some 17th-century moldings; pt 1

mortise & tenon, w integral mitered molding
mortise & tenon, w integral mitered molding, 1691

Last week I posted some photos of a wainscot chair I made. In that note, I mentioned that I had no idea what the crease molding on the framing parts was called. Jennie Alexander wrote to me later & we talked a bit about the conundrum of this work – what do we call the moldings, the turning patterns, the carving designs; versus what did they call them. In most cases, we have no idea what terms the joiners & turners of the seventeenth century used to describe their work.


So a look at moldings. First, the moldings themselves on surviving woodwork, then the tools mentioned in documents like Moxon & Holme, and probate inventories as well. Lastly there are early 20th-century books that have measured drawings of English furniture and woodwork. These are often useful, but have problems of their own. So to start, here are some photos of existing moldings run on oak furniture & woodwork.


The first one at the top of the post is a door frame from a cupboard dated 1691, from the Lakes District in England. Two moldings here, the “crease” molding as it’s called in the period, run on the midst of the framing parts. Then the molding that I was tempted to call an “edge” molding, although it’s not technically on the edge of the stock, but at the arris. Anyway, that molding appears to be an ogee, to my eye anyway. The crease molding seems to be more than a bead, and less than an ogee, flanking perhaps a flat section between the two moldings. Notice the tearout on both these moldings on the horizontal rail.  


molding detail, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680
molding detail, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680

The next two photos are both joined chests from Dedham, MA about 1650-1680. The moldings are cut on all the framing parts of the front of the chests. This is perhaps the same molding on both examples, but survives better on the one with the ruler in the shot. The one above was strippped more aggressively, but still retains the layout lines struck with an awl. So not too much wood was removed in the refinishing. Note again, lots of tearout here…


molding detail, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680
molding detail, joined chest Dedham MA 1650-1680
The gilded moldings on this woodwork from Haddon Hall, Derbyshire are first-rate. The crease moldings even get connected where the muntin meets the upper rail. Great wood, great work, for a very well-to-do house in the period, light-years from the work in Dedham, MA.
molding details Haddon Hall chapel
molding details Haddon Hall chapel
The next one is a muntin from some English wainscoting; a complex molding – very crisp, fine detail.
English wainscot molding, 17th century
English wainscot molding, 17th century

Just a few more. Here is a joined stool from Essex County, MA; mid-to-late seventeenth century.

joined stool Essex County MA
joined stool Essex County MA

Here is another “crease” molding – this one from a joined chest from Braintree, MA c. 1660-1690.

crease molding, joined chest Braintree, MA 1660-1690
crease molding, joined chest Braintree, MA 1660-1690

All of the above are oak, all integral to the furniture, not applied moldings. That’s another whole batch of pictures. Maybe they will be part X.

Next time I will dig out some nomenclature; using Moxon, Randle Holme, and some probate inventories. More to come…

6 thoughts on “some 17th-century moldings; pt 1

  1. I’m very curious as to what you will use Randle Holme for. I thought his work was primarily on printing and typefounding?

    In any event, I can look up what Thomas Martin says in his book (1813).

    So if you had a want list of books on early moldings and woodwork, what would that list consist of?

    Gary (still on the trail of Maine whetstones)

  2. It’s very refreshing to see how much tearout was acceptable in these pieces. It seems like today, so much focus and emphasis is placed on getting microscopically perfect surfaces, completely free from tearout and then the overall design and proportion of a piece suffers because of it. These joiners were obviously very aware of what was most important and were perfectly fine with the tearout they got, even on parts that today we would probably burn and remake because of the tearout. Also makes me feel a lot better about my work :). Perfect, tearout free moldings are a thing that tends to elude me most of the time.

  3. I was wondering how are they cutting these moldings? Is the profile of the wainscoting the result of scraping or of a complex molder?

    Some of the creases have a rather heavy trough in the middle of them. How is that executed? Can you use a rebate plane here? Seems like a lot of scraping in order to reach the right depth.


  4. Peter… I’m wondering if these English moldings are based upon Dutch styles? There are Dutch planes as well as architectural elements that are as bold as these. At least from my memory of my days in NYC as a boy.


  5. Peter, I’ve not heard the term ‘crease’ in this context before. I’ve ocassionally heard these ‘mitres’ called ‘blind mitres’, but ‘masons’ mitres’ is the most usual term used. Masons use this form of mitre on window casements, mullions etc. and the term would have carried over from eclesiastical masonry to eclesiastical furniture and beyond.

    • Sorry, I must have been half asleep when I posted earlier. The first picture (dated 1691)is of what I would call a blind mitre, but the picture from Haddon Hall chapel, where the mitre is wholly carved into one member, is the masons’ mitre.

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