A lot of carpenters complain that too much of the exterior millwork used these days is made from plastic and other synthetics — yet synthetic materials are not always a bad thing. Keeping joints tight on square wood columns is a struggle, and few homeowners want regular painting and maintenance as part of their weekend routine. So it's good to know that synthetic millwork companies like Fypon make load-bearing columns in addition to strictly decorative ones. Fypon's Plain Panel Square Column comes in 6- and 8-inch widths and 8- and 9-foot lengths and can handle up to 12,000 pounds of load. Since it's made from high-density polyurethane, it should last forever. List price ranges from $400 to $450. Fypon, 800/446-3040, www.fypon.com

Many stone columns are composed of small segments stacked together. If the budget allows, however, nothing beats the smooth finish found on Rhodes Architectural Stone's One-Piece Stone Columns. Made from granite, limestone, or sandstone, these beauties come in 7- to 14-inch diameters. For projects in seismic zones, the maker can drill out the...

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