What The Heck Is An Astragal?

or

Loosening Your Grip On Your Routah

OK, you may have seen references to something called an astragal and you have finally figured out that it isn't some backwoods slang for a female Space Shuttle pilot. Turns out that it's a moulding profile and a simple one at that. As it turns out, even complex mouldings are made up of fairly simple components. The curves in moulding are made up of sections of circles or ellipses in various combinations. The small flat portions are called fillets and the narrow grooves are known as quirks. What follows is an attempt to describe some of the simpler profiles which are used to make more complex moulding. A more complete treatise on mouldings can be found at the Traditional-Building.Com web site. I'm no expert but I'm interested in moulding planes and am slowly building up an assortment of the common profiles. Simple moulding planes are fun to use and are surprisingly efficient in producing short runs of moulding.

The astragal is a raised bead with a narrow fillet on either side. Routah bit catalogs may refer to this profile as a 'half round' but what can you expect from a bunch of Normites?

The side bead is a bead with a quirk. The 'simple' moulding planes that cut these are also known as side beads and are one of the most common of the antique types found today. A well tuned side bead can cut a profile lickety-split, even in maple, and won't spew dust and chips all over your shop. A Stanley #45 combination plane will cut a respectable side bead, especially in softwoods, if the stock is chosen carefully. A recent article in Fine Woodworking by Garrett Hack describes the tuning and use of side bead planes (FWW #134, Feb. 1999, p. 40).

 

The center bead is a sort of 'sunken' astragal: a bead flanked by quirks.

 

Salaman refers to this profile as a 'return' or 'staff' bead. These are formed by cutting both faces of the corner with a side bead.

 

The cock bead is a common profile on the edges of drawer fronts.

The common ogee is composed of two sections of a circle or an ellipse in an 's' curve. Salaman's 'Dictionary of Woodworking Tools' refers to the profile composed of segments of an ellipse as the Grecian form whereas the profile composed of sections of a circle is defined as the Roman form. These profiles might be cut with a moulding plane but might also be formed by using a pair of hollows and rounds to cut the 'hollow' and 'round' sections of the profile. Planes which would incorporate more than one of the basic elements shown on this page are known as 'complex' moulders.

The reverse ogee or the cyma reversa is, well, the reverse of the cyma recta. As in a reverse 's' curve.

The ovolo is one of the most common profiles seen in country furniture. This profile is cut by one of the simplest of the so-called 'complex' moulding planes.

Normites may refer to a routah bit which could cut this profile as a 'beading' bit but now YOU know better.

As with the ovolo, this is one of the common profiles seen in country furniture. Also known as a 'cove'.

Some references for further reading are The Handplane Book by Garrett Hack (1997, Taunton Press), Restoring and Using Classic Woodworking Tools by Michael Dunbar (1989, Sterling Publishing Co.) and Dictionary of Woodworking Tools by R.A. Salaman (1975, Taunton Press and others).

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Copyright 1999,Thomas Price, All rights reserved.

Last revised 6/4/99