Building corbels

While the roof was getting replaced the existing corbels all got destroyed in the process. Lee decided that he wanted fancier corbels then the originals so he made up his own. To get started, he built three for the dormer (one was just for practice). Most of the corbel dimensions were already decided for us. The overhang of the roof was two feet so that was one length. The window placement made it so the part of the corbel that came down the wall was sixteen inches. (The other 13 corbels on the house are 26″ long.) The width of the wood is two and a half inches.

Lee made his cuts. He did an open mortise and tenon joint to connect the right angle. Then the joint was glued and clamped.

He drilled a hole through the open mortise and tenon joint and then chiseled it square for a wooden peg.

The wooden peg through the joint makes the corbel stronger and adds a nicer look. The peg was left out a half an inch through both sides. The diagonal brace was then screwed into place.

The diagonal brace is a half inch smaller then the other elements in the corbel. The corners of the diagonal brace and the bottom of the vertical are chamfered. The horizontal will be fit tightly against the varge rafter as we may later add faux caps so it looks like the supports pierce the face of the eaves. In a way, these corbels are the beginning of our planned architectural update for the house: from rough depression-era craftsman to a more refined arts and crafts styling.

Lee and I had a lot of discussions on how to make the corbels look. I hated anything that looked too ornate. He hated how plain the originals were and liked ones that emphasized the joinery. Finally I told him to knock himself out and just do whatever he preferred. I like them quite a lot and am very happy with how they turned out. I do feel bad for him in that I think they would have looked a bit different if he hadn’t of spent the last three weeks pointing out corbels I hated on other people’s houses.

Of course with Lee being Lee he couldn’t help himself and had to add some more details. These ones are just faux pegs. He drilled a quarter inch deep hole with a forstner bit (this leaves a flat bottom). Then he chiseled the corners out square. The pegs themselves are three quarters inch cubes which were glued into place.

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11 Responses to Building corbels

  1. Lynn says:

    Nice work! I just researched corbels – we don’t have them on our home. I’m going to have to start looking at other people’s homes & see if they have corbels! You need to show a pic when you install them!

  2. Leigh says:

    Very nice! I will have to show these to Dan. We will be needing to replace all of ours eventually.

    So nice to see your progress. We’ve been slowed down in our renovations due to Dan’s work schedule, but that will change once we get to the holidays.

  3. Rachael says:

    I really like that last photo; the lighting is beautiful.

  4. lee says:

    Lynn – we should have provided a definition of corbels I suppose. I didn’t know what they were called either until we started looking for them to get ideas. Nearby Eugene has a lot of homes of this period with corbels in the downtown area, but most are pretty simple: square stock and a simple mitered diagonal. I tended to like the ones that used smaller stock for the diagonal. The pegs are just me being a little OCD. They are installed now, but not painted. They’ll all be primer white for the winter, but long term we think we’ll paint them a dark brown contrasting color.

    Leigh – Thanks. They were a fair bit of work (and I have 13 larger ones left to do), but each one went faster than the previous. I bought a plunge bit for my router to hopefully speed up cutting the tenon holes using a template. We definitely know how the progress goes. It seems to vary with my work too, and our mood, and the weather …

    Rachael – Pure random success! Robin took the photo while I held a shop light at an angle. It’s so easy to use flash, but the results can be better if you don’t. In this case, the flash tended to flatten out the pegs so you couldn’t see them.

  5. Jay Plamer says:

    Did you look for someone who builds them to order? I need 7 for a home renovation in the Columbia Gorge and have not found a basic corbel like you show here. Thanks Jay

  6. lee says:

    Hi Jay,

    No, I didn’t look for anyone that sells them. During the past year, I’ve had a number of spam comments selling corbels left on this post, so I’m sure they are out there.

    If you have a table saw and chop saw, you could make a simplified version of this one quite easily using only lag screws. If you could find square stock of an appropriate size (4x4s are a little too thick for our house), then just a chop saw would be necessary.

  7. Lance says:

    Sorry for commenting on an old post. I found this while looking for ideas on how to build corbels for my home, a craftsman home I built here in Wisconsin 4 years ago.
    This is pretty much exactly the design I was thinking of doing, and I really like the pegs! Though many of mine will be high they might not be visible enough to take the extra effort.
    My hang up so far is how to mount them, do you have any pictures of these mounted? Especially how they mount against the eve itself? Is there a gap on the outboard side or do you cut them at an angle to fit tight? Do these hang out over the edge of the facia at all?


    • lee says:

      Thanks. The pegs won’t show up on some of the high ones on our house either, but I’m kind of OCD about things being consistent. The corbels out on the front porch gable will be easily seen.

      I ran a couple searches, but it seems we have never put up a picture of the dormer with the corbels installed. Yes, there is a gap on the up-hill side of the roof between the top of the corbel support and the eaves. We installed them with the horizontal support cut off to fit precisely between the house wall and the barge rafter. A couple nails were shot through the barge rafter into the end of the corbel’s horizontal.

      Corbels are really common on older homes here in the Pacific Northwest. They are most commonly installed in one of three ways: fit between the house and the barge rafters like ours, a little further down on the wall with the horizontal support piercing the barge rafter, and quite a bit further down with the horizontal fit into a notch into the bottom edge of the barge rafter. I really like the pierced look, but it wouldn’t work with our updated trim and drip edge so we kept the original style.

  8. Pingback: Building more corbels | Farm Folly

  9. Joan Visser says:

    I wonder how difficult they were to install. Before finding this, my husband had built the 17 corbels we need for our home remodel. Now comes the installation. I’m wondering if you have any tips before we’re up on the ladder?!

    • lee says:

      I would say that building them is the hard part. Installation difficulty depends on how you want them to look and what role they will play. Ours are only partially structural, since we also have lookouts supporting the eaves (2x4s on the flat side that stick out). The corbels are just toe-nailed into the sheathing after trimming back the shingle siding around their installation area. You can use construction adhesive behind them for a bit more strength or if the siding has been torn off simply lag them into wall studs. They are easier to install before the siding if that’s possible.

      As for the top edge, I describe our installation in my comment above. I like the look with the rafter notched and the corbel supporting it that way, but the recessed ones like ours definitely weather better. Installation was a matter of taking measurements and prepping the area, so that when you actually went up the ladder with the corbel it could be installed directly.

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