There are a couple of definitions for the term “crosshead”, the building industry standard for the term refers to a treatment using a combination of molding and other millwork above a window or doorway. The concept of using a crosshead is not new, but has been borrowed from a feature found in early Grecian architecture, called an Entablature. This term refers to a superstructure of ornate details and moldings used to encapsulate or carved on to the face of lintels, the beams which span from column to column of a classic structure, such as the Parthenon. The Entablature incorporates the architrave, the frieze, the cornice, and the pediment. Within all those elements, come many of the features used in modern architecture.
Today, the classic door surround uses pilasters on either side of the door to replicate the look of columns. Above the door, a crosshead is used to replicate the look of the architrave, frieze, and cornice. The triangular or arched feature above a crosshead is referred to as a pediment. Many other architectural details, such as dentil molding, corbels, and carving inlays, were derived from the entablature. The frieze was used as a “billboard” in that era, as a way to make a statement of grandeur or send a message of their might, by the details carved in to the stone.
The classic crosshead consists of four basic features; the cap, the frieze board, the molding, and the base, which is similar to features found in a mantel. All the features of the crosshead are determined by the frieze board length and width. The length of the frieze is determined by the overall width of the door or window, including the casement molding. The frieze board is the body of the crosshead and determines much of the overall height. The molding typically used is a crown molding, which is used to provide visual depth. The optional use of keystones, carving inlays or dentil trim provides detail to the frieze board. Though some may prefer the simple classic lines, while others prefer the ornate.
A crosshead may be used outside above windows or entry doors. Vinyl, urethane foam or resin materials are normally used for exterior applications. Typically, interior crossheads are constructed from wood. The wooden crosshead gives the flexibility of custom sizing and special features, while foam, resin, or vinyl gives the advantage of weather resistance and decay. Whether used above a featured entryway or above all the doors or windows inside a home or office, a crosshead is an often overlooked feature to bring a decor together.
Today, crossheads are made-to-order and are readily available. They are simple to install with a few common household tools and can be installed above existing trim work or incorporated in new construction. Small architectural details, such as the crosshead, can still make a dramatic statement.