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My mother, Elizabeth F. (“Penny”) Jones, is an architectural historian and collector of all things historic…and not. When I was a kid, she was one of the driving forces behind the preservation of countless old buildings in Louisville, where I grew up. After moving to the Washington, D.C., area when I was in high school, she joined the National Trust for Historic Preservation as director of Preservation Programs, and was later executive director at the American Institute for Conservation (usually known as “AIC”). While she’s now retired, she remains incredibly active in preservation efforts. All this is to say that though she comes by the tendency honestly, my mother is altogether unable to throw anything away; It might be important someday…so it’s worth saving.

The picture above is of a piece of moulding from a mid-19th-century historic house in Louisville, one the few she was unable to save. So she saved a part of it – in, I believe, 1974. So, by my calculation (which might be off by a move or two), this moulding scrap traveled from Louisville to Alexandria, Va., in 1985, and has since moved to at least four different homes.

Now, she’s asked me to make it into something useful…but what? The easy solution is to make a picture frame…but that’s a pretty short run of stock for such a wide moulding; the frame would wholly overwhelm whatever is inside it.

I could also make a simple narrow display shelf, with a flat attached to the moulding edge at the top. But that’s kinda boring and predictable (though still an option).

So your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with the winning idea, as determined by my mother and me (which is to say I get veto power…I’m not making a stepback just to stick that on top of it; she doesn’t have room for a large furniture piece…and I’m a bad daughter…so think “small”). The person who submits the winning idea gets a 6-month subscription (or extension) to our video streaming site, ShopClass on Demand (with more than 400 woodworking instructional videos, including the first 20 seasons of “The Woodwright’s Shop”). And then I shall build the winning idea. Eventually (always good to CYA…).

The deadline is June 20 (the same deadline as the 2014 PWM Excellence Awards – have you entered?).

The piece is 5’4″ long, 7-1/2″ wide and projects 2-3/4″ from the backing board. My mom didn’t tell me how thick it is, but I’m guessing in the 3/4″ to 7/8″ range. I also don’t know what kind of wood it is…but I would guess a local domestic hardwood, such as walnut or cherry (this was a fancy house – not like my plebian Victorian-era “manse,” which has yellow pine trim throughout).

Submit your idea in words below – and if you wish to include a link to a sketch (though it’s not necessary), use an “a href=” html tag in your comments…and if you don’t know what that means, send it to me and I’ll add it for you.

And now I must get back to the mouldings in my own house…I’m in the midst of installing new baseboards in the kitchen (yes mom, they match the originals).

— Megan Fitzpatrick

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Showing 39 comments
  • music2wood

    Make a display pedestal with mitered corners and the top made from a like board (walnut or cherry or whatever the moulding is) but saturate the top material with India ink to ‘ebonize’ it and give a nice contrast. As a Christmas gift, I made a similar piece (mine was 6″ moulding) for a good good friend who is a potter. He uses it on the floor to display a large, slab built pot.

  • Muck

    I would use that vintage moulding as the skirt on a wall mounted pot or knife rack in the kitchen. To increase the “usefulness” you could hinge the bottom of the moulding and create a tilt out tray for spices.

    Okay, who am I kidding? If I built it I would commandeer it for my shop. It would look great with some vintage tools on it.

  • laneycath

    I would lop it off so it is a manageable 4 feet. I would drill 4-6 holes and maybe insert large gold rivets or finish the holes . Then I would paint the flat part white – with a chalk style paint – rough up the edges. Then the moulding would be antiqued or gold or silver or any other contrasting color combo. Then I would caligraph CELEBRATE. Lastly I would glue or add hooks or magnets of some fashion to the moulding. Finally I would mount it on the wall but spaced enough so I could access my drilled holes, which are at the bottom. I could thread ribbon. My hooks would allow me to attach lights or other ribbon or I could use the magnets to display greeting cards. This is permanent celebratory frame – mounting.

  • woodfellow

    If you can duplicate the profile, I would make a coffee table. Using the moulding and backer board(cut to the height needed) as aprons.

  • jcksnssn

    Don’t throw out the picture frame idea. We’ve made some inexpensive pictures bought while travelling (think street market artists) look very impressive by framing them dramatically. This really draws attention to a small piece of art. Can even use part of backerboard as if is a mat if desired. Effect is a bit like a shadowbox, except glass is not at front of box but is either
    absent (small oil painting like ours) or directly on top of picture like a traditional picture frame.

  • RedneckRev

    Make a recessed light that stands out from the wall where she can put plants to grow. This could be the front panel and the light could shine down on the plant area. Or you could cut it in half and make two so that she could have two different areas (possibly in one two different rooms of the house to grow plants or make a memory wall of some kind (like pictures of the family or of the historical homes/buildings she has helped to save, etc.)

  • jetjock07

    I would look at building a nice mantel clock. Cut the backer board off, joint the edges and glue up to make the face or sides of the clock. Then use the moulding at the top and possibly on the bottom as well. It would end up being a family treasure that can be passed down for years to come. Have fun with all the ideas.

  • donnac36

    Your piece would make a beautiful cornice board to highlight a lovely window. You could hang some pretty curtains/drapes behind it.

  • webbie

    small side table… backer boards glued top, moulding to trim and either glued up legs or some type of metal legs (also salvaged, maybe).

  • rboe

    Low hanging fruit since Chris blogged about it earlier: Make a try square or a T square or both if you have enough material.

    You could use in the shop or hang it from the wall or both.


  • WoodenDreamsCreationsBob

    It would make a beautiful box. I had a leftover piece of crown moulding that I made into a very interesting box with a peaked lid.

  • Barryd41

    It would make a beautiful Bed Headboard with smart able lamps!

