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April 28, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes – Carpentry

Frank Lloyd Wright homes offer unique architectural designs. It is widely accepted that this architect was a genius and far ahead of his time. In this article we are going to focus on Wright’s design of the interiors of a few homes that feature woodworking, finish carpentry, and wooden furniture.

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes - Dana Thomas House interior The  Dana Thomas House is located in Springfield, Illinois. This house is the best preserved and most complete of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes which are known as the early Prairie houses. The structure for this property has changed little since its construction in 1902-04 for the Springfield socialite and women’s activist Susan Lawrence Dana.

For a woodworker it must have been a joy to work on Frank Lloyd Wright homes. In this photo, the wood trim is an important element in the overall design of the room. Most likely, woodworkers at the planing mill prepared various wood members such as the ceiling hoops and side braces. These craftsmen would also prepare the arched wooden beams that are on each side of the room. The casement windows would be made at the planing mill as well the wooden fixtures in front of semi-circular window at the end of the room. When delivered to the jobsite, the finish carpenters would then secure them in place.

Master carpenters on the job site would receive the woodwork prepared by the planing mill.  Then it was up to these finish carpenters to cut,  fit , and assemble the trim members into their required positions.

The furniture in the Frank Lloyd Wright homes were designed by the architect. Here, we can see evidence of Wight’s influence on the arts and crafts movement.

 

 

Interior, Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House, Chicago - Frank Lloyd Wright HomesThe Robie House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908 and was completed in 1910. It is considered one of the most important buildings in American architecture and is a masterpiece. It is an example of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes designed in the Prairie style. The Robie House is located on the campus of the University of Chicago.


The domed ceiling in this room of the Robie  House features architectural members of semi-circular wood trim installed by finish carpenters. These woodworkers also fit the curved wood casing into the ceiling for the room’s overhead light source. Cabinetmakers also had a hand with Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Notice the cabinets on each side of the fireplace that have a wood shelf that unites them to form a mantle. Visually, it appears that the combination of the cabinets and shelf are supporting the center arch design at the end wall.

Rosenbaum House interior 3...Florence Alabama - Frank Lloyd Wright Homes

Rosenbaum House interior 2...Florence Alabama - Frank Lloyd Wright Homes

The Rosenbaum House was built in 1939 for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum of Florence, Alabama. The architectural style of this home is known as Usonian. These Frank Lloyd Wright homes were offered as low cost homes to middle income families. Additions to the Usonian homes could simply be added on as the family grew.

As we observe the genius of Wright’s designs, it is also important to look at the skill level and craftsmanship of the workers who carried out the architect’s plan. When considering the time period that these homes were built, what woodworking tools do you think were available to the carpenter, cabinetmaker, or furniture maker?

Front Doors of Florence Italy

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” …Christopher Reeves (1952-2004) Actor, director, and producer.

Front Doors of Florence Italy 1

 

Front Doors of Florence Italy

 

The Front doors of Florence Italy simply caught the attention of the woodworker and carpenter in me. Fortunately, my camera captured these images to share with you.

Front doors can say a lot about a residence and the resident as well. The first photograph reveals a section of a massive front door that could quite possibly date back to the 14th or 15th century. What catches your eye in this image? Is it the number of metal studs that creates a unique design on the stiles, rails, and panels? Could it be the the mitered mortise and tenon joints where the rails meets the stiles? There is a lot for a woodworker to discover in this photo. Notice how the left stile varies from the right side stile. There a vertical line on the left stile underneath the latch meaning a wood strip was added to the exterior door at some point in time.

When looking at the right side rail, notice how it is made with two pieces of wood to give the rail its full width. The lower strip of the rail is cut at a width to coincide with the long point of the mitered joint. We can readily see that the left wood door rail is made from one piece of timber.

The Front doors have wrought iron hardware. Look how the door bolt fits thru five metal rings to secure the entry doors. The door bolt handle is flat so that the bolt can be turned and slid thru the rings. Here we can see how a carpenter used chisels or gouges on the door stiles and mouldings to allow clearance for the door bolt to pass thru the metal rings. There is also a wrought iron door pull to open this massive door. If we look closely it appears that there is a star shaped metal escutcheon between the door pull and the doors panel. Plus, we can also see where the keyhole is along with another smaller hole. Just imagine what the hardware would be on the interior side of the front doors.

The moulding of the front doors was obviously crafted by hand and has mitered joints at the corners. Can you imagine creating a door like this back in the 14th or 15th century. Imagine the tools that woodworkers and carpenters were using. What type of measuring devices did they use? (I don’t think they had tape measures back then.) What type of saws were used back then to cut these timbers? What type of hand planes and moulding planes were used? What type of drill was used to create all the holes for the metal studs? Needless to say, the men who built these front doors way back when were great mechanics and highly talented craftsmen. I would have loved to see them hanging and fitting these front doors as the doors are still functional after all these years.

