(1) Molding: A "molding" is a component -- such as the Stiles and Rails of some Cabinet doors -- with a profiled surface, that is joined and/or integrated into a project's design. (By combining two or more profiled moldings together into a specific design, you get a "compound" molding -- as discussed below.) The Profile's surface is created by a Moulder (also Moulding Machine) Router or a Shaper. (The discrepancy in spelling is not a typo; see Molder.
In the vocabulary of the visual arts, line describes the complexity of shape. There are only three basic shapes, the square, circle, and equilateral triangle. Each of the basic shapes has its own unique character. Each shape has its own meanings, some meanings coming through association, some meanings through arbitrarily attached meanings, while other meanings come through our own psychological and physiological perceptions.
Examples: Associated with the square is honesty, straightness, and workmanlike meaning. For the triangle, action, conflict, tension. For the circle, endlessness, warmth, protection.
All these basic geometrical shapes are fundamental, simple plane figures, easily described and constructed both visually or verbally. A square is a four-sided figure with exactly equal right angles at each corner and sides of exactly the same length. A circle is a continuously curved figure whose outline is at all points equidistant from its center point. An equilateral triangle is a three-sided figure whose angles and sides are all equal.
(2) A second meaning of Molding is the art and craft of dimensioning and shaping wood achieved with the multitude of Molding (hand) planes, Carving Chisels, Lathes, Routers and Router Bits, and and Shapers and Shaper Cutters at the disposal of woodworkers. For the cultural historian, Harvey Green, molding is one of the final stages in the refining of wood for human use. Contextually -- and I may be putting meaning into Green's text -- "refining" has more than one meaning.
What, though, is most significant: it is from these basic shapes that endless combinations and variations, that we derive all physical forms in nature and in the imagination of man.
(I have adapted this explanation of the meaning of Shape from Donis A Donis, A Primer on Viusal Literacy Cambridge: MIT Press, 1973.)
In the first meaning, the refinement of the crafting of wood took many generations of woodworkers, starting out in the ancient world with crude tools, but only able to shape wood into rough, functional furniture, such as tables, benches, bed frames, and like. Only later -- with iron tools, able to "refine" these functional-shaped furniture and other crafted objectsinto more sophiscated, aesthetically pleasing shapings to wood. The craft results of this latter meaning are given the label "molding". While this aspect of woodworking -- how woodworking as one of humanity's central handicrafts -- falls outside the scope of the focus of my history of amateur woodwdorking, it is at the same time compelling. I touch on the subject briefly here.
In the second meaning, "refinement" implies the cultivation of design for achieving greater seating comfort in a chair or a bench. Another refinement is adding ornamentation to basic, functional objects, the ornamentation designed to create in these objects greater appeal to our visual senses, and even to touch, because of the skills woodworkers have acquired over generations, skills in enhancing the beauties of a wood's grain textures. For more on Design, click here.
Evidently the concept of adding moldings to structures, say, buildings, furniture, etc., received impetus from Mediaval architects, the refiners of the Gothic style, but evidence exists that molding, as an embellishment for architectura and furnitute, dates back to the ancient world. Note mention of Greek and Roman shapes below, and see See the cabriole leg of an ancient Egyptian chair on this page.)
Sources: Robert Willis, Architectural Nomenclature of the Middle AgesCambridge 1844;F.A. Paley, A manual of Gothic Moldings: with directions for copying them and for determining their dates. Sixth Edition with numerous additions and improvements by W.M. Fawcett. Gurney & Jackson. London, 1902; R. Phene Spiers, The Orders of Architecture, Greek, Roman, and Italian. B.T. Batsford. London, 1902. Fourth Edition revised and enlarged with Pp. 20, and 27 plates. (First Edition 1890); Percy A Wells and John Hooper, Modern Cabinet Work, 1902; David L. Clarke, Analytical Archaeology London 1968; Francois Bucher, "Design in Gothic Architecture: A Preliminary Assessment", The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 27, No. 1 March 1968, pages 49-71; Eileen Roberts, "Moulding Analysis and Architectural Research: The Late Middle Ages", Architectural History, Vol. 20, 1977, pages 5-13.
