When I was a teenager, my father used to drop me off on a jobsite, hand me a few sheets of 180 and 220 sandpaper and tell me to ease all the edges on the cabinets and doors, and on the baseboard and casing, too. “Otherwise the paint won’t stick!” he said. The truth is moldings can be milled with sharp edges, so the light breaks cleanly and crisply at each profile, but details like that cost a little more money. As Bill Shaw, a custom molding millwright for over 20 years, puts it (www.copemaster.com):
“Sharp crisp edges and profiles are harder to cut for several reasons. In order to get a sharp edge you have to have a very square edge on your grinding wheel — it must be dressed to a point. And the wheel must be redressed as it breaks down, which happens with greater frequency when cutting sharp-edged moldings. Second, the section of the knife that forms the point or sharp edge heats up more quickly, so the knife must be sharpened more frequently, and the molding can’t be cut at the same rate of speed because of increased tear-out. We typically ran moldings with radius edges at 30 ft. per minute (fpm), but sharp-edge profiles had to be run much more slowly, at 20 fpm or even less.”
Why combine Moldings
The three-piece cornice pictured (above right) uses a 4-in. elliptical cove set between two identical bands of ogee door stop. The picture molding, installed several inches below, creates the look of a classical entablature, if the wall space between is painted the same color as the moldings.
The next time you have a customer leaning toward the largest crown in the catalog, steer them toward built-up moldings instead. The result will be far more dramatic and pleasing, both to the impact of their home, and to the profit margin on your job. Many moldings adapt themselves well to buildups. Choose designs with simple profiles, broad elliptical curves and flat sharp fillets.
Sure, installing a two- or three-piece crown pattern requires more labor, but the second time around the room is much faster than the first time; the scaffolding or ladders are already set up, the saw is right there — frequently the measurements are even identical. You can always make more profit on per/foot labor installing the second and third layer of molding.
Making Money on Moldings
Develop a reputation for installing high-end moldings. Make sure your crew is efficient, neat and cares about quality joinery. In a tight market, it’s critical to make as much as you can on the jobs you do have. The more often you’re able to upgrade the moldings on your jobs, the more high-end molding work you’ll get. In future articles, I’ll cover specific ways to speed up molding installation, without sacrificing quality.