Mouldings: Help Us Get it Right

This year Lost Art Press has two books coming out on mouldings – understanding, designing and making them. But if you have ever delved into the world of cavettos, scotias, astragals and toruses (tori?), then you know that the lexicon can be off-putting.

Or even impenetrable.

We are determined to publish an excellent glossary with these books, and we’d like your help. Starting this evening I’m going to post a term and a proposed definition. If you have anything that you think should be added or changed, please leave a comment.

Commenters who are particularly helpful will receive free stuff. What defines “helpful?” I don’t know yet. What is “free stuff?” Depends. Free books, T-shirts, hats, smack and blow.

So here’s the first definition:

facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed. Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle.

Thanks in advance for your help.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Chris Schwarz

Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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33 Responses to Mouldings: Help Us Get it Right

  1. Tony says:

    Would this be the same thing as “bed angle”. A term that is used by trade people in my area to indicate how far out at the top the moulding comes or how far down it comes, depending on facial width. This is based on my limited and possibly misguided knowledge of architectural mouldings.

  2. Damien Nankervis says:

    Great book idea. You gents certainly can spot a gap in available information and are well qualified to fill it.
    Does the definition of an object, when that object is the subject of a design, apply to; the object, the person viewing the object or a blend of both? For instance, could “The angle at which a moulding……:, instead be, “The angle from which a moulding….”. Semantics?

    I like the second sentence in that it gives ‘facial angle’ context , although the execution of the sentence made it hard for me to follow. I have no solutions or suggestions though, and thus reveal my weakness.

    Damien
    Toowoomba, QLD, Oz

  3. Reed Robinson says:

    Far from free stuff-worthy,but I might consider adding “when applied to the piece”. As in “The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed when applied to the piece”. After all, if you’re confused by moulding terminology, you might think “as viewed” means “as viewed when lying flat on the bench or something. . .
    Reed

  4. Curt Wilkerson says:

    facial angle: The angle of a moulding or the grouping of a set of mouldings which are inset and angled to maintain a consistant plane. A group of mouldings with the same facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle.
    Viewing would seem to be a function of the viewer not the object . It would seem that we are attempting to define the angle of an imaginary plane which is the perceived front of the piece. Just my stab at it.
    BTW, I received my copy of the ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest’ yesterday and against better judgement read it until 3am. I wish I had this book several years ago. Could have saved much money and frustration.
    -Curt

  5. “facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed. Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle.”

    In the first sentence, “are viewed” should be “is viewed”; it is modifying “a moulding or grouping” (both singular terms) and not “of mouldings”. The second sentence sounds like it starts off trying to say one thing (that the facial angles of the individual mouldings in a group should be in sync with each other) and ends trying to say something else (that the facial angle as a whole should not be severely inset or projected from the body of the work), so it comes across a little muddled.

    Suggested Change:
    facial angle: This is the angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings is viewed. An aesthetically pleasing facial angle is one that is not inset too much or projected too far from the body of the work. A grouping of mouldings with consistent facial angles is likewise more agreeable than one where the individual mouldings have facial angles that differ from each other.

  6. Phil Hirz says:

    This is a tough one. In the first sentence of the definition you state “The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed.” The problem with this statement is that the facial angle is then defined relative to the location of the viewer rather than its relation to the structure itself. If this is the definition then it is impossible to assign a facial angle to the mouldings in the provided image since the position of the viewer is unspecified. However, in the image the facial angle of the mouldings is labeled as 30 degrees. So it seems that the facial angle can be defined relative to the structure or some other constant. I would suggest a definition more in line with the following: “The mean (or “average”, or “general”) slope of a moulding or group of mouldings relative to the horizontal plane.”