 

Front Doors of Florence ItalyThe front doors of Florence Italy in this photo appear much newer than the previous image. However, we can see similarities in the usage of the metal studs which pierce and decorate the doors. There are many panels in this door which also adds to the overall design. Take a look at the location of the key entry. This is about 32-36 inches above the ground and this clue will give us an idea of the overall height and width of the front doors. Also, we can see the four heavy duty hinges on each side of the doors. Needless to say, these hinges are supporting a lot of weight when we take into consideration the amount of wood and the number of metal studs being held.

 

There is something incredibly unique about these front doors pictured. Can you see it? These are actually bi-fold doors. There are four vertical sections. There are hinges on the backside of the doors that allow for the doors to fold. If we look at the bottoms of the doors, we will notice four individual pieces of wood that allow for the folding of the the four vertical sections of the doors. Again, this is another wonderful example of fine woodworking skills and advanced carpentry craftsmanship.

 

Feel free to share your thoughts, insights, and questions.

Recommended Articles:

Custom Inlay Designs for Arts and Crafts Woodworking

Woodworking Ideas & Patterns from Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo

Decorative Woodworking Patterns of Architectural Millwork & Custom Moulding

 

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The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

Decorative Woodworking Patterns of Architectural Millwork & Custom Moulding

“You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself.”
Galileo Galilei…Physicist, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher. (1564-1642)

Architectural detail, Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo, Florence Italy

In the article woodworkers can discover decorative woodworking patterns from the architectural millwork and custom moulding of the beautiful Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo in Florence, Italy. Upon seeing this cathedral, I instantly knew this was without question, the most breathtaking piece of architecture I have ever witnessed. Now, keep in mind that these stunning details from the church’s facade are of marble, however the same design layouts can be used in the woodworking shop to create similar millwork. The architectural design and the level of craftsmanship is simply awe-inspiring. It is for this reason I’d like to share it with my fellow woodworkers and finish carpenters.

Work on the facade started in 1871 and was finished in 1887. Take a minute to think about the amount of planning and effort that went into designing the facade. What means and equipment was used to gather the marble from the quarry? How did men shape the marble for the architectural millwork and what tools did they use to create the custom moulding? What type of scaffolding and hoisting apparatus was implemented to aid the craftsman as they worked on the church’s facade? While it is astonishing to witness the finished product, it is equally intriguing to imagine the Santa Maria del Fiore when it was a construction site in the middle of Florence.

It stands to reason that men were quite busy excavating the white marble in Carrara, Italy at this time. The marble would then need to be shaped by skilled craftsmen in their shops to the architect’s specifications and then transported into Florence. Once at the Cathedral, imagine the necessary care taken as the heavy marble was hoisted up the scaffolding with rope and wooden pulleys. What source of power was used to raise the marble millwork upwards? Was the material raised by oxen, horses, or did men use winches to pull up the marble? One’s imagination automatically takes over once in the presence of the Santa Maria del Fiore as it is overwhelmingly beautiful.

Decorative custom millwork, Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo, Florence Italy

The architectural components are simply elegant and yet they are anything but simple. Check out the following: The dentil moulding is actually coved instead of being cut square. The spiraled marble columns are embellished with a repetitive design of cross shaped, green marble inlays. The finely sculpted floral millwork on the left adds a wonderfully tasteful element to the entire composition. The angel in the centerpiece is framed within an elongated hexagon. Notice how this feature adds a three dimensional element to the facade by creating negative space as does the framed box with carvings and mouldings below.

As a woodworker studies the architectural millwork and custom moulding of the Santa Maria del Fiore, he or she will naturally wonders how this work could be duplicated in the woodworking shop. The decorative woodworking patterns of the columns could be turned on a wood lathe, carved to the spiral design, and then the cross shaped wood inlay could then be inserted into place. The coved dentils seem easy enough to create and apply as does the framework of the moulding. Next it is simply a matter of sculpting the floral millwork and then the angel. Simple enough! (yeah…right!)

Keep in mind that this is just a sampling of the facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore and yet there is plenty of detail and craftsmanship in these examples. Understanding that this work was done by hand gives a woodworker a great appreciation for the skills and the dedication of the men who worked on this project. The magnificent Duomo is a work of art and a testament to the skills of these men. The Santa Maria del Fiore along with the genius of these craftsmen will be visited often and appreciated for many years to come.

Recommended article: Decorative Inlay Patterns for Custom Hardwood Inlays


The Apprentice and The Journeyman University

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