Custom Woodwork – Easy to Find!
DEAR TIM: I just visited several lumber companies and home center stores. The selection of wood work trim for baseboards, door and window casings, and crown moldings were just average. All of the molding profiles match what I see everywhere. I am looking for unique molding profiles and possibly ones that I have ideas for. I also desire solid wood moldings, not finger jointed pieces. Can it be made? Is it expensive? Where do you find woodwork like this? Kit R., Boulder, CO
DEAR KIT: I see that you are another person who is not pleased with the plain vanilla selection offered by many lumber yards and home centers. Certain molding profiles seem to be everywhere. I can remember back 20 years ago when a majority of new homes used the colonial profile. Prior to that ranch casings and baseboard were the rage. Personalized, unique, and custom wood work is readily available in many cities and towns.
All of the woodwork in my own home was custom milled. My wife drew the profiles and cross sections of how she wanted each piece of woodwork. She made sure that all of the different pieces complimented one another. Certain aspects of one piece of woodwork can be found duplicated or reflected in another. Many visitors to our home "Ooooo!" and "Ahhhh!" within minutes after seeing the woodwork and some of the specialty pieces of trim in our home.
The plain vanilla woodwork you see at the lumberyard and home centers is created on the same machine that makes custom woodwork. The mills that create woodwork have industrial shaping machines that generate woodwork moldings from flat pieces of solid wood stock. The only thing that differentiates the woodwork being created is the cutting knife that is inserted into the machine. The cutting knives are made from special hardened steel and can cut thousands of linear feet of woodwork with little effort or the need to be re-sharpened. It is not uncommon for a shaping machine to mill 1,000 or more linear feet of molding in just one hour.
The finger jointed woodwork you see is actually very environmentally friendly. Lumber mills take short scrap pieces of high quality trim lumber and glue them together. The finger joint is used to make the glue joint strong. Finger jointed trim is a good choice for woodwork that is to be painted. I would refrain from using it for trim that will be stained. The finger jointing process mixes pieces of wood with different grain. This makes for an unacceptable natural wood look in my opinion.
Custom milled woodwork is often not that expensive. The special knives that will be made to turn your ideas into reality cost on average about $150 apiece. This usually includes the setup charge to operate the shaping machine. You then just add the cost of the lumber that is going to be used for your trim. Oak, walnut, maple or cherry hardwood trim will of course be very expensive. If you intend to paint your woodwork, you can get very affordable paint grade poplar lumber. Poplar is a durable wood that mills with exceedingly crisp details. That is what I have used in my own home.
The cost of custom milled woodwork drops dramatically as you have more made. Since the cost of running the shaping machine for a plain vanilla profile is the exact same as a custom profile, the only up-charge is the cost of the custom knife and the difference in price of the lumber you choose to use. Always be sure to order at least 100 linear feet more trim than your project needs. Mistakes, changes and other problems may create a need for extra trim. You want to avoid additional shaping machine setup charges.
Many of the lumber yards you visited have connections with architectural woodwork mills that produce custom woodwork. In certain cities and towns, individual people have the ability to create custom woodwork from small shops or even their own homes. Contact the salespeople at the lumber yards who deal with custom builders and remodelers. These salespeople know exactly where to get custom woodwork produced. You can also look under the Woodworking heading in your Yellow Pages.