    The second part of your definition can also be somewhat problematic. In general, exterior mouldings tend to be more pleasing when they fall at a consistent facial angle. This is due to the nature of exterior illumination, namely the sun, and the consistency of the play of light and shadows due to this common illumination angle. This is also influenced by the scale of typical exterior structures relative to the viewer and the influence this has on the viewer’s perspective. However, the viewing perspective and illumination angle of interior mouldings may be drastically different, especially on pieces of furniture. In general it seems that the facial angle of interior mouldings are most pleasing when they are near perpendicular to the viewer’s line of vision. The most obvious example would be the difference in facial angle between a base moulding and a cornice moulding. However, a more subtle example is the relative projection between a waist moulding and a cornice moulding on a large case piece. In this scenario the cornice moulding can be placed at a more extreme facial angle than the waist moulding while still maintaining a pleasing overall effect.

    -Phil

    P.S. Check out page 50.

  7. Perceived shadow? The way a shadow is created to give a moulding depth through the use of inset or offset lines and deliniations.

    Just a thunk….

  8. Randy Wilkins says:

    Chris,

    I’m glad you’re working on a series of moulding books. They are very much needed. This may be slightly off-subject, but you might include a “see also – Ocular Rectification”. The Facial Angle and optimal viewing position were what determined the amount of distortion each mould was designed with.

    Randy

  9. R. Carriou says:

    facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed…typically perpendicular to the cross section?

    Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle ….. maybe: that all fall within a parallel plane

    Just my thoughts, hope it helps.

  10. Dave says:

    facial angle: The obtuse angle of a planar surface to the vertical or horizontal face about which the mold features are created.

  11. Dean says:

    I consider myself the least qualified to be making suggestions, but for what it’s worth here’s my attempt at a definition based on Chris’ definition for “Facial Angle.”

    Facial Angle: The angle at which various shapes within a molding or grouping of moldings fall into a common viewing plane. Moldings whose shapes all subtend a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that have a secondary set of shapes that subtend a different facial angle compared to the primary facial angle. This will generate a different light and dark shading pattern than that which was intended.

  12. Bob miller says:

    It might be the time of night but my mind is totally in the gutter. something to do with the angle of the face to , ahem… Stuff.

    Not helpful but the voices made me do it.

    Looking forward to sending you more money.

  13. John Cashman says:

    “facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed. Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle.”

    facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed. Horizontally applied mouldings can be rotated through vertical planes so that they intersect with the viewer’s gaze as the head and eyes are pivoted up and down. Mouldings that are above or below the viewers eyes are more pleasing when rotated horizontally to meet the eye. Mouldings on a single plane that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the ideal facial angle.

    I’m not sure if this helps. Crown molding on a thirty foot ceiling has a flatter facial angle than the molding on a tall chest. It’s not just the shape of the molding that’s important, it’s the context relative to the viewer that’s important. For every given distance from the eye in the vertical plane there is an angle that is most pleasing. I once saw someone who had nailed crown molding flat against the wall rather than on an angle between wall and ceiling. It would look equally bad if it were nailed entirely to the ceiling, and not the wall. The vision of that molding haunts me still.

  14. walkerg says:

    The first sentence in your definition is spot on – facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed.
    The second sentence contains a judgment that although I agree with, not sure it belongs in a definition.
    Glad to see you tackle this with a fresh perspective.

  15. This is related to the spring angle, the angle at which the moulding attaches to its mating plumb surface.

  16. Mark says:

    Ohhhh mann…I am so going to need to make those bookcases this summer.

  17. John Kemp says:

    “But if you have ever delved into the world of cavettos, scotias, astragals and toruses (tori?), then you know that the lexicon can be off-putting.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Reading any lexicon is difficult at best. This is especially true for someone just delving into the topic, like myself. But some lexicons are better than others. To the point, after reading the first definition up for review I still don’t know what it’s trying to say. This may be a red herring if the topic is covered in more detail in the book. However, just given the definition I would have an extremely hard time “getting it.”

    Unfortunately, I have no suggestion since I’m not really sure what it’s trying to say.

    On a side note, I have really enjoyed your blog over the last 6 months (when I entered the intriguing world of woodworking). Yours is the first blog I subscribed to and it has been great. Now my blog roll is over 40 but I look forward to each of your posts (here and on PW).

