Tips on sizing moldings

Doric Entabliture drawing

Doric Entablature, by George Walker © 2008

My wife has a really good eye when it comes to picking out colors. It not uncommon for her to take months to find just the right color for a room she wants to paint. Once she stopped me cold when I was walking through the dining room wearing a green work coat. “Stop” she exclaimed “That’s it, that’s the color I’m looking for!”  That’s the ultimate spousal compliment. I was one big walking paint swatch. Speaking of paint swatches, she has this process to help her sort things out.  She starts with taping up those small paper color samples. When she’s narrowed it down she buys a small sample can and paints a patch of unsuspecting wall. She may leave it that way for some time looking at it under different light.  I used to roll my eyes a lot, but as time goes on it’s one of those funny little things that makes marriage fun. 

Last year I was putting together material for a DVD about designing moldings. Moldings are one of those border elements that have to be right. They are one of the first things that catch your eye from across the room and the play of light and shadow provide interest when up close. Moldings used in woodworking come from architecture and if you take a close look at a classic order you will see it’s packed with moldings top to bottom. I’ve carefully compared the proportions of moldings on buildings and on furniture and realized that furniture moldings are often abbreviated and toned down. I looked at several detailed drawings of period pieces and noticed that they are scaled exactly half or ¾ to the proportions used on a classic order. I ran this by an architect I really respect and he explained it this way. We use different voices for different situations. We might use one voice when speaking to a large crowd in an auditorium, and a much different voice when speaking one on one with a good friend sitting next to you. An important building viewed from across an open square may require the moldings to be quite bold. Furniture that we live with and view up close, like in a cozy library requires a quieter voice. He was in agreement that those period pieces had sound design logic behind the way the moldings were proportioned.


That’s how I came to this. Molding swatches on my walls. Now when I’m building something requiring molding I tape sample profiles on the wall at the intended height. It may stay up for a week or maybe only thirty seconds. For the video I put together a bookcase for a prop to demonstrate several different effects with moldings. I must have gone through a dozen combinations, sizes, and facial angles. In the end I was happy with how it turned out. Only problem is I can’t roll my eyes anymore at those paint swatches.

George Walker

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Woodworker and writer
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1 Response to Tips on sizing moldings

  1. Christopher Schwarz says:


    I couldn’t agree more. Drawing a moulding full size and than “living with it in situ” has been immensely helpful to me.


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