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What is Millwork - Learn the Terms

Millwork has its own mysterious vocabulary and a bewildering array of options. Let's break it down. Millwork used to be architectural features, enhancements, build-ups that you put in a room to finish it off. The embellishments were made of wood and milled - see how easy that was - millwork.

Sales associates at Marling Lumber and HomeWorks are available to walk you through the different types and styles.

Millwork still looks the same as it did in the 18th Century, but it now it may be made of polyurethane. It can be wood grain polyurethane, stained or painted and the plastic can even be arched and curved. The advantages of polyurethane are no rot, warp or mildew. The disadvantages are, it can crack, it may yellow and, well, its plastic. You decide what kind you want, sometimes its price that drives you to one over the other.

Anyway, back to basics. Sometimes people use millwork and casework interchangeably. Get that out of the way if you are talking to a contractor or someone at Marling about exactly what you need. Generally, casework is something that is a stock size. It is box-shaped woodwork that is generally comprised of modular, factory-made sections. Millwork has profiles and fancy names. It provides a sort of anchor for cabinetry, door and window frames and it dresses up a room or ceiling.

Let's take a little walk through some of the common millwork options with some explanations.

Common Millwork Terms

Chair rail. It surrounds a room at, what you'd expect, chair top height and it was originally designed to protect the wall from scuffs and damage. Its used a lot in formal dining rooms, but it can also just be used as an accent. A note of caution - chair rail looks silly either lower or higher than chair top height. There's a specific height that chair rail should be set at and don't go crazy with it - there's a fine line between decorative and what the heck is that there for?

Columns, ok, that's easy. They can be load bearing or decorative. A specific type of column is a pilaster which is rectangular versus round shape. That extra square or round piece at the top of a column or pilaster is a capital .

Corbels are decorative pieces that can go from a pilaster to the ceiling, they hold up a mantel or they are used to hold up a shelf. They come in a lot of different architectural styles from the ornate scrolly ones with vines and leaf designs to your basic ready-for-any-style sturdy shelf holders.

Crown molding is a huge category. It can go on top of cabinets or it can be used to run around the top of a wall where it meets the ceiling. It originally was used to cover up those minor variations you would get when drywall dried and didn't exactly meet the ceiling. Now it's a fabulous architectural detail element. 

You can stack the different profiles (round, square, curved, carved) and get some great looks. Another word of caution. Moldings come in different architectural styles like craftsman or federal or Greek Revival. You want to use them consistently throughout a house or whatever project you are working on. You don't want one room to look like log cabin and the next room to look like you are ready for a toga party.

Dentil molding is a specific kind of crown molding. It usually goes below the crown and is in a tooth pattern.

Medallions are ornate accents applied to ceilings or walls where a sconce might be mounted. They are circular and have designs that radiate out in ivy, floral or celtic motifs. Most often you see a chandelier, light fixture or ceiling fan mounted in the center of a medallion.

Pediments are ornamental accent pieces usually found in the center of the top of a door or window - or a gable on the outside of a house. Plinth blocks are square or rectangular blocks used to accent the top or base of the pieces along the side of a window or door. If they have a decorative rosette on them they are called - rosettes !

Baseboard or Toekick

Baseboards run along the bottom of a wall to a finished floor. A base cap builds the baseboard out because, logically, it's a cap over the baseboard. This should not be confused with toekick. Toekick is the flat board that runs along the base of a cabinet. Now if you see a small ornamental half or quarter rounded piece of wood at the base of the baseboard or toekick. That's quarter-round or base shoe. It's an extra finishing piece.

Now why would you need that? Well, if you are installing cabinets or baseboards on an existing floor that might not be 100% level, this covers up that those little dippy imperfections. It's a lot less expensive then ripping up the floor, putting in new underlayment and relaying the floor.

How We Can Help

Marling Lumber and HomeWorks locations have millwork on display and you can look at the profiles, stack them and get a general idea of what you want. There are even some companies that will custom match your existing millwork profile.

A last word of caution, new wood absorbs differently than old wood. Staining a new piece of millwork the “same” color may not match. And, while you may have paperwork laying around that says your millwork was stained honey wheat 10 years ago it likely has aged to the color of old wheat by now. If you can bring in a piece of what you want to match - that would be a great help.

Basic Millwork

Basic Millwork

It frames the door. Note the plinth block at the bottom which is slightly built out.


Millwork on the ceiling

Millwork finishes off a room. It’s like the decorative edges on a frosted cake.

Incorporate Mantel

Incorporate the mantel

Use millwork to frame out the fireplace and ensure a continuity of style in a room.

Dentil Crown

Stacked crown with dentil

Several different thickness of crown can be stacked to create architectural interest. Here dentil molding in a different color is also shown.

Stacked Crown

Stacked crown with an additional color.

If you have an island in a kitchen that is a different color than the surrounding cabinets, this is one way to incorporate both colors. If your trim around the windows or doors is a different color you can also incorporate those colors into your design this way.

Rosette Crown

Rosette Crown

Here is stocked crown, a pilaster (rectangular column) topped with a rosette. And, there’s some dentil molding, too. Since it’s the same color and the same architectural style, it doesn’t look too fussy.



Here’s a capital at the top of a column. This set up was used on a bar area. The columns were at the ends of the bar tops and there was a built up box around the top to set the bar off in a large finished basement area.

Decorative Column

Decorative Column

This is a decorative column with a capital on top



Crown “finishes off” the top of these cabinets



There are displays of all sorts of profile and options at Marling locations.

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