A woodworker who needs a small amount of
hardwood molding for a furniture or cabinet
project is often out of luck. Hardwood moldings
are scarce at local home centers, and most commercial
shops can’t economically set up a molding
machine for a short run. And the typical
small-shop shaper can’t produce moldings wider
than about 3 in.
Fortunately, there’s a way to make your own
custom moldings using traditional molding planes.
In this article, I’ll show you how to tune up and
use a hollow plane and a round plane—two of the
most versatile molding planes. The hollow plane,
with its concave sole, cuts a rounded shape (lead
photo). The round plane has a convex sole and
cuts a hollow in the workpiece. A pair of these
planes with the same radius is commonly used to
produce a true ogee—one whose curves mirror
In this article, I’ll show you how I make a
41⁄2-in.-wide crown molding using a set of complementary,
1-in.- radius planes. Once you get the
hang of working with these time-honored tools,
you’ll be able to make a variety of moldings (see
Tuning Up the Planes
Old hollow and round planes are often available
at flea markets or from antique dealers for less than
$35 apiece. Look for a pair with matching radii.
When selecting a plane, make sure it is in good
overall condition. It should have no cracks in
the plane body and no heavy rust or deep pitting
on the iron.
You’ll want to tune up each plane before using
it. It’s best to start with the round plane. Use a reliable
straightedge to check the flatness of the sole
along its length. If the sole is bowed, plane it
straight using a block plane set for a light cut. Take
a series of light, overlapping passes to shape the
cross section of the sole to the desired radius
(Photo 1). You can make a cardboard template to check the radius all along the sole. Finish
up by smoothing and fairing the
curve of the sole with sandpaper.
Next, check the shape of the iron’s cutting
edge. It should conform as closely as
possible to the curvature of the plane’s
sole. If the curve is off, you’ll need to
reshape it. Begin by coating the back of
the iron with machinist’s layout bluing. The bluing allows
you to scribe a highly visible line into the
iron. Insert the iron in the plane so its
entire cutting edge projects about 1⁄16 in.
Transfer the curvature of the sole onto
the iron using a dull knife (Photo 2).
Grind the cutting edge down to your
scribed line. I use a 60-grit white or
pink grinding wheel. Dip the iron in water frequently to
prevent overheating. After grinding, hone
the bevel and the back of the iron to
bring the cutter to a razor-sharp edge.
Reassemble the plane, set it for a light
cut, and test it on a piece of scrap. To
adjust the iron for a deeper cut, tap it
lightly downward with a hammer. To
retract the iron slightly, tap on the rear of
the plane body.
You can now use the tuned round
plane to shape the sole of the hollow
plane. Afterward, scribe the hollow’s iron
as you did the round plane’s iron. I find
that grinding a concave cutting edge is
easier on a grinding wheel with a
rounded edge (see Shaping a Grinding
I hone the iron (Photo 3) with a
soft, aluminum oxide “roughing” stone. To hone a concave
cutting edge, I grind off the stone’s corners
using a typical, vitrified, gray
Making a Crown Molding
With your planes tuned up, you’re ready
to make some molding. Fig. B shows a
nice molding profile that incorporates an
ogee and a cove, with a shoulder separating
them. To lay out the molding,
first make a cardboard template of the
profile. Lay out the profile on the end of
a short length of 13⁄16-in.-thick by
4-1⁄2-in.-wide straight-grain softwood.
You will use this piece for
Before planing, you need to do a little
tablesaw work: First, saw all the 45-
degree bevels on the edges of the molding
stock (Fig. B). Then, saw a 45-degree
V-shaped notch in the face of the stock to
create the shoulder. I use a jack plane to
clean up any saw marks on the four
Begin shaping the molding by planing
the concave half of the ogee with the
round plane. Make sure you’re working
on a firm, flat surface. I clamp a 1-in.-
thick wooden straightedge to the molding
to guide my first few strokes. I plane
to about 1⁄8-in. deep. After that, I remove
the straightedge and let the hollow guide
Make each planing pass with a firm,
steady stroke. Each complete pass should
yield one continuous shaving. If you
find yourself fighting the plane, retract
the iron slightly. If the plane skips over
the middle of the board, try shimming
under the center of the molding to raise
it a bit.
As I approach the final depth of cut, I
roll the plane to one side or the other as
necessary to widen the hollow and match
the desired profile. The outside edge of
the hollow should meet the sawn bevel
in a sharp edge.
After completing the hollow, I use a
rabbet plane to remove any saw marks
on the edge of the molding’s shoulder
Next, clamp your straightedge to guide
the first few passes on the molding’s cove
(Photo 5). Remove the straightedge as
before and complete the cuts, again
rolling the plane to one side or the other
to create the desired profile. The cove
should meet the bevel and shoulder in a
The last step is to plane the convex
section of the ogee using the hollow
plane. The V-shaped ridge on the sole of
the plane rides against the molding’s
shoulder to guide this cut.
Place the sole’s ridge into the molding’s
V-shaped notch and make your first cut.
For each subsequent cut, tilt the plane
farther into the workpiece (see lead
photo). You’re done when the ogee’s
curves meet in a smooth transition that
matches your profile.
If you’ve done your work well, you
should have a lovely molding that needs
little or no sanding.
Shaping a grinding wheel
Dressing a wheel. A diamond-point dresser will shape a soft
grinding wheel to any profile you need for grinding concave plane irons.
The squared edge of a typical grinding wheel doesn’t lend
itself well to shaping the concave profiles you’ll find on
molding plane irons, carving tools, and turning gouges. To
make grinding odd profiles much easier, it’s a simple matter
to reshape a wheel to suit the desired profile of the iron.
All you need is a “soft” grinding wheel and a tool to dress
it. White or pink grinding wheels have a softer bond than typical gray wheels and can
easily be shaped with a dressing tool. I prefer 60-grit
Dressing sticks are commonly available, and work fine
for rounding over a grinding wheel. But I prefer using a diamond-
tipped dresser. Don’t panic; they only cost about
$6. This dresser is simply a steel
rod with an industrial diamond mounted on its end. It
allows you to dress the edge of a grinding wheel to any
shape you like.
When dressing a grinding wheel, adjust the grinder’s rest
about 1⁄2 in. below the center of the wheel (see photo, above). Apply light pressure to the wheel and don’t overheat
the diamond. You can’t cool it in water or it could break.
Rotate the diamond occasionally to distribute wear.
Fig. A: Crown Molding profiles
Fig. B: Ogee Crown Molding Profile