What is Millwork?
Wood is an amazingly versatile material, which has been used in dwellings for thousands of years. In a modern world of plastic, metal and synthetic products, the look and feel of wood millwork can bring style and elegance to a room unlike anything else.
A newly refurbished house, beautifully decorated with wooden floors and mouldings, is an impressive sight. It gives the stamp of quality and invariably adds value to a property. Many real estate agents recommend including at least some wooden features to increase the saleability of a house.
To many, the thought of upgrading their home with wooden trim means hiring a skilled woodcrafter and extravagant expense. This is not always true. It is easier than you might think to add charm and sophistication to your house at low cost and in a relatively short time.
How? Through the use of pre-shaped wood called millwork.
Top Millwork and Carpentry
Historically, the term millwork was applied to any building materials made from wood at a wood mill. Today the term refers primarily to pre-shaped wood that can be used with minimal work. Depending on where it is being used that might simply mean cutting it to length.
If you go to a home improvement center you will typically see millwork in the form of:
Mouldings are the most popular type of millwork. The words moulding and millwork may be interchangeable although millwork covers a broader range of preformed wood, such as doors and window casings.
No longer limited to wood, millwork can now be bought that uses a combination of synthetic materials and wood to achieve the desired effect. This includes pressed-wood chips and vinyl or melamine coated paneling. Wood alone remains the preferred choice of many for its visual quality and durability
Millwork should not be confused with structural woodwork, like supporting beams or lintels. Wood millwork has no structural value, allowing it to be used almost anywhere, such as for decorative trimmings, perhaps along walls, around doors and windows or on ceilings.
Can I do the best Millwork?
The thought of enhancing our homes with wood millwork and doing the work ourselves may seem daunting. Not only have many of us never attempted such a task before, but few are able to spare the time for weeks of wooden projects. But it need not be difficult nor time-consuming.
That is the beauty of millwork. With the range and quality of products available, it is within the capability of almost anyone to add wood moulding to their home. Doing so is the ideal beginner woodworking project. Adding a chair rail to a room is simple enough to be completed in an afternoon.
In reality, there are few of these projects that are beyond the humblest of handymen, even if they have never tried their hand at woodcraft. These are simple woodworking projects.
We shall consider the three most familiar kinds of mill work, in order of ease of use and popularity.
Moulding normally refers to any carved or shaped length of wood used for decorative purposes inside the house. It is commonly utilized to mark or hide the transition between two surfaces, for example where the walls meet the ceiling. In other situations, the purpose of the moulding might be more functional. For instance, a dado or chair rail, placed part way up the wall, protects the decor from damage if a chair is pushed back. Drip caps are used for doors and windows to stop condensation running and causing damage.
There are dozens of different shapes of moulding, each with its own name. Some are descriptive, such as the rosette or the picture rail. Others, like the ‘Egg and Dart’ may not be so obvious despite being one of the most popular classic designs chosen. A home merchant will probably stock a selection of shapes but certain stores are able to take your own design and produce bespoke wooden trims to order.
The mouldings used between the ceiling and the walls are collectively called crown mouldings. They add a clean finish to the joint where the two meet, which in some older houses may be uneven and unsightly. Like standard mouldings, the choices for crown moulding are extensive, both in decorative design and size.
Often called wood paneling, wainscoting was originally fixed to each wall and ran from the floor to the ceiling. The word comes from a Dutch word meaning wall boards and oak was the preferred choice. By the mid-eighteenth century, the paneling only went from the floor to the dado or chair line, which is the common height today.
The paneling is traditionally made from tongue and grooved planks, meaning they have a slot on one side and a ridge on the other to enable them to fit together easily. Newer milling techniques allow single, wider boards to mimic the same effect.
Wainscoting will transform the character of an otherwise ordinary room or passageway by adding individuality and elegance. It might be used to split a room in half horizontally, tricking the eye into thinking the room is bigger. It can also be functional, to protect plaster walls from boisterous children or to make a room that suffers from echoes feel more homely.
Adding wainscoting to a room is not a difficult project. Once cut to the correct length, the boards are placed side by side along the wall. At any corners or at junctions between the floor and the paneling, other wood mouldings can be added to hide any small errors in cutting.
Best wood Flooring
A wooden floor will add value to any style of home. Timber flooring is hard-wearing, and will last for many years. Some European homes possess the same wooden flooring installed a hundred or more years ago. The coloring of real wood flooring will change over the years as it ages, adding more charm. Even the small dents and signs of wear and tear add character.
