Bolection molding

Well, I have a few blog posts coming through the pipeline. First thing is I got the sensor on my camera cleaned. So for a little while the photos will have fewer spots. I’ve been working on the upper case of the cupboard and fitted the door the other day. Today I took it back apart and began the process of figuring out the moldings that mount on it. for review, here’s the original’s door.

cupboard door Massachusetts Historical Society coll. Photo Gavin Ashworth

There’s three frames that create quite a dynamic effect – the outermost one is simple, a 1 1/4” wide oak molding mounted on the door frame. I used a rabbet plane and a hollow to form it. I got the technique and the plane from Matt Bickford, the molding wiz. My main decorative bag is carving. I can make moldings but it’s not something I do frequently. So each time, I have to review what Matt’s book does. https://lostartpress.com/products/mouldings-in-practice

simple molding

For the middle frame I decided to take my own advice and practice first. In pine. Aside from the shape of this molding, it has another feature that I had never done before. It’s hard to see in the black & white photo above, but this molding covers (& hides) the drop between the door frame and the panel. I learned to call this sort of molding a “bolection” molding. It doesn’t refer to the profile, but to the manner of mounting it. 

Many years ago, Jennie Alexander used to keep a copy of Cyril Harris’ Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture in her bathroom. Sent me a copy so I could do the same. I did for a while, but nowadays it’s in the shop bookcase. There, I looked up the definition of “bolection”:

“Bolections, balection, belection, bellexion, bilection, bolexion  – A molding projecting beyond the surface of the work which it decorates, as that covering the joint between a panel and the surrounding stiles and rails; often used to conceal a joint where the joining surfaces are at different levels.”

And Harris’ illustration: 

That’s clearly what’s happening on the Essex County cupboard door. I went to the Massachusetts Historical Society last week to take some more measurements and notes – and shot another view of the door showing just a snippet of the three frames on the door. That escutcheon is a replacement. At the bottom corner, behind the outer black frame you can just see a peg securing the mortise & tenon joint and the junction of the stile & bottom rail. And the next 2″ wide molding sits on the frame at its outer edge and on the panel at its inner edge.

Here’s a not-so-detailed view of my progress late yesterday. it took doing it to make my head wrap around how the miters and the back rabbet co-exist. Turns out it’s dead simple.

But somewhere there are bolection planes – even in the 17th century. Randle Holme’s Academy of Armory (1688) notes:

“The several sorts of plains.

The Strike Block, is a Plain shorter than the Joynter, having the Sole made exactly flat and streight, and is used for the shooting of a short Joint; because it is more ready by the hand than the long Joynter; It is also used for the fitting and framing of Miter and Bevil Joynts.

The Miter-Plain.

The Revaile Plain.

The Scurging Plain.

The Moulding Plains, are for the working off of several sorts of Moulding works, which Plains have names according to their several Operations; as

The Hallow Plain.

The Round, or Half Round Plain.

The Belection Plain.

The O-gee Plain.

The Back O-gee Plain. The Cornish Plain.

The Phalister Plain. [An undated note in the copy of Randle Holme in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, reads “Carpenters have a plane called a phalister or feliciter, a corruption of the Italian falcitello.”]”

Well, the only thing that makes a molding a bolection according to Harris is a rabbet on its back surface so it can slip from the panel to the frame. But what is a bolection plane then? Holme says nothing more about it. I don’t think it’s in Joseph Moxon’s book, I haven’t looked in a while. I don’t remember it there. 

Colonial Williamsburg has some early 18th century planes they call bolection planes, referring in these cases to the shapes. Here’s one of theirs by Francis Nicholson 

photo from Colonial Williamsburg’s website

I looked in John Whalen’s book The Wooden Plane (Astragal Press, 1993) to see what he said about bolection planes. He’s got the same definition as Harris, but then segues into talking about profiles and their complexity. One thing he notes is a construction I’ve not seen – a rabbet to fit the panel, then the molding to pin it in place. But he doesn’t cite where/when this is used.

Whalen illustration

One last stop – Goodman’s British Planemaker’s 4th Edition edited by Jane Rees (Astragal Press, 2020) – but all that one cites is the Randle Holme quote. But I think somewhere, very early on, the profile became the marker for a “bolection” molding – possibly in addition to the mounting format. Otherwise how could you have a bolection plane?

But if you’ve made it this far, I have something for one of you. I just got Jane Rees’ new edition of Goodman’s book, which means I have the 3rd edition (1993) to send free to a good home. First one that wants it & leaves a comment gets it. Today I’m off to split a new log, then hopefully make some oak bolection moldings.

(pt 17 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

12 thoughts on “Bolection molding

  1. Peter,
    Seems like quite a line for the book, no matter. Would you state the title and publisher so the rest of us can join the que? Excellent post by the way and, much appreciated. I’ve use these moldings for years and only recently understood the origins.

  2. The new edition is Goodman’s British Planemakers 4th edition, edited by Jane Rees. Astragal Press 2020. Previously it was called British Planemakers from 1700 by W. L. Goodman – the 3rd edition was edited by Jane & her late husband Mark Rees.

  3. Both Roubo and Diderot may refer to the fanciest French versions, wherein bolection moldings on both sides of a door not only transit the joint between frame and panel, but actually form the groove holding the panl, or, say, bolections on both sides capture the feathered and/or rabbeted edges of panels.

  4. Peter,

    Wonderful progress as usual! A question: are the six petalled brass(?) flowers original and will you be applying them to your copy of this cupboard? If so, how are you going to make them? I doubt they can be found in the local Home Despot…

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