Gothic architectural plans cover all the phases of construction from the initial concept for a building to placement charts and memorial sketches makes it likely that extensive, careful, and detailed planning accompanied the erection of large structures at least from the beginning of the thirteenth century onward.
In addition to the square and the two basic triangles, rotating polygons, and circles, inscribed in squares were used. The standard rectangle as well as the golden section were geometrically constructed at least from the twelfth century onward.
The geometric systems -- there were many -- governed the making of templates and thus the mason's chisel. They provided the grid on which plans, elevations, and details evolved, and thus also the means to recapture later the creative process.
Each of the systems produced a logical, repeatable, and reasonably flexible approach, controlled by the unchanging laws of geometric progression. Planning reflected the absolute order of the world, as represented in cosmological schemes that show inscribed figures representing the orderly perfection of the universe.
The deepest secret of the masons at a time when geometry governed the design is one of which they themselves were only instinctively aware.
Source: Francois Bucher, "Design in Gothic Architecture: A Preliminary Assessment", The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 27, No. 1 March 1968, pages 49-71
The Age of Handwork: If we wish to know much about furniture we must look at it against the social background of its time. We must know something of the materials, technical equipment and skill which were available to make it. We are much too apt to think of old furniture as a museum exhibit and to regard it as totally distinct from new furniture. In fact, many books on the subject do not go [back] beyond 1830 and we are left to infer that after this date the curious inhabitants of these islands gave up the use of moveables in their houses. But if we keep these three headings in mind we begin to see furniture, not as a confused jumble of Styles, Periods, Kings, Woods, Queens and so on, but as something which developed gradually to fill the needs of its time as well as might be, using the skill and materials available. And how much better our furniture would be to-day if exactly the same approach was made to the things we have around us!
Source: Gordon Russell, The Things We See: Furniture West Drayton, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1947, page 3.
Green's chapter 3, "The Rub of the Grain", mulls the implications of the developmental stages of working wood in human history, with attention to the later stages, given over to "refining" wood into aesthetically pleasing shapes, known as "moldings".
Furniture designer and historian, Joseph Aronson, defines "flat", "curved", and "compound" moldings:
MOULDING (Molding). A shaped profile applied to a continuous member to emphasize the difference in planes or to provide decorative bands of light and shade. Any break in a continuous flat surface may be considered a moulding if it is designed to catch light and shade as an accent or embellishment. Certain general types of mouldings have been in use since the earliest architectural decoration.
These are broadly classified as (1) flat or angular, (2) single curved (3) compound curves. All types are variously embellished.
The flat or angular types include
Source: Source: Joseph Aronson, The Encyclopedia of Furniture Crown Publishers, 1938, page 137.
The hand plane, historically a symbol of craftsmanship in woodworking, offered numerous opportunities to create useful objects of beauty, and itself was a revered object of engineering brilliance. Today's steel and cast-iron bodies of planes -- marvels in their own right -- shrink in comparison with the splender of yesterday's wooden frames of beech, hornbeam, lignum vitae, and rosewood.
Source: Anonymous, "200 Years of Woodworking", Wood and Wood Products 1976, page?
... Shaping wood for human purposes enabled the construction of "tools forliving," to paraphrase the architect Le Corbusier. In turn the demand for more complex and decorative surfaces, further and further from the natural forms of the woodlands, begot an expansion of the spectrum of tools for cutting and shaping the wood. Function, failure, and invention proceed apace, reinforcing one another. People also believe that working wood into efficient and sophisticated joinery, aesthetically pleasing designs, and lustrous surfaces-as in our sideboard-also promotes a measure of polish and refinement among the people who live with the work of the artists and artisans in wood.
Source: Harvey Green, Wood: Craft Culture and History New York: Viking, 2006
Moldings have both practical and decorative uses. The chamfering of a square table or chair leg, for example, reduces chance of it damaging, or being damaged by, anything that it comes into contact with.
Rounding or working a bead along edges of chests --including edges of drawer fronts in chests of drawers -- has a similar, double, effect.