There are so many variations of wood available that it can be daunting to decide which to use. It is not just the kind of wood or coloring, but also the grade. Should the boards be knot-free, straight grain or uniform in color? In addition, are questions about durability: a child’s playroom will require a different type of wood for the flooring than a dining room.
Reclaimed wooden floors have been available for many years. With the occasional rusty stain from a nail and other sign of distress, this style of rustic flooring has become so widespread there is even a line in reproduction reclaimed wood.
Laminated wooden floorings are now available which are so well-manufactured that it is hard to tell them from ‘real’ wood. Called engineered wood, the timber consists of multiple layers of thin wood placed at 90° to each other to give strength and prevent warping or twisting. The top layer is thicker wood and the depth of this layer determines how many times it can be sanded to remove dents or defects due to wear.
Due to its lower cost and flexibility in use, engineered boards are now the most widely used wood flooring.
When buying flooring materials, it is always advisable to use the best quality millwork. When the planks are being prepared, a good mill will kiln dry the wood correctly. Commercially dried wood is often left with a higher moisture content, which may lead to excess shrinking and gaps after the flooring has been laid.
Although the shaping, drying and planing of the floor planks was done at the mill, laying a wooden floor typically requires more work than other types of millwork. Despite that, when the job goes well it may be the most rewarding for the new handyman.
How do I get started in woodworking?
Before starting on any woodwork project, time should be spent deciding what style and finish you want. What is your budget? How much time can you invest? Simple jobs require little of either but once you start, the scope of the project might expand as you admire the fruits of your labor.
Visit your local DIY shop or home improvement store to see the range of mouldings available but don’t buy anything yet. You are only gathering information. Search online for ideas. Visualize each and every trim. Do they communicate the impression you are trying to convey? Talk to the staff at the store about your plans and ask for advice. If they are unable or unwilling to help, go somewhere else.
If the opportunity presents itself, visit woodworking shows. They are held throughout the year and you will see many kinds of millwork, plus pick up good ideas. The larger shows often offer classes or talks on home improvement where you may get some useful tips. You might also want to check out what tools you will need. There is often a greater range available than at your local store.
Once your plans are finalized carefully measure the room to be refurbished. Draw a basic diagram of the room and add the dimensions, taking into account chimney breasts, alcoves or anything else that might affect the measurements.
With a clearer idea of what you want, this is the time to revisit your local supplier. Choose only the best quality millwork. Low quality wood may be twisted or suffer from knots in awkward places. Show the staff your diagram and plans, checking with them that you are buying the right lengths of wood. They should advise you of anything you may have forgotten, like varnish or nails.
When the mouldings have been carefully cut to the correct length at home, it is often just a matter of gluing or nailing them in place. Where they meet in the corners will require extra care but, with a little practice, these joints will soon look like those of an expert.
Top essentials for the woodcraft work?
For simple mouldings there is little you need in the way of tools. You may already carry them in your toolbox. Depending on what kind of wood moulding is being worked on, you may only need a fine-toothed saw for cutting the moulding (the smaller the teeth, the smoother the cut). A hammer will be needed for nailing the lengths to the wall if they are not to be glued. Sandpaper is used for finishing, prior to whatever coating you intend to put on it – normally varnish but paint can be used, although it would hide the beauty of the wood.
One item you might consider buying is a bench. Whether you are adding wooden trim to a wall, putting up paneling or laying floorboards, you are going to be cutting wood. For this you need a flat, stable surface. Your saw may slip, so a kitchen top is not ideal! You do not need to invest in a large woodworking workbench. It is possible to buy good quality, collapsible, metal framed workbenches that function perfectly well for smaller jobs.
The store should advise you on other tools needed for more complex projects.
Woodwork terminology tips
All crafts and trades enjoy their own terminology and unusual phrases. Woodcraft is probably one of the oldest known to man, so it will come as no surprise that it abounds with words we might find unfamiliar. Do not be put off by lumbering definitions.
In this article ,you have already read about tongue and grooving, crown moulding and fine-toothed saws. In many cases, the words are self-explanatory but if not, Google will help. With millwork there are not many strange terms, so concentrate on making your home look great and leave the less-known words to the woodcrafters.
Millwork guide Summary
Wood is a beautiful material to work with. It looks good and adds value to your home. With wood mouldings and other millwork so easily available, why not examine your home and give some thought to where you can begin. Imagine the feeling of pride when your friends ask you which carpenter created such wonderful work – and it was you!