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Everything You Need to Know about Dentil Shelves

Tuesday February 20th, 2024
One key characteristic of craftsman style doors is the dentil shelf. This decorative element adds depth and texture to the door, but it’s also rather mysterious. For instance, why is it called a dentil shelf? What is it used for? Where did it come from?  We answer these questions and more to clear up the confusion about dentil shelves.

Dentil Shelf FAQs

  1. What is a Dentil Shelf?
  2. Why is it Called a Dentil Shelf
  3. What is a Dentil Shelf Used For?
  4. What are the Historical Origins of      Dentil Shelves
  5. What are the Benefits of Adding a Dentil      Shelf to a Door?
  6. What are the Alternatives to a Dentil      Shelf?
  7. What Materials Are Dentil Shelves      Typically Made From?
  8. How to Make a Dentil Shelf for a Door
  9. How to Install a Dentil Shelf
  10. How to Hang a Wreath on a Dentil Shelf 
If your door has a dentil shelf, or you’re interested in purchasing a craftsman door with a dentil shelf, it’s beneficial to know what it is and its historical significance. This will help you understand what your dentil shelf is for and where it comes from. 

Dentil Shelf Frequently Asked Questions 

What is a Dentil Shelf? 

A dentil shelf adds aesthetic detail to a door. It’s a protruding miniature “shelf” that sits just below the window glass or upper panel section on craftsman doors. Because the craftsman style closely resembles mission style, a mission style door can also have a decorative dentil shelf. 

Dentil shelves are typically thin pieces of wood with multiple rectangular protrusions pointing toward the ground. These protrusions are called dentils, and they are equally spaced and sized. 

Dentils resemble teeth—hence their classic name—and can be found on other prominent architectural features, such as under the crown molding of impressive buildings. The shelf part is unique to doors, though dentil molding can be found in other areas without the accompanying shelf. 

While there is little functional purpose to dentil shelves, they add ample character and historic relevance to the door. A door with a dentil shelf is a staple design that reveals its traditional architecture at first glance.

Why is it Called a Dentil Shelf? 

You’re right in acknowledging the somewhat strange name for this little architectural detail. The shelf part of the name is easy to decipher—it resembles a shelf. The “dentil” part has a little bit more juice to its origin. 

Dentil molding has its roots in ancient Greek architecture. The Greeks liked to associate architectural elements with the human body, and the series of symmetrical dentils under a roofline or interior crown molding somewhat resembles a row of teeth. Thus, the small rectangular blocks ancient Greeks and Romans used to decorate their buildings were called “dentils.” 

So, no, a dentil shelf doesn’t have anything to do with a dentist, other than the rectangles drawing inspiration from human teeth.  

What is a Dentil Shelf Used For? 

A dentil shelf is purely decorative, and does not have any functional purpose. The intention of dentils is to add prominence, depth, and elegance to a building. In this same way, dentil shelfs add texture and character to a door. 

A door dentil shelf is a wonderful way to honor traditional craftsman style, as well as ancient Greek and Roman architecture. In this modern era, a dentil shelf has the added function of adding historical relevance to a home. 

What are the Historical Origins of Dentil Shelves?

Dentils originated in ancient Greek and Roman architecture as a decorative element. As a key aspect of Neoclassical architecture, they were found in exterior and interior spaces, usually as part of the crown molding. They were almost exclusively made of stone, and were perfectly symmetrical. Dentils were also popular in Renaissance architecture, which closely resembled ancient Greek and Roman Architecture. 

While dentils were used predominantly in grandiose buildings and mansions, they made a surprising appearance in the arts and crafts movement in North America. The arts and crafts movement inspired the craftsman style. However, these two architectural styles are quite different than Neoclassical architecture. 

The arts and crafts movement—and subsequent craftsman style—focused on the creative expression of the artist, high-quality infrastructures and furniture, and simplicity. Within those elements, the craftsman style is characterized by hand-crafted wood or stonework, horizontal lines, and wooden furniture—including wood doors. 

While dentils originated in ancient Greek architecture, the dentil shelf is unique to craftsman style doors, especially front entry doors. The term “dentil” refers to its classic Greek origins, and the shelf depicts the unique design structure found on craftsman and mission style doors. 

The design element of dentil shelves was favored for its symmetry and simplicity—it added depth, character, and front door decor without being overbearing. These details are essential to the craftsman architectural style and the famous craftsman door. 

What are the Benefits of Adding a Dentil Shelf to a Door? 

One of the benefits of a front door dentil shelf is that it adds a subtle touch of historic charm to front entryways. It’s a simple and easy decor option that signifies your design preference—and perhaps the architectural history of your home. 

Furthermore, dentil shelves highlight the beauty and elegance of the door. Their original purpose was to add regal flair to important buildings, and they do the same for doors, though in a more subtle way. 