The play of shadow and light is a well known, ong-used device, being used throughout Europe on Gothic structures that date back to the Mediaeval era. Likewise, in furniture design, light and shadow combine with the natural -- and striking -- graining of wood,
Among furniture designers, molding is used to give gentle transitions from one part of the object's design to another. "Thus a projecting Plinth might be moulded on its top edge", says Rodney Hooper, "in order to lead the eye gently upwards." Writing in the 1930s, when Modernism in design was a rage, Hooper argues
... now that long low furniture is popular this might be replaced by a receding plinth which would have a line of shadow cast on it and help to emphasize the horizontal feeling. In the same way the tendency towards simplicity of form has resulted in heavy moulded cornices being replaced by plain tops, slightly stepped back to break the joint and give a definite finish. In contemporary work the tendency is for mouldings to be as simple as possible and flattened in section to prevent them catching dust, and they are largely confined to utilitarian roundings and bevellings. Slight checks and sinkings are often used to give lines of shadow where required.
Source: Rodney Hooper, Woodcraft in Design and Practice London: Batsford, 1937, page 5.Below, the Principle Designs for Moldings, adpated from Percy A Wells and John Hooper, Modern Cabinet Work, 1902. Cited as "a distillation 700 years of woodworking wisdom", this Wells and Hooper' "manual" is considered by many woodworkers to be the outstanding "treatise" on woodworking. For background info on Wells and Hooper click here
In the image on the left,
On the right, illustrated are
When a series of beads are worked together without a "quirk," they are called "reeds," whilst a number of rebates or steps of equal depth are known as "annulets." When the bead has a square or "step" added to it, it becomes a "torus," and all these names, with "fillet," "flute," and "facia," are derived from the classic, architecture and vary in their applications. The Wells and Hooper manual features other molding designs, scattered appropriately among the seventeen chapters.
Sources: Robert Willis, Architectural Nomenclature of the Middle AgesCambridge 1844; Mathieson, Alex. and Sons, Selections from the Illustrated Price List of Wood Working Tools Manufactured by Alex. Mathieson & Sons, Ltd., Glasgow. 8th Edition, 1899. (Facsimile with preface and documentary published by Ken Roberts Publishing Co. Fitzwilliam, N.H. 1975. Pp. iii, 69 11" x 82". ISBN 0-913602-11-6 Paperback $4.00, U.S. Funds.); F.A. Paley, A manual of Gothic Moldings: with directions for copying them and for determining their dates. Sixth Edition with numerous additions and improvements by W.M. Fawcett. Gurney & Jackson. London, 1902; R. Phene Spiers, The Orders of Architecture, Greek, Roman, and Italian. B.T. Batsford. London, 1902. Fourth Edition revised and enlarged with Pp. 20, and 27 plates. (First Edition 1890); Percy A Wells and John Hooper, Modern Cabinet Work, 1902; David L. Clarke, Analytical Archaeology London 1968; J. Maass, A.J. Bicknell, and W.T.Comstock, Victorian Architecture. Two Pattern Books; Introduction by John Maass. Reprint Watkins Glen, NY: American Life Foundation, 1975; Rodney Hooper, Woodcraft in Design and Practice London: Batsford, 1937; Joseph Aronson, The Encyclopedia of Furniture Crown Publishers, 1938; Eileen Roberts, "Moulding Analysis and Architectural Research: The Late Middle Ages", Architectural History, Vol. 20, 1977, pages 5-13; Rempel, John I. Tools of the Woodworker: hand planes 1971 American Association for State and Local History Technical Leaflet 24. Revised Edition of original leaflet #24 which appeared in 1964. Nashville 1971; Harvey Green, Wood: Craft Culture and History New York: Viking, 2006.
Sources of Additional Information: Only a handful among many sources, recommended are Alonzo W. Kettless, Designs for Wood: How to Plan and Create Your Own Furniture New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978. pages 16ff;Charles H. Hayward, English Period Furniture Designs New York: Arco Publishing, 1968, pages 98-111, shows many examples, and gives helpful hints and demonstrates techniques in creating moldings on English period pieces; for woodworkers determined to locate the "source" of a molding shape, these foundational documents are recommended: Frederick Apthorp Paley, A Manual of Gothic Moldings, With Directions for Copying Them and Determining Their Dates, London: Gurney & Jackson, 1892 (6th edition) and Robeert Willis, Architectural Nomenclature of the Middle Ages Cambridge: Cambridege University Press, 1844.