Interior woodwork should be the result of accurate millwork, painstaking carpentry and careful selection of wood. There is a comfort, a richness to the home warmly ornamented with wood that no tapestry, no canvass or other ornamentation can impart. And such decoration, at once the most reasonable and the most effective way of giving true character to the home, can be accomplished by the exercise of good taste and the insistence upon careful workmanship.
Interior woodwork covers a gamut of items. There is the cabinet work, the paneling, moldings, door and window frames, built-in arrangements and stair parts. Hardware, decidedly not wood, becomes in a sense interior woodwork the moment it is installed in or applied to such woodwork; for besides its utility purposes it serves as further ornamentation of the wood, and as such its installation should be carefully watched. The same is true in a sense of glazing, whether it be doors, windows or fan lights.
There formerly has been considerable waste in the specification of mill-work. This has been caused by designers being only superficially familiar with millworking practices, and added to by the fact that heretofore there has been inadequate standardization within the millwork industry. This latter fault has been greatly relieved in all items except those few minor ornamental wood items where individuality of production or specification design is the main feature. Designers, also, have come recently to realize that by improving specifications to conform more closely to mill facilities and practices much waste and expense can be eliminated. There is scarcely an architect who cannot find it possible to readily discuss proposed designs with woodworking mills or mill representatives. Further, with the existing wide range of stock material from which to choose, it is entirely possible, by selecting from among stock patterns for various items to develop a complete woodwork arrangement that will be individual and distinctive.
1 In American Building Association News, April, 1930.
In the selection of interior trim the few following rules, which are taken from "Wood Construction," the handbook published by the National Committee on Wood Utilization of the U.S. Department of Commerce, are well to bear in mind:
1. It should be free from resin, sap stain and pitch pockets.
2. It should resist warping and be of good working qualities.
3. Standard interior trim should have no defects, unless in long lengths where the defects may be eliminated by cutting, as it is applied to the job.
4. All interior trim should be run from carefully kiln-dried stock, to insure against open joints, warping and twisting.
5. All wide-trim members, such as base and casing, should be backed out, which is an advantage in fitting and, in addition, is somewhat of a guarantee against warping.
6. All flat surfaces of trim should be fully sanded. This operation can be done most effectively at the mill, eliminating the necessity of sanding on the job. Raised grain on the face of sanded trim is a common fault, but not a defect. It is the result of incorrect kiln-drying or incorrect handling after manufacture and usually arises from the character of the storage space where held ready for delivery. By all means, storage of trim on the job where it will be exposed to the weather should be avoided.
A variety of woods may be had for interior ornamentation. These include soft pine, yellow pine, oak, Douglas fir, maple, chestnut, gum, birch, walnut, poplar, pecky or plain cypress, knotty pine, redwood and many others. However, all of these woods are produced in the best ultimate effects where the technique employed at the mill, including a knowledge of proper speeds for tools in milling each wood, is good or is known to meet a recognized standard.
Much of the interior woodwork is built up, principal members usually being stiles, rails and panels, such as we find in doors, windows, cabinets, etc. This necessitates the use of much glue and considerable progress has been made in recent years in the improvement of waterproof glues. However, there are methods of fitting panels between rails and stiles that overcome many glue weaknesses and weak points in wood that would take volumes to discuss, and here we find another good reason for the architect either selecting stock designs or consulting with those familiar with woodworking technique before attempting an individual and novel designing scheme. While discussing stiles, it is well to remember that stile ends exposed, as we necessarily find them at the tops and bottoms of doors, are a source of possible trouble. The grain ends form a ready receptacle for moisture and a good application of white lead and oil is a very practical means of eliminating the penetration of moisture.
As is known, stairs should not be built into the house. They should be designed, assembled at the mill, and then installed. Risers and treads must be fitted just so to the stringers and must then be wedged and glued into place. The balustrade must be properly fitted in so that the dovetails turned on their ends will carry real support for the balusters. The building of a stairway is not simple carpentry; it is the creation of a product that will maintain appearance and resist wear and disalignments of its member parts in what is probably to be the most traveled passage in the home. It requires sound engineering and true mechanic's skill.
Quality woodwork can generally be recognized by its clean-cut workmanship. Sharp contours of moldings and tight, trim fitting of cabinets, doors, windows and other items are noticeable. And when such material has been ordered and received care should be taken to keep it in the best of condition. Wood intended for natural finish should be free from all defects, and should be characterized by the absence of any bruises, sander marks or raised grain. A slight blue sap stain may be permitted when it is intended to paint the surface.
Upon receipt of material on a job it should be given a protective paint coating on all exposed surfaces. Great care has been taken by the mill to get it just so; the builder should keep it so. It should be stored where it is not likely to be bruised or otherwise worn. Careful checking of widths and heights against openings should be made and where necessary to trim such trimming should be balanced between sides or surfaces and not done, as in the case of doors, all at the hinge or all at the lock stile side.
Though labor charges for installation bear a large part of the expense of interior woodwork, there is no extravagance in hiring a competent, careful carpenter or cabinet worker and letting him take his time in putting in the woodwork. Such a man, though he may seem to be slow, will make more real progress than the man who slaps material into place. This has been one of the great handicaps of speculative building. An effort is made to rush the job. Such houses are usually sold on the time payment plan. Woodwork is carelessly handled, allowed to become weather exposed, poorly selected and cut-out in installation, poorly matched and fitted; the hardware is notched into place; the doors are planed on one side or hung in openings into which they do not fit snugly and true and, all in all, a poor, hurry-up job is done. What the buyer originally looks upon as an investment soon becomes an upkeep extravagance. It loses value. The purchaser loses interest. The underwriting loses security. Dissatisfaction, lowered sale value, lessened demand ensue.
There is no stronger visual sales appeal than to be able to demonstrate to the prospective purchaser, even in an old house, a well-done job of interior woodwork. It is not only beautifying, but its workmanship is convincing. In the eye of the prospect "if there is such selection of material, such refined designing, such careful workmanship in these derails, the house must be a substantial and worthwhile structure." And there is strong sales appeal in the substantial structure. Every house should be "built for the ages," and interior woodwork is one of the tell-tale evidences of whether such intention was in the mind of the builder. If it was, there will always be a market for the house. If not, it will be just another house to glut the market.