Using Versatex in Historic applications

Restoring a Cupula on the 1897 Landmark at Baldwin Wallace University

Marting Hall is part of the Baldwin Wallace South Campus Historic District. Designed by the firm of Cramer and Fugman in 1896, the building houses BW’s history, religion and English departments.

In 2012, a crew hired to repaint a massive, ornate 1897 cupola discovered that painting would not be enough. Its sheet-iron and wood structure had been irreparably damaged by the elements. With the original skills and materials no longer obtainable, a team of restoration experts duplicated the landmark’s look and feel using modern materials — primarily high-density PVC from VERSATEX.

Bill Sandrock of Stratton Creek Wood Works LLC in Kinsman, Ohio was the PVC fabricator and architectural millworker. He’s been collaborating with VERSATEX since 2005, consulting on milling techniques, matching historical profiles, and restoration work.

“We’re a VERSATEX fabricator. VERSATEX provides products like boards, sheets and moldings in standard profiles, tongue-and-groove, and so on. Anything outside of that product line, that’s considered fabrication. For instance, I’ll make a custom profile on my molder, or I’ll make a custom bracket or a radius piece out of their boards and sheets. We glue for thickness, whereas your average distributor couldn’t glue for thickness. We fab to order.

He says VERSATEX’s 1.5-inch-thick PVC board gives him a cost advantage when gluing for thickness. Saves money on adhesives and labor. VERSATEX is the only manufacturer with a product that thick.

He did all the millwork for the Baldwin Wallace project. He took samples of the original crown molding, corbels, handrails, turnings, and so on. “With VERSATEX, fabrication wasn’t so much of a challenge. We’d measure the original piece, draw it in AutoCAD, and then figure out how to manufacture it. A lot of the cuts were made on the CNC machine, some were made on the molder. We custom-ground knives to match and ran the profiles through the molder.”

“This was probably the most detailed project we’ve ever done. In my shop, the millwork probably took about 1,100 man-hours over the course of five months. The cupola was a six-sided structure, about 11 feet on a side.”

“The original craftsmanship was incredible. All the moldings and other components were built out of sheet metal. Those tinsmiths were ahead of their time — when they bent that metal, they were duplicating the look of wooden moldings. The problem was that the paint was peeling and the metal was rusting. Now, by doing this in VERSATEX PVC, the paint sticks, the paint will last, it will never rot, it’s not going to peel. The new paints expand and contract with the material.”

“Some people shy away from PVC in the restoration business, and I don’t understand why. Because we recycle all the dust that we produce when we mill it; we save all the scraps — all the scraps go into new product. So it’s as green as can be on that end of it. And it doesn’t rot. The factory is completely green, they have nothing that goes into a landfill.”

“We have learned over the years that we can’t make this stuff out of pine any more. If someone would come to me and say, ‘We can’t use PVC, but we’ve got to have it outside,’ I would say, ‘OK, I have two woods I can use: Spanish cedar or mahogany.’ The worst part of it is they’re rain forest trees. And they cost more than PVC. VERSATEX is not as cheap as pine or poplar, but it’s less than mahogany. And mahogany eventually will rot.”

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