cornices were often composite constructions, comprising a number of smaller, individual mouldings and veneers (figs. 2 & 3).

cushion_drawer_c1690_01aFig. 2. Composite cornice and cushion moulding, circa 1690.

walnut_dome_moulding_c1710_01aFig. 3. Composite hood moulding, circa 1710.

Furniture made from European walnut remained popular until around 1740 and was rarely produced after 1750. Though mahogany was known in Britain as early as the end of the seventeenth-century, it wasn’t imported in commercial quantities until the 1730s. Mahogany (and North American black walnut [Juglans nigra], employed in the same manner as mahogany) saw distinct changes in design (in part due to mahogany’s unique working properties) and long-grain mouldings became fashionable once again.

Of course anomalies have a pitiless habit of cropping up; making fools and liars of furniture dealers and historians alike. The chest in figure 4 is archetypal of early George III mahogany furniture in every respect – including the profile of the top moulding – except the moulding is cross-grained!

cross-grain_mahogany_moulding_c1765_01aFig. 4. George III mahogany serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1765.

Jack Plane

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Antiques, Furniture Timbers, Techniques and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Cross-Grained Mouldings

  1. Joe M says:

    Another valuable lesson in period construction and details.
    One of the benefits of building an early chest of drawers correctly, using period methods and design, is watching the cracks and cupping of the moldings developing over time (even as short as a year or two). Giving the piece it’s own character. Thanks Jack!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Paul Murphy says:

    I’ll submit to your superior knowledge of the various genre, but I never would have pegged figure 3 as Early George III. A double hoop crown, tombstone doors with cyma curves below the arch at the top. I would have assumed Early Georgian (George I). I never would say Late Georgean, or even as you suggest, a piece in that transition from II to III. Can you help me understand where I’ve gone wrong?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      The bureau bookcase in fig. 3 is definitely not early George III! It’s actually Queen Anne, but had I not seen it in greater detail, it could be construed as early George I.

      JP

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      • Jack Plane says:

        Apologies for the confusion: In the last paragraph, “The chest in figure 3..” has now been amended to “chest in figure 4…”

        JP

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      • Paul Murphy says:

        I thought it was Queen Anne. I was afraid to say so.
        With regard to the evolution of style, I often resort to an example from my own life. There never was a day where a loud voice boomed from the Heavens declaring, “From now on, you must all wear bell bottoms.” This supernatural event (that never occurred) was not followed by the miracle of everyone on earth wearing bell bottom trousers the next day. That style sort of trickled in, with some of the more sartorially adventurous “going first” as it were. Later, the style became popular, and almost everybody wore them. After a while, people decided, generally, that they didn’t want to wear those anymore. A few stalwart folks clung to the old style, and would not adopt the new style. The process isn’t a thing that occurs universally, overnight. It truly is an evolution.

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  3. I am glad to see you have added the word Anomalies.
    There is a lacking of asking questioning when it come to furniture history. Over the last 30 years education in are field has been about lectures and images in a preaching way which is seen throughout the major Auction house catalogues descriptions furniture historians and scholars lectures. This has stifled the skilled craftsmen knowledge.
    Its so easy for them to say a piece is wrong or 19th/20th on the grounds of just seeing the facade without examining the hole mechanics of the piece.
    We are all still learning as a restorer i learn new things day about the evolution of British and now Philadelphia Mid 18th C Furniture.
    So be open minded, move past the facade and reas the construction as it open up a new chapter

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  4. Richard says:

    I have greatly admired the cross grain mouldings you have produced on your pieces, it’s amazing how they elevate a piece to another level of aesthetic indulgence.

    If one has hollows and rounds in a 55 degree and also a 63 degree pitch would it be better to use the steeper pitch ? Or is it a case of working with scratch stock/s for most cross grain mouldings…

    Any updates on the book !

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    • Jack Plane says:

      I use hollows and rounds where possible, or at least to hog away the majority of stuff to be removed. I don’t have much of a selection of different pitches, but in my experience, no one is ‘better’ than another: Much depends on the wood itself.

      Light cuts and a swift action are essential. Solidifying the wood (with varnish/sugar/drying oil etc.) on occasion can also help.

      No further book news at this time.

      JP

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