The right hat

My first job after high school was as far away as I could get from where I grew up in Ohio. In June of 1975 I found myself on a cattle ranch in Western Montana. My older brother was my new boss. I thought I was going to be a cowboy but spent most of the first few weeks doing glamorous work like pulling a chain drag over an 800 acre hayfield breaking up chunks of dried manure. I remember the first day my brother telling me I should wear a hat. I know I must have given him one of those looks only an 18 year old can muster who has concrete for brains. I don’t need no stinking hat. Two days later my face and ears looked like an overcooked potato chip. He was right about the hat. Not being a hat guy, and not being from Montana, I bought a small pitiful straw hat only a rodeo clown could love. It was my brother’s turn to give me one of those looks. He was pretty good about it. Wasn’t mean or cruel, which he had every right to be. After all we are brothers. You just don’t let those opportunities to pick on a sibling slip through your fingers. Two weeks later on the next trip to town I bought this black hat. We went to a branding at the neighbors ranch and everyone got a charge out of seeing my new hat take a beating in the muck and dust of a hard day’s labor. I don’t wear it much back here in Ohio but it’s filled with memories of one great summer.

Crown Molding detail by Bill Evans, Photo by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

I’ve been putting together an upcoming article for my Design Matters column in Popular Woodworking Magazine. The article is about how moldings can emphasize a form and includes some tips about sizing a crown molding for a cabinet. I often think of a crown molding like a hat. Get it wrong and it’s one of those things that people notice immediately. A crown molding has it’s origins in a cornice found at the top of a classic order. In its original form it played a functional role. The overhang helped shield the building and occupants from the elements. On furniture the crown or cornice is purely esthetic. It terminates the form by providing a clear border at the top of the case or pediment. Since a crown is such a visible element even from a distance you can vary the visual strength of it to achieve a range of effects. On the bolder end of the spectrum you can use a crown to achieve a strong architectural feeling. Reducing the size of a crown is like lowering your voice. That is often appropriate in an interior setting and if you look at a sampling of period work you will often notice the crown molding is more subdued. I like to use the proportions in the orders as a starting point but often find myself backing the overall height of the moldings by a ¼, 1/3, or even ½. There are proportions associated with each order for sizing a crown molding all based on the overall height of the piece. A quick and dirty way to get a generic envelope to start with is to divide the overall height of the case into 6 parts, then divide the top unit into 3 parts. That top third is your crown. These divisions are giving you 1/18th of the overall height. That’s a place to begin. I usually work up some full sized profiles at that scale and once I’m happy with the molding combinations, I may reduce the scale down from there until it suits my eye.

George R. Walker

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1 Response to The right hat

  1. jlsmith says:

    For those who find it a challenge to understand the formal nature of moldings, Brent Hall’s article “Terminating versus Supporting moldings” in the first issue of THISisCarpentry is a useful primer.

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