  18. When I read the original definition, I was convinced that the facial angle was related to the viewer. Now that I have read all the comments and stared at the original diagram, I think that was incorrect. Facial angle seems to be simply the angle at which the faces of the mouldings are pitched. If this is correct, it would help to remove reference to the viewer from the main definition.

    Perhaps something along this simple version?

    facial angle: The average angle of the face of a moulding or grouping of mouldings. Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle. In some cases, the facial angle should be roughly perpendicular to the viewer’s line of sight.

  19. Raney says:

    Facial angle is most definitely related to the viewer — Spring angle would be the relationship between the moulding and the piece or building it’s applied to. Facial angle would be the angle that the viewer’s gaze strikes the primary plane containing the moulding’s features. Facial angle is actually the primary consideration, and moulding is applied so that it has the most effective facial angle when viewed from the most common spot.

    Example: When viewing a piece of crown moulding on a 5-foot tall case piece, the facial angle to a person seated just in front of the piece might be quite close to 90 degrees. As soon as the viewer stands, however, the facial angle is altered such that it is now at quite an olbique angle, more like 135 degrees.

    Facial angle is the essential reason that mouldings above the typical viewers’ eye are always faced downward, and those lower than the typical viewer’s eye always face up. In almost all cases, facial angle for the typical viewer is sought to be in the range between 45 an 90 degrees.

    The main considerations in considering facial angle are two-fold. First, what is the vantage point that the designer wishes to be the most effective. Second, what is the direction of light sources, which effects the shadowing of the moulding. The desired facial angle is then established through the manipulation of the moulding’s spring angle.

  20. Dave Mc says:

    “facial angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings are viewed. Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle.”

    First sentence is the definition. Second sentence is a design tip or standard which I also feel doesn’t belong in the “definition” or perhaps:
    Facial Angle: The angle at which a moulding or grouping of mouldings is viewed. Design Tip: Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle, in areas above or below the eye, are more harmonic to the structure than than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle (non-parallel to an established facial angle).

  21. robert says:

    So I did a little research and came up with a definition from Good Millwork: Classical Architectural Moldings (www.goodmillwork.com/good-millwork-classical-architecture-molding/) that I can understand:

    “FACIAL ANGLE — the incline off the vertical at which both individual moldings and molding groups will be pitched. It’s important to maintain a consistent facial angle throughout a molding sequence; otherwise the parts will appear disconnected because light will fall on them at unequal angles of incidence. At various times in classical design, we find facial angles anywhere from 30 to 60 degrees. Differing explanations have been offered for these variations, such as the sharp angle of the sun in the Mediterranean climate requiring a steeper pitch for proper shadow effect.”

    So to me facial angle references an angle relative to vertical as a strict measurement (this angle is actually measurable), while taking into account the more nuanced relative line of sight of the observer and holding in mind the angle of incidence of the light source. This sounds an awful lot like probabilistic analysis, wherein you have a range of inputs and a range of responses, with the responses displaying a central tendency. The idea being there is no “true” correct answer, just answers that work better than others. There probably are some rules of thumb that serve as starting points, then it is up to the craftsman to make some mock-ups then decisions and then live with the results.

  22. Raney says:

    Sorry – guess I should read a bit more carefully. I think the last comment is correct, that facial angle references direct vertical. The description I gave above might be more rightly called something like ‘viewing angle’, and would be a primary consideration for establishing facial angle.

    So it would seem facial angle would be very closely related to spring angle (and often perhaps identical), though it can vary by several degrees in some cases.

  23. John Cashman says:

    I’ve thought about this some more, and I think your diagram is misleading. All of the “facial angles” shown with the different moldings are about 30 degrees. This may be an ideal facial angle, but only for a certain depth of molding, a certain height above or below the viewer’s face. For the molding to be most visually pleasing, it may need to be rotated to 20 degrees if it is very high up, 40 degrees if it if were somewhat lower, and rotated all the way to 60 or 70 degrees if it is only a few inches off the floor. The second part of your definition, :Mouldings that all fall in a consistent facial angle are more pleasing than those that jut out or are radically inset from the facial angle,: is confusing in that it should refer to a molding, or group of moldings, that are at the same horizontal height relative to the viewer.

