An ‘ology in doors

Not for the first time, we wonders what it all means.

It is the mark of a true craft that it has its own special lexicon; esoteric words understood by the few and puzzling – at first – to the many. Carpentry is no exception and I’ve been delving into the meaning and origin of some of the most common terms associated with front doors.

Mortise or Mortice: [noun] a hole made in a piece of wood to receive a tenon of the same size. (From the French mortaise.) Origins before 1350 but otherwise unknown.
……Not to be confused with mortgage (the reason most of us get up and go to work everyday).

Tenon: a projection at the end of a piece of wood, designed to be inserted into the mortice of another piece, to form a joint between the two. (From the French tenir – to hold, from Latin tenēre).
……Not to be confused with tennis (a game played in Wimbledon to encourage rainfall).

Anatomy of a front door
Anatomy of a front door

Rail & Stile: a construction technique (sometimes called ‘frame and panel’) whereby a ‘floating’ panel is held within a frame on victorian front doors. Horizontal timbers in the frame are called rails and verticals are stiles. The panels are held in grooves cut into the inside edges of the rails and stiles, which are themselves held together using mortice and tenon joints. (Rail comes from an old French word reille derived originally from the Latin rēgula a ruler (I think they meant something with a straight edge). Stile probably reaches us from the Dutch stijl meaning a pillar or post).
……Not to be confused with Style (which, if you have to ask, you have not got).

Muntin: a lovely word which sounds like a description of a happy, wet and muddy Labrador but is actually a vertical framing timber between two solid or glazed door panels. (Probably from the French monter to rise).
……Not to be confused with Munchkin a fictional tiny person in L F Baum’s Wizard of Oz.

Raised & Fielded: if a wooden panel has a flat square or rectangular area at its centre with a bevel all around its edges, it is described as being raised and fielded. The flat centre is ‘raised’ and the sloping edges are said to be ‘fielded’.

Mouldings: there are any number of mouldings which can be used where the framing meets the panel. Some of these (such as ovolo and lamb’s tongue) are cut from the rails, stiles and muntins. Others, such as panel and bolection mouldings are ‘applied’ or ‘planted’. Bolection mouldings have an ornate cross-section and cover the edges of both the panel and the framing. They do this by projecting beyond the surface of the framing, while panel mouldings sit within the depth of the framing. Please note that the spellings moulding and molding are nowadays used interchangeably although, strictly speaking, molding is only correct in North America.

Heavy, external moulding known as 'bolection', fitted to the outside face of a Voysey & Jones front door
Anatomy of a front door

The Ovolo moulding has a rounded profile using a quarter of an ellipse. (From the Latin ōvum egg). Lamb’s Tongue has a more subtle profile with flatter curves. Poetically named, it has very little to do with lambs and may take its name from the leaf of the plant Plantago lanceolata also known as the Ribwort Plantain.

Specific, slightly peculiar when first encountered, bolections, lambs’ tongues, ovolos and muntins are all now part of my enjoyment of the language of period front doors. The term bolection, incidentally, was first used in London in the early 18th century but beyond that its origins are – surprisingly – unknown. Any suggestions? My money’s on there being a long-lost connection with the Spanish Bolero…

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