  • knothole

    I like Stephen Davis’ idea. It would be nice to have a complete archive of molding shapes showing the dates they tended to be used, and what style. It would be a good resource to help us date furniture and architecture.
    You might use the molding horizontally in a fireplace mantel, if it is long enough.With the miters cut off, and some hooks added, it could be a coat rack or a pot/utensil rack. A shelf ,or shelves, such as a plate rack, could be added on top. Maybe it could be used a a molding around the top of a country/primitive cabinet; something like a chimney/jelly cupboard.

  • Gene

    If the back board really is 7/8, then maybe a matching set of Roubo bookstands.

  • JohnSturgess

    How about a Potato/vegitable bin with a cutting board on top. The moulding would go around the top, making the cutting area wider than the bin pedistal, providing toe clearance. It would be easy to move when she changes locations and she could use it regularly.

  • AlanWS

    Whatever else you intend, it will become a feline display platform, so I propose you design it as one. A pedestal with a platform edged in crown molding will allow your cat to look down on you regally. (I am assuming your affinity for cats extends to your mother.)

  • hmerkle

    Yep – I had bgrimes idea two days late so here is my revised idea;
    You write and read (a lot!) so my guess is the apple didn’t fall to far from the tree…
    My upcycle idea is to create a fancy lap desk for reading or writing
    or a book (cookbook?) stand (think a one-sided Jefferson).

    Can’t wait to see what you do with that historic piece of architecture!

  • mysandman

    How about a nice Shadow Box frame so she can display something in it?


    I think you could make a nice plant stand. Use the molding at both the top and the bottom in a mirrored appearance. You could make a simple four sided plant stand, or if you are feeling more adventurous make a hexagonal tower, again with the moldings at the top and bottom.

  • Moontoad

    Trim the two short ends, bore some evenly space holes for pegs, and hang it on the wall as a coat rack with history. Done.

  • Sawtooth

    Picture frame. I’ve seen a couple of Greene and Greene style picture frames that do not use “regular” moulding for all four sides, but usually the sides are similar (but mirrored) and the top and bottom have different shapes/edge profiles. You could use this moulding for the top and bottom and tie them together with sides that complement whatever is in the photo/painting/drawing or whatever you’re framing. Alternatively, you could use it to frame a mirror for a living room or hallway, and the side pieces would be designed to complement the decorative theme of the room where the mirror will hang. Andy

  • bsrlee

    You could build her a ‘corner cupboard’ as illustrated in ‘Work’ Issue No 114, available for free at Tools for Working Wood. Printed in May 1891, it is also the first article to appear in the publication by a…..woman! The top moulding looks suspiciously like your mother’s moulding too. It could even be made as an independent structure so the moulding can continue its peregrinations.

  • bmyyou

    The moulding is too wide as-is for a jewelry box, however the top portion of the moulding could be ripped for the box top trim section and leave a suitable wide piece of moulding remaining to construct a crown-moulding-type jewelry box. I believe the original plans for the top of a crown moulding box called for plywood and a trim piece around to cover the exposed ply edges; the flat below the moulding profile could also be ripped, jointed and glued into top and bottom planks and the edge trim could be omitted.

  • Steven Davis

    How about pulling together an archive of architectural Moldings with profiles and images through Popular Woodworking as an online resource to preserve and share?

  • granolajohn

    Megan, I would use it for the top of a headboard.

  • Jim McCoy

    Hi Megan,
    My idea, assuming you can separate the moulding from the backer board without damaging either one, would be to make a free standing display shelf attached to a wall. You could make a torsion box out of some home center wood and attach it to the wall with long, stout screws. Then you could attach the backer board to the top of the box to serve as the shelf and wrap the torsion box with your Mom’s moulding, mitering the corners of the moulding and creating nice returns on the sides. The length of the shelf would be dictated by how much useable moulding you are able to get out of the piece you have so that the backer board has a nice balanced look sitting on top of the moulding. I think that would make a nice shelf for displaying other historical items or antiques, it would celebrate what is left of that old house, and it is a pretty simple and inexpensive way to use a majority of the moulding your Mom managed to save.

  • mobilefour

    Scrape Molding. I hate to call it scrape, and it should be kept substantially intact being only 5’4″. Several possible uses would be molding for the top edge of a bar, island in kitchen, built in bookcase or counter in the kitchen. Being as old as it is I’ll bet when finished it would stand out. Old is good and I like your mom’s taste.

  • Maurice

    As someone with a degree in Historic Presevation, this project screams for so thing vertical. It came off of a building, so why not create a tall-ish structure? I’m thinking a rectilinear bookcase with glass doors (or no doors). Heck, even paneled doors. In any event, the moulding should best be served crowning off that piece, and emphasizing a tall stature.

  • don2laughs

    I think it would be a wonderful base for an interior window seat for a view of the garden. The molding is long enough for a 3′ window with a 1′ return on each side….to be topped with a nice piece of cherry or walnut for the seat.

  • pmac

    Fireplace surround and mantle. I win.

  • Jonas Jensen

    My suggestion is a small hexagonal chest of drawers.
    The top should be made out of the moulding itself, 6 pie shaped pieces with the thick part on the outside. That way the completed piece will resemble a small medieval tower (in my imagination at least).
    The lower skirt of the case should be made out of the moulding put in the high edge withthe “fat” section down.
    The backing board should be used for making fronts for the triangular drawers and maybe sides as well.
    The vertical dividers are inserted in grooves made in the top and bottom. The horisontal dividers are inserted in rabbets made in the vertical dividers.
    Making the top is hard, because wood movement will open up the all end grain glue surface (I have sadly tested that).

    Brgds Jonas
    Here’s the URL to see a sketch:

  • Frederic4

    I have seen some nice boxes made from crown molding.

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