Full Chisel Blog

December 14, 2008

Making Moldings

On occasion, I need to match a piece of old molding on a piece of furniture.  I repair mostly nineteenth century pieces built in the classical style of the period.  Many of these moldings are composites of two or more pieces of shaped wood in conjunction with each other.  This can be as simple as a square (or rectangular in profile) piece of wood together with a cove to form the desired molding.  It can also be just built up of different size coves, beads, fillets, ogees, etc.

Now some of these are made with dedicated molding planes and a few have been made with hollows and rounds to make a unique molding.  There is a lot of talk about using the H&R’s together with a snipe bill plane to make complex moldings unavailable in molding planes.  While the plane may exist to make that molding, if the furniture maker didn’t have a dedicated molding plane they could use the hollows and rounds to make the molding.

I do have a few of each in various widths and sweeps (profiles) of hollows and rounds.  Although I don’t know which is which, as a hollow plane would make a round molding and a round plane would make a hollow (cove).  I don’t know if the planes are named for their shape or the shape they make?

However the ponderance of moldings I have examined on old pieces from the mid nineteenth century are made with dedicated molding planes.  The most common is the bead plane of various widths.  The second most common element is just a square or rectangular piece added to another molding.  When it comes to complex moldings by far the single most common is the cove and bead.

This type of plane was made in various sizes and can also be used in conjunction with other elements to make more complicated moldings.  It appears in early nineteenth century tool catalogues in a variety of sizes.  I have seen one example where the bead was probably removed and the exaggerated cove used with good effect.

In Smith’s Key to Various Sheffield Manufacturers published in 1816, there are listings for 3 different types of Hollows & Rounds in the various sizes and were sold in pairs.  There are 5 different types of Snipe’s Bill planes, used to delineate the molding in conjunction with H&R’s.  Here is the interesting statistic, the same catalogue offers 68 different molding planes.  Beads, side beads, cock beads, coves, cove & beads, ogee,  reverse ogees, astragals, quirks, ovolos, reeds, toros, Gothic, etc.

Things may have been different in other parts of the country, but out here in the Wild West and having a much later pioneer and settlement period and a great number of British Cabinet Makers, dedicated molding planes were in common use.   I think that maybe one of the reasons for this is the fact that almost all of the furniture made out here was of pine and painted and grained to look like other woods.  Now not all of this pine is clear straight grained stuff, many pieces have knots.  Any chips would be filled with putty (linseed oil and whiting [calcium carbonate]), allowed to dry then painted and grained.

While planing a molding can be a bit problematic with knotty pine, it still makes an acceptable molding.  Planing a piece of knotty pine with hollows and rounds is a nightmare.  If I have to use these planes for moldings I make sure that it is clear without knots.  Knots also present problems for other molding planes, but with the set width from the fence and the set depth from the stop it is possible to produce a relatively smooth and acceptable molding.  If you have tried this you know of the additional strokes it takes to get the knot area down to the rest of the molding.

When reproducing moldings for old furniture, I can usually find a molding plane that will fit the profile and on the rare instances that I can’t, I will resort to the hollows and rounds to make the required molding.  Because I am restoring old pieces or making reproductions I use what they had to make the proper piece.

If I were making new pieces then I am sure that a full set of hollows and rounds would be handy, but they are not high on my list of acquisitions, although I do pick them up if they are cheap.  I am not saying that they are not useful, they are for certain applications, but if I am going to make a molding I like it done with one plane if possible.




  1. Hi Stephen,

    I agree that single-purpose molding planes are most often the best solution. Even with not reproducing an exact replica of a piece, I look for molding planes to emulate–if not match–what I have built.

    It isn’t that H&Rs are terribly difficult to use and I do have a half-set. It is just that a one-profile or a combination to a couple profiles is quicker. I’ll bust out the H&Rs if I have to hunt for a molding plane that will work for my purposes for more than a day.

    My best find at a point of need was a molding plane that pretty much was a dead match for the picture molding we had to remove when we remodeled. I still have yet to make more than the couple runs I tested it on…

    The other was to find that one of the ogee cutters in a Stanley #55 I had was a dead match to the window stop our house had. That I used the heck out of before I sold it on.

    Anyway, because of the preponderance of molding planes in comparison to sets/half-sets of H&Rs one can find, I think molding planes were the norm.

    Take care, Mike

    Comment by Mike — December 17, 2008 @ 7:00 am

  2. Mike,

    I have a small side bead plane (I had to add a fence) and I use it all the time. It also matches beads on many old pieces. I have heard that putting a bead on the edge of boards can relieve stresses in the board to reduce cupping, warping, etc.

    I will still continue to collect H&R’s as they become available, what I am really looking for is a large cove molding plane to reproduce some fine picture frames from pine that are painted and grained. I could use a core box plane to make a core then cut it in half for two coves, but I don’t own a core box plane.

    The quest continues.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — December 17, 2008 @ 8:08 am

  3. Hi Stephen,

    While I can use my H&Rs for larger coves, I began using one of my pattern maker’s planes (the kind with interchangeable soles). The larger of the two I own is a craftsman made toted version:


    On coves which have a bit more of an elliptical transition, I have refined the shape with H&Rs. But seeing how I have made little “period” furniture, other than a couple pieces with large cove crown, it’s been for playtime as regards molding. Main things I have used either of the pattern maker’s planes I have has been for refining the shape inside coopered doors.

    These planes come up now and again on the ‘Bay and various internet vintage tool sites. Seems most molding planes with coves one finds are in conjunction with beads, astragals, etc.

    Take care, Mike

    Comment by Mike — December 17, 2008 @ 8:30 am

  4. In answer to you question about the naming of Hollows and Rounds, Whelan states in “The Wooden Plane” pg. 188 under the section Hollows And Rounds that the planes are named from the shape of their soles. Thus Hollow is the concave, and Round the Convex.

    Whelen says a breath later that Goodman attempted (Unsuccessfully) to change the convention in his book “British Planemakers From 1700, 2nd Ed.

    Comment by Trevor Walsh — August 1, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

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