In this way, the benefits of a dentil shelf door are purely aesthetic. There are little to no functional aspects of dentil shelves, though you may be able to hang front door decor from them. 

What are the Alternatives to a Dentil Shelf? 

Dentil shelves are a unique door accessory. As such, there are no similar alternatives to them. 

However, there are alternative ways to add a door dentil shelf to an existing door. You can purchase a dentil shelf and install it or make it yourself as a DIY project. 

Plus, dentil shelves can be made out of materials other than wood if you want to add a new dentil shelf to the door. 

What Materials Are Dentil Shelves Typically Made From? 

Traditionally, a craftsman door with dentil shelf is made entirely of wood. The door and dentil shelf are typically made from the same wood species and stained with a wood finish to highlight the natural wood color and texture. 

Nowadays, a pre-constructed factory dentil shelf for door is made from wood or fiberglass. DIYers can also make their own door dentil shelf with scrap wood, purchased lumber, or PVC molding and install it themselves. 

How to Make a Dentil Shelf for a Door 

If you love your existing entry door, but wish it had a dentil shelf, you can easily make and install a dentil shelf yourself! The two most popular DIY materials are wood or PVC molding. 

You’ll first want to measure the width of your craftsman door’s window glass and add an inch on either side. If you don’t have a front door window, measure the width of the door from the inner edge of the frame to the other inner edge and decrease by one inch on either side.

Once you have these measurements, you can cut your wood piece or PVC molding to the desired length. You’ll want the main shelf piece to be thin, about one and a half inches wide and three-quarters inch thick. The small dentil cubes should be the same width and thickness of the shelf, and no less than two inches long. You can cut three to six pieces for your dentil shelf, depending on how many dentils you want. 

With all your pieces cut and ready, you can either screw or glue the dentils to the shelf. If using screws, you’ll want to screw into the backside with a pocket hole screw so you can’t see the screw hole from the front. If you opt for glue, you’ll want to use wood glue for wood or high-strength super glue for the PVC molding. Hold the pieces together with wood clamps and let it sit for 12 to 24 hours. 

Once your dentil shelf is firmly secured, you can paint or stain it to match your existing exterior doors. 

All that said, you’ll want to consider if a door upgrade is needed. If your door is older or doesn’t have the craftsman style you want, maybe it’s time to bless your front porch with a new entry door from Rustica. We offer a selection of beautiful, craftsman doors with dentil shelves made by artisan woodworkers. 

By purchasing a new door with a dentil shelf, you don’t have to worry about matching the dentil shelf material and color with the door, as they will be made out of the same high-quality wood. 

How to Install a Dentil Shelf

If you’ve gone the DIY route and made your own dentil shelf, you can easily install it on your front door without screws. The materials you’ll need include a level and a high-performance adhesive, such as E6000, hot glue, or construction adhesive. 

Mark out where the shelf will go and then apply a thin layer of glue to the center of the dentil shelve where it will stick to the door. Firmly hold the dentil shelf in place for a few minutes while the glue dries. 

While this is a great option for those on a budget, it’s important to note that installing a dentil shelf this way isn’t the best for long term use. This is because the dentil shelf isn’t as secure as it would be on a handcrafted front door with a dentil shelf. 

With frequent use and exposure to the elements, the glued-on dentil shelf may fall off. 

How to Hang a Wreath on a Dentil Shelf 

If you're looking to spruce up your home decor, placing a wreath on the door is a fantastic choice. The best way to hang a wreath from a door with a dentil shelf is to use a wreath hanger that goes over the top of the door. You’ll just need to make the wreath hanger a little shorter and hang it above the shelf.

This approach not only highlights the wreath but also complements the unique feature of your door with the dentil shelf, enhancing the overall look of your home's entrance.

Rustica Doors with Dentil Shelf 

If a new front door with a dentil shelf is calling your name, check out Rustica’s high-quality, craftsman collection doors with dentil shelves. These doors honor the traditional craftsman style and are perfect for rustic farmhouse, modern farmhouse, shabby chic, cottage core, traditional, craftsman, and colonial style homes. 
  1. Apprentice Front Door with Shelf 
  2. Rocky Point Front Door with Shelf 
  3. Skyline Front Door with Shelf 
  4. Left Fork Front Door with Shelf
  5. Hobble Creek Front Door with Shelf 

Upgrade Your Entryway with the Elegant Craftsman Door Dentil Shelf 

Dentil shelves are a classic element of the traditional craftsman style, and they add beautiful character and depth to the front door. With their fascinating history and curious name, dentil shelves honor historic architecture. Plus, they’re a great conversation starter—especially now that you know the historical relevance of this classic architectural piece. 

If you’re interested in purchasing new exterior doors with a dentil shelf, check out Rustica’s Craftsman collection of doors today! You might also consider our related products, including top-quality door accessories, storm doors, interior doors, and more! 

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