    Words are hard.

  24. farms says:

    as posted earlier by Sean using the spring angle term makes a lot more sense to me.
    When you start adding in viewing angles you have to account for different variables. Such as how tall people are, how close to the moulding they are, height of the moulding off the floor, ligthing angles…I’m sure there are more variables than those.

  25. Hmmm…maybe the spring angle and the facial angle are complementary? The spring angle measures the angle off vertical, from the wall or carcase? Based on the illustration above, the facial angle measures the angle off of the horizontal plane.

    With these definitions you get a nice equation for engineers like myself to obsess over. Bonus!
    Spring angle (60) + facial angle (30) = 90 degrees always

  26. The angle of the neck when the face is covered with a hideous white cream and the eyes are covered with cucumbers.

    Just had to.

  27. Rick Yochim says:

    Chris,

    First, a bit of follow up on Robert’s quote regarding the definition of Facial Angle. This was taken from an article by Donald M. Rattner, Director of the Institute for the Study of Classical Architecture at the Real Estate Institute of New York U. that is (or was) posted on the traditional-building.com site. I’m guessing you already have this reference in hand because it’s right in the wheelhouse of what you’re doing here.

    And I think this definition is pretty good. When doing mouldings, I like groupings that present a pleasing appearance by taking best advantage of the effects of light and shadow, proportion and consistency of form all without drawing undue attention to itself. Anyway, George says this stuff better than I can.

    So, in terms of FACIAL ANGLE, I’d only add that the relationship of the moulding to the eye is important and depending on viewing angle can either increase or diminish its thickness. There’s a nice diagram of this principle on p.51 of “Furniture Designing and Draughting” by Alvin Crocker Nye.

  28. Federico Mena Quintero says:

    A good discussion on the structural functions of mouldings – http://www.worldarchitecture.org/internal/content/download.asp?wdoc=262295_.pdf – see around page 9 of that PDF.

    The rest of the series is linked from here: http://people.gnome.org/~federico/public_html/news-2010-06.html#28

  29. Federico Mena Quintero says:
  30. Chris K says:

    Wow lots of great comments here. I now see why there was the guest blogger of Mr. McConnell now. Great timing on the books! I just took delivery on my Bickford starter set.

    Its the engineer in me, and with what I have read on A – tool chest and the posting on careers I think my comments may help a bunch of your potential readers.

    I will not try to rewrite the definition but provide some insight as to how techincally trained people will look at it and identify. It may or may not help others

    Facial Angle: The the angle identifying the plane where the majority (define perhaps 7/8 of the moulding is allinged) of a molding is allinged when viewed as a cross section. See cross sections in figure X.X as examples of how a facial angle is derived with complex mouldings (post your figure in your post). Generally features that deviate X (is this a diameter of the feautres near or a fraction of the length of the facial angle) from the facial angle.

    Hope that helps.

    • When looking at the illustrations, it is clear that the view is the profile of the moulding, or group of mouldings, as arranged in place relative to the vertical axis of the object to which it is attached. It seems to me that this context is easily discerned from the illustration, but not from the text. The explanation of the context is necessary for the definition to be understandable without the illustrations.

      As for the “angle identifying the plane,” I think “majority” may be difficult to calculate, especially when there are many transitions. I would suggest using the term “best fit” as it is used in mathematics for defining the regression of a curve. No math need be involved, as an estimation of the variance to the right and left of the plane can be obtained be drawing a straight line through the endpoints of the profile and then adjusting the anghttp://lostartpress.wordpress.com/2011/06/08/mouldings-help-us-get-it-right/le of the plane as necessary to balance the areas between the profile and plane until they are equal.

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  32. Paul Munford says:

    Chris,

    I also took a whack at this. You can see the results on this Mouldings chart I put together:
    http://cadsetterout.com/woodworking/resources-classical-mouldings/

    It is free to download as a PDF.

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