exterior of a house with gingerbread trim
Gingerbread trim caught on in this country in the mid-1800s. To replicate it today, cypress is a good wood to use because it stands up well to the weather.
Q: I’d like to add some ornamental woodwork to the outside of my house. What type of wood should I use, and how thick should it be? I was also wondering how details such as gingerbread should be assembled.

—Gene Vanderbush, Clyde, N.Y.


Norm Abram replies: Most of the original ornamental woodwork you see is probably made of pine—that's what was available back then. I wouldn't use pine these days, though, or even poplar. Instead, I'd use cypress. It's rot-resistant, stable, and takes paint well. The thickness of the wood depends on what you're trying to replicate. Gingerbread ornament might be as thin as 3⁄4 inch, but 1 inch will be stronger and better able to withstand the weather.

As you work, pay close attention to the wood's grain direction. If it runs across the width of a thin piece of fretwork, rather than along its length, the piece will eventually snap. Some parts of an ornament can be screwed together and some might only need a good marine-grade polyurethane adhesive like 3M 5200. It's kind of a pain in the neck to use, but once it sets up, the woodwork will never come apart. Use corrosion-resistant screws to fasten the ornament to the house, and protect the wood with an oil-based primer before you paint it.
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