Master Carpenter: Reproducing a Corbel
When restoring a house, making accurate copies of architectural details is often part of the job.
Synopsis: Old houses are frequently decorated with many classic elements, but as time and weather take their toll, those old wooden decorations can start to deteriorate. Such was the case with the corbels decorating Michael Fitzpatrick’s house in Massachusetts. In this “Master Carpenter” article, Fitzpatrick demonstrates how he re-created over 50 replacement corbels for his historic house. Fitzpatrick started with an original to make templates for the replacements by using an intact existing corbel. After cutting the basic shape of the corbel, he fine-tuned it on his router table. Next, he made the applied details for the corbels: rosettes and pyramids. This article has a companion “Master Carpenter” video as well as a sidebar about manufactured architectural details and a trick of the trade about using specialized push sticks to keep your fingers safe.
A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a house built in 1848. The building had been neglected for the past 30 years, and over the previous 100 years, a number of significant changes had weakened the structure. While restoring our new house, I discovered that many of the beautiful 19th-century details that I wanted to preserve were in need of repair. There were no significant historical interior parts left, but as a contemporary furniture maker, I was excited to restore the exterior to its original glory while remodelling the interior with a contemporary plan. Armed with a few old photos, some curious craftsmen on the payroll, and an enthusiastic architect, we had at it.
For our renovation, this meant recreating many moldings, a front door, a historically accurate porch, and many new corbels. Of the 80-plus corbels that decorated the house, all but 20 needed replacement. Even though damaged, most of the corbels were intact enough for me to copy the details. After gathering the information,…