Sizing a crown on tall case clocks

Cornice detail by James Lea, Photo by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

 I didn’t list this in my earlier post on Murphy’s laws of woodworking but I’ve found this to be true. It’s nearly impossible to build just one tall case clock. You start out with the intention of building one for yourself and then Aunt Mildred has to have one and so on. Plan on building at least three. In my case I built a scaled down version of an Erastus Rude Shaker clock about twenty years ago and then six years ago another four based on a clock from a historic home on the underground railway in Northern Ohio. There are several more clocks I’d like to build, but I may have to conduct covert operations so they don’t turn into another five or six.

An imaginary classic order can be used to proportion elements on a wall.

Crown molding treatment on clocks provides a small lesson in proportioning a cornice to terminate a form. Tall case clocks are a bit unusual. They are a cabinet design to house a machine. Not just any machine but a timepiece that requires space for weights to drop to power the movement, and room for a long pendulum to swing without interference. Additionally we have a bulky mechanical movement with a large dial that can be seen from across a room in a boisterous tavern filled with revelers. Yet the crown molding is relatively small compared to the height. I mentioned earlier about how a crown finds it’s origin from a classis order and its size is a function of the overall height. If you pasted a crown from a tall bookcase or high chest it would look way out of proportion. I have not explored this in depth but just by looking at and building a few examples it is obvious designers understood that a tall very narrow vertical form would require a crown molding toned down even further than a cabinet of similar height. I have two theories as to how they might have proportioned it. One is they may started with a cornice proportion taken from a classic order and reduced it by 2/3 or ¾ of its original height. The other approach might be to superimpose a small classic order just against the top hood section itself and use the cornice full sized. This is not farfetched as often in buildings the classic orders can be applied in multiple layers to organize different elements in a design. An example would be an overall room would employ the classic orders to proportion baseboard, chair rail and crown molding, and a smaller classic order would be used to proportion a fireplace surround that is a sub element of the overall room.

While I am discussing crown moldingsI want to call your attention to a post on the Blog Pegs and Tails about creating cross grain moldings. This was a technique used in late 17th and early 18th century casework and can have a dramatic effect. Something you may want to try. George R. Walker

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One response to “Sizing a crown on tall case clocks

  1. I would also add mirrors and tripod tables to the list of duplicate, nay, perpetual creations.