by R. Christianson
Restoring a Piece of History
P.J. Currier Lumber of Amherst, NH, has a long history of reproducing architectural millwork for restoration projects throughout central New Hampshire.
Its close partnership with Williams & Hussey (W&H), both as a manufacturer of molders and custom knives, has been central to Currier’s millwork business for nearly 25 years. “The Williams & Hussey machine is versatile,” says Tom Desmarais, co-owner of the 67-year-old business. “If you know what you are doing you can make almost any shape or profile with very little limitation.”
One of the most storied examples of a Currier-W&H collaboration involved replicating a pair of multi-profile pilaster bases for the grand portico of the historic Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford, NH. The iconic portico, featuring six 18-foot columns that support a three-stage clock tower and the two decorative pilasters, was designed by Alexander Longfellow, nephew of famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Constructed in 1894 as an addition to the 1832 church, the columns and pilasters were rotting and badly in need of replacement.
Reproducing exact matches of the pilaster bases required molding four distinct profiles which were stacked and glued to create the bases measuring about 12” high by 12” deep by 30” wide. Each of the profiles was made with a 10-foot strip of African mahogany on a W&H 206 variable speed molder.
“Knowlton & Son, the general contractor, deconstructed one of the original bases and gave us the pieces to reproduce the profiles,” Desmarais says. “We used African mahogany because it is good for exterior applications and mills well.”
“Tom Langis, our machine operator, did a great job of matching the existing profiles as closely as he could,” Desmarais adds. “We were able to make all of the pieces except one with existing cutters we had previously purchased from Williams & Hussey. We had Williams & Hussey grind the profile knives for the large grooved piece that we had to make in two pieces and laminate together. A 2-1/2-inch bullnose was done in several passes due to the depth of cut. The W&H molder also was used to mill the flat bottom pieces of the column to size.”
The resulting 10-foot profiles were cut to size and assembled by Knowlton’s crew. They were painted with a white exterior paint capable of holding up to the extreme New Hampshire summers and winters.
“We are thrilled with the way this project turned out,” says Fran Bader says, a church elder, who is responsible for buildings and grounds. “The restoration achieves the high level of authenticity befitting of a registered historic landmark.”
“The column bases are a small part of the overall job but still important to the finished look,” Desmarais says. “We’ve had a W&H molder since 1993 and do hundreds of jobs every year. The molder is easy to set up and great for small runs like these column bases. It’s a machine that we can use every day to make money.”