Dentil Molding on a Corner Cabinet
In a time span of approximately one hundred years, from around 1730 to 1830, craftsmen working on Virginia’s Eastern Shore created one of the most distinguished forms of 18th century furniture, the architectural corner cabinet. Dentil molding on a corner cabinet was one of the hallmark features of the piece.
Although corner cabinets were produced by many craftsmen from several colonies, few reached the level of sophistication of the corner cabinets crafted in this isolated portion of Virginia.
Like the houses of the time, the Eastern Shore corner cabinets feature a myriad of rich architectural details such as deeply carved crown, waist, and trim moldings, shapely corbels, fluted pilasters, paneled plinths, paneled doors, and divided light doors (Photo 1).
Arguably, when compared to corner cabinets from other furniture making centers of the time, the Virginia corner cabinets are unrivaled. The numerous architectural elements combine to create a composition of remarkable harmony, detail and richness. As an example, one of the most unique and beautiful features of the Eastern Shore corner cabinets is the distinctive outline created as the crown molding and dentil wraps around the top of the corbels that flank the cabinet.
Dentil, a series of closely spaced blocks, is not at all uncommon on period casework. However, dentil molding is an unusual detail on Eastern Shore corner cabinets. But the effect is striking; each time the cabinet is viewed the eye is drawn toward the cornice and dentil (Photo 2).
One of the keys to successful dentil is accurate spacing. Dentil typically starts and ends a run on a full dentil block; partial blocks at the corners would appear disjointed. However, on the forty-five degree angles of a corner cabinet it works best if the front dentil starts and ends with 1/2 of a block; full dentil blocks on these corners appear disproportionately large (Drawing 1).
A decision also must be made regarding the dentil spacing on the narrow sides of the cabinet and the face of the corbel. In other words, if the block spacing on the front is continued around the corners of the corbel, it may create distracting block fragments at the miters. Instead, the size of the dentil blocks should be slightly modified to create a full block at the corners. The modification is very slight so that in the end, the dentil blocks appear uniform and continuous.
To accurately layout the dentil I use the legs of a divider to step off the blocks from end-to-end. Then I mark the location of each block with a sharpened pencil and saw accurately to the layout lines (Photo 3).
We offer a class that includes dentil molding on a corner cabinet as an architectural element. We also offer many other furnituremaking classes. See our current woodworking class schedule for more details.