Architectural Millwork Terminology | HomeTips
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Architectural Millwork Terminology

Diagrams and definitions of architectural millwork and exterior molding and trim elements, and explanations of types and materials.


Arch surround. Half-round or elliptical trim mounted above a door or window.

Bracket. Filigree or ornamental blocks between a vertical support and horizontal member. Brackets usually provide crossbracing or support between a post and beam or beam and cornice.

Capital. The decorative top of a column or pilaster.

Types of Architectural and Decorative Millwork

Corbel. A short block or bracket projecting from a wall, often meant to provide support for a horizontal member. See What Is a Corbel? BELOW.

Cornice. A projection at the top of a wall, under a roof’s eaves.

Dentil blocks. Blocks attached to a wall in a toothed pattern.

Dentil molding. A toothed moulding attached to a wall. See BELOW for more.

Gable decoration. Triangular-shaped filigree or panel fit into the rake end of a gable roof.

Header or head. A horizontal projection over the top of a window or doorway.

Keystone. An angular block centered over a door or window in a header or mantle.

Louvers. Slatted panels of various shapes mounted in the upper portion of a gable wall to provide attic ventilation.

Mantel. A horizontal projection over the top of a doorway.

Moldings. A variety of trim pieces, usually sold in lengths.

Pediment. A peaked, rounded, or other decorative panel directly above a doorway.

Pilasters. Decorative vertical columns attached to the wall or frame at either side of a doorway.

Quoins. Rectangular blocks that extend up the corner of a building.

Shutters. Operable or decorative window covers mounted to each side of a window.

Dentil Molding

Architectural Crown Dentil Molding

Dentil molding, a small rectangular block that, when repeated, resembles a row of spaced teeth, is applied to houses as a type of decorative trim. From the Latin word ”dent,” meaning tooth, dentil moulding first appeared in 16th-century France.

Common in Corinthian architecture, this type of fanciful millwork is typically nailed along the fascia or beneath the cornice of a traditional home, or it may be installed as a type of crown moulding around the perimeter of a room’s ceiling.

In the past, dentil molding was tediously made, piece by piece, from wood or plaster. Today, it is still made that way, but you can take a short cut to achieve the same look. You can buy lengths of single-piece polyurethane foam or vinyl molding, which are more affordable and less prone to decay, shrinkage, peeling, and other problems common to built-up millwork.

What Is a Corbel?

A corbel is an architectural projection or bracket-like support that steps out from a wall to hold a beam or other weight, although some corbels are purely decorative.

Architectural corbel

A corbel, sometimes called corbelling, may be bricks or stones set out from the wall’s face, or it may be a short, sometimes carved, piece of wood. Corbel is also used as a verb: To corbel out means to build a corbel. The Old French word ”corbel stems” from the Latin corvus, for raven, possibly referring to early gargoyles.

Corbel appeared as an architectural term in the 15th century, indicating a projection from a wall designed to support a weight. Classic French architects were fairly specific about a corbel’s makeup, specifying that a corbel’s sides were perpendicular to the wall and it projected further than its height.

In England, corbel was strictly a technical architectural term until given mystique by Sir Walter Scott when, in his 1805 novel, “Lay of the Last Minstrel,” he wrote: “The corbels were carved grotesque and grim.”

About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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