“After many vain attempts at ornamentation …?on my own’ I learned that choice classic designs had been well thought out and established before my birth. It was for me to study them, to revel in their line and proportion until the spirit became my own and controlled my perception.”
– Walter Rose, “The Village Carpenter”
Among all the many types of handplanes, it is the so-called moulding planes that generate the most confusion, consternation and frustration among beginning woodworkers.
Drawing a fair moulding profile, selecting the tools to cut it and actually proceeding with the work is enough to make many woodworkers cling to their collection of router bits forever.
If you’re curious about cutting mouldings by hand, then I heartily recommend a new DVD from Don McConnell and Lie-Nielsen Toolworks that will lay the groundwork for you to understand the tools and how they are wielded.
And as valuable as these lessons are, I think the most eye-opening aspect of the DVD is that you get to watch McConnell make several profiles from start to finish. Seeing the profiles appear stroke by stroke, plane by plane, is a convincing argument that the work is fairly straightforward and do-able. And plus, the results are more beautiful than anyone can achieve with a routed and sanded moulding.
McConnell is, in my opinion, one of the most knowledgeable scholars on early woodworking tools who is working today. Plus, McConnell spent many years as an interpreter at The Ohio Village, a professional hand-tool furniture-maker and a highly regarded ornamental carver in the Columbus, Ohio, area. I’ve always thought of him as the Indiana Jones of the hand tool world , his encyclopedic knowledge of early woodworking is backed by years of putting his book-smarts to use at the bench.
As a result, this entire DVD is a jewel. McConnell, now a planemaker at Clark & Williams, explains the basic anatomy of mouldings so you can understand the difference between Grecian and Roman shapes, and you can see how complex mouldings are in fact the assemblage of simple forms.
McConnell then demonstrates a couple basic complex moulding planes (the side bead and the ovolo) so you can see how a complete (usually simple) moulding can be created with one plane.
Then he moves into the hollows and rounds, which are the tools that you can use to create almost any shape or size of moulding. McConnell efficiently shows how to lay out a moulding on your work and then prepare the profile with cuts from either a rabbet, plow or moving fillister plane. Finally, he demonstrates how the hollows and rounds bring the final moulding to shape with little fuss if you have followed the correct procedures. Proper rabbets help guide your hollow and round planes as they do their work.
In addition to creating several mouldings, McConnell also demonstrates how to sharpen moulding plane irons and how to maintain (and fix) their cutting profiles. He also shows how to properly saw (and shoot) your moulding so it can be applied to your project. That is followed by an eye-opening discussion of snipe bill planes, one of the least understood wooden moulding planes in the traditional toolkit.
When you’re done watching the DVD, be sure to print out the accompanying glossary and bibliography on the disc. The glossary will help reinforce the names of all the shapes McConnell discusses in the DVD. And the bibliography suggests some books on furniture and tools that will help you build on the basic principles in the DVD so you can create well-proportioned, classic and crisp mouldings for your own work.