Chris Schwarz's Blog

Review: 'Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings'

I like city life. Nothing pleases me more than walking the streets of old cities, ducking down the alleyways of Charleston, S.C., stumbling unexpectedly into the squares of Savannah, Ga., or just absorbing the 19th-century vibe of German Village in Columbus, Ohio.

In fact, I’ve often thought that my entire life has been an effort to distance myself from our primitive and isolated farm in Hackett, Ark.

So George Walker’s newest DVD, “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings,” has me perplexed. In it, Walker connects the moulding and architecture of the buildings and furniture I love with the natural world. I’m starting to see streetscapes as forests; and the details of the natural world as the building blocks of good design.

Let me be clear, Walker doesn’t hug a single tree in the DVD. But he does explore how shapes in nature , water running over rocks , are reflected in our mouldings , such as ogees. And he’s aware of the irony: How we take natural materials and manipulate them into objects that then imitate these natural materials in their original state.

Beyond the interesting philosophy, Walker’s new DVD will help you understand moulding design better than ever before. Too often woodworkers (me included) will design a moulding by simply imitating one we’ve found in the wild, which can be an OK strategy sometimes. Or, even worse, we design a moulding around the tooling we own (I’ve got a roundover bit!) with awkward results.

Walker first breaks down mouldings into four families: flat, concave, convex and compound. Then he further explores each family and explains what each moulding is called (conge, scotia, torus, etc.) and what function it serves (crowning, supporting, separating etc.).

Suddenly you’ll see that each family of moulding has a job to do, just like the joints in a project. Some mouldings are best used at the base of a project, just like you would choose a splined miter when making a bracket foot for a plinth. Some of this you will know instinctively; some of it will be a forehead-slapping “A-ha” moment for you.

Once you understand the different moulding shapes and the different jobs they perform, Walker shows you how to proportion the mouldings on a project so they are the right size to create the effect you desire. He proportions the moulding using the classic “column orders” that use simple whole-number ratios and divisions of five and six to create harmonious structures.

He also ends up dividing a lot of spaces in half as he designs the mouldings on screen, which was a surprising thing to see after his last DVD on design that tended to eschew that ratio at times. In any case, his system seems to really work, and it was fascinating to see him draw the moulding profiles on screen and listen to his design choices as he worked.

This might all sound like high-minded advanced design theory. I assure you it’s not. This sort of information is exactly what I wish all beginning woodworkers would absorb before they dive into designing a project and put a 3/4″ ogee on everything that is nailed down.

If you want to design effective and harmonious mouldings, you should watch this DVD several times (there is a lot to absorb).

One last note: The production quality on this DVD is top shelf. The camera-work, editing, graphics and animations make this DVD look more like an hour-long PBS special than a woodworking video. In other words, I think your spouse will enjoy it, too.

The DVD is available from Lie-Nielsen Toolworks for $25.

- Christopher Schwarz

P.S. In the interest of full disclosure: Walker is a columnist for our magazine. And I have also made DVDs with Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (all my proceeds go to woodworking charities). If I didn’t like this DVD I’d do what I do with many of the dozens of DVDs I get every year , keep my mouth shut.

5 thoughts on “Review: 'Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings'

  1. Bill Melidones

    Chris,

    On the subject of Arkansas. There’s an author named Stephen Hunter who writes a lot about that area of Ark.
    He’s best known for the story behind the movie "Shooter".
    You should check one of his early books out.

    Bill

  2. ahicktiger.blogspot.com

    Well I won’t be driving by today, it is snowing and sleeting in Ar/Okla and that pretty much shuts the world down. But when the weather clears up, maybe. I will admit that the area south of Hackett, that the house is in, is a beautiful stretch of road.

  3. Christopher Schwarz

    The farm, which my father sold two years ago, is 84.4 acres on what is now called Hill Top Terrace. When we bought it the address was Hill Top Lane.

    Here’s a Google satellite map.

    http://tinyurl.com/yh9nee3

    The gray building is the main house we built. Look to the right and you can see a smaller house in the woods. That was the "starter" house. Ugh.

    Chris

  4. ahicktiger.blogspot.com

    Chris,
    I have been enjoying your books on Workbenches and Handplanes. You always talk about your family farm in Hackett. I live across the line in Spiro. Where is this farm so I can drive by sometime, and see the inspiration for all of your woodworking endeavors?
    Keith

  5. Rich Stevens

    Chris,

    Thanks. At long last, some instruction on how to apply mouldings sympathetically to projects I am working on or contemplating.

    Heaven knows how much wood and router bits I’ve been responsible for wasting and damaging in my quest to build my dream piece of furniture.

    I’ll be sure to order this DVD forthwith.

    Kindly, Rich

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