Just in time for the holidays, a free chapter on-line. . . courtesy of THISisCarpentry.com.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. As we approach Christmas, my friend Gary Katz and his fantastic e-zine THISisCarpentry.com has posted Chapter 3 of my book on-line. The first part is available here. I believe the second part is coming out on Friday.

While your on his site, you might also want to check out my other articles on trim and moldings.

Be sure to sign up for Gary’s magazine as he is a great teacher and a real leader in our industry. He is a long time friend and I appreciate his support of this story.

Enjoy, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas.



Good moldings vs Bad Moldings- 3 rules/guidelines for a better crown molding?

Part of understanding the Lost Art of Building is seeing the subtlety of beauty that was once understood and has now been forgotten. Look no further than the overused and bumpy crown moldings used today as a clear example of what we have forgotten. Here are 3 helpful guidelines that you can use when attempting to design a built-up crown or cornice.

1. A harmony of parts. A quick review of the ancient traditions shows a unity and harmony of parts. The ancients viewed the human body as the model for design and just as hands and feet and arms and legs are all proportionally related, so too in ancient buildings do the parts and pieces relate to one another both in style as well as proportion.

Tuscan order ICA

A look at the Tuscan Order shows this proportional relationship at work. First all the parts of the order relate to the column diameter. The column is THE unifying element, labeled as “D”. Note at the bottom, the base is sized 1/2 D. The size of the base in this example will be 1/2 the size of the diameter of the column. The size of these parts all tie back to the diameter. This means they are all unified and scaled harmoniously.


2. The power of a pause. In the entablature above, note how many flat plan surfaces make up the entablature. This flat surface is not a place where they forgot something, it is instead a purposeful part of the design. Remember that moldings are a language; moldings communicate and have personality. Try to see the flat area as a pause or break between words. Insteadoftalkingrealfastandnotpausingtotakeabreath. The flat area is a pause or a space between words that helps us read and understand what the moldings are saying.

ICA moldings

Note on this sheet of classical moldings shapes (ICAA) that they start with flat plane surfaces. This pause is designed into the classical language. It is as much a part of a good molding as any cove or ovolo.






3. More is not better, its worse. There has a grown a misguided line of thinking among builders and homeowners that if we use more moldings it means the quality of the project is better. Over the last 20 years moldings, especially crown moldings have grown and morphed into silly and bumpy shapes. They are often shaped with haphazard bellies and bruises, corners and angles, all meant to look like more moldings have been used, which of course is better.  The idea is, the builder will use 2 heavily figured moldings to make his crown look like he used 6 or 7 steps. It is merely a trick to make his work seem more complex then it really is.

Don’t be fooled. I just left a job in Austin where I found this type of phony-crown. Even though it scaled nearly 9″ across it was only 2 bumpy moldings joined together. The upper (angled) piece is a new “super-crown” filled with too many shapes. The lower molding is just a busy door casing.

tricky crown

bad crown

















Moldings should be readable. In other words their shapes should communicate a clear message.  Look at the picture below. It highlights a good crown vs a bad crown. 1st, the crown on the left is built of many parts that are very difficult to read. Look to the far left, see all the lines on the wall? If you weren’t able to see the corner profile, it is nearly impossible to tell what the crown molding is saying. By contrast, the crown on the right is simple and easy to read. Note the pause, (guideline 2) the long flat shape (called the corona) it gives our eyes a rest. We can read the composition because the pause gives our eyes a place to rest.   good vs bad crown








Note too, there is a harmony between parts (Guideline 1) The size of the moldings are proportionate to one another. That is my problem with this crown below. It is one large crown,  sandwiched by the small panel molds and dentils. The proportion of the parts is all wrong. Also, note there is no pause. It is an avalanche of dips and turns.

bad crown







jack-black-six-packAt the end of the day, McMansion crown-molding is just fakery. Much like Jack Black with this ridiculous muscle shirt, it is pretending. Ultimately we are only fooling ourselves.

The Lost Art of Building- – Casino construction

I’ve made my point in the Timeless House that we are what we build. Our buildings offer a telling narrative of who we are and what we believe and value. I’ve re-contemplated this idea as I consider casino construction techniques. If you’ve been to Las Vegas, you know what I mean. They famously recreate or copy famous places; New York,  or Paris for example. Just across the Texas border in Oklahoma we have the Winstar World casino.

winstar ok winstar ok 2

This Winstar is called the “world” casino and they use the world theme as a way to tie together the rambling space;  London, Madrid, Beijing, etc..

world casino map

This type of ”themed” construction is unfortunately contagious. It encourages well-meaning homeowners that they can rebuild Versailles in New Jersey or build an English castle in Nebraska. I’m not discouraging or disparaging dream building. Some dreams need to be built and realized. Unfortunately, it doesn’t promote creativity or craftsmanship. Creativity is discouraged to create something new but rather find a way to create a cheap copy. This type of construction also discourages craftsmanship because the building methods are not improved, instead foam and paint are used to create everything.

Here is a picture of the side of the Winstar as they were constructing Chinese tower.

winstar ok close4

Sadly, its clear that the casino is really just a ”tent”. Like a Hollywood set, there is nothing “real” here. These foam and decorated surfaces do not promote fine craftsmanship, in fact they actually encourage us that we don’t need to know how to craft because with these products we can make anything.

Casino construction is like a virus. It encourages us that it is easy to “rebuild” the great buildings of the past. These are buildings that discourage craft, corrupt design and cheat us of beauty. Casino construction is narrating a sad tale about who we are and what we believe. We can do better.