Q. I often get into projects in old houses where I need short runs of molding that are impossible to match. It’s very costly to have the molding manufactured in local woodworking shops in my area of Maine because they have to grind special knives. Is there a source for old or unusual moldings?

A.Tom O’Brien, a restoration contractor from Richmond, Va., responds: The short answer to your question is yes, there are plenty of sources for old moldings.

Finding an exact match for a particular profile, however, can be a challenge.

Molding patterns vary significantly from region to region, and even locally, from mill to mill. If you must match an old profile precisely, a good bet is a local salvage yard or demolition contractor, or a nearby mill which might have the correct molding knives already in stock. Then you’d only have to pay a setup fee or minimum charge.

If you’ve already exhausted your local connections, the best sources I’ve found for locating restoration suppliers are Traditional Building Magazine (69A Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217; 718/636-0788; www.traditional -building.com) and the annual Restoration Directory published by Old House Journal (2 Main Street, Gloucester, MA 01930; 800/931-2931; www.oldhouse journal.com.)

Both publications also post a lot of this information on their Web sites. Each listing includes a brief description of the company’s specialties, whether it has any catalogs or literature, and whether it sells through mail order, retail stores, or distributors. When you find a promising source, you’ll probably want to trace the molding’s profile and fax it to them to be sure of an exact match. Keep in mind that not every replacement must blend perfectly. While prominent interior moldings must be very close, you’ve got a lot more latitude with exterior trim, especially high cornice work. I can almost always find a stock molding that, with minor table saw modifications, will look perfect from two stories below.

Since you’re in Maine, you might try Windham Millworks (P.O. Box 1358, Windham, ME 04062; 207/892-3238). They claim to have 1,000 molder knives in stock and charge an $80 setup fee for short runs, with no setup fee for 250 feet or more.

Further afield, Forester Moulding & Lumber, Inc. (152 Hamilton Street, Leominster, MA 01453; 800/823-7826; www.forestermoulding.com), has knives for 2,000 custom profiles, which they’ll run for a $95 setup charge for orders under 300 linear feet. If you fax the profile and quantity, they promise you a quote within four working hours. They also promise a four- to eight-day turnaround time once an order is placed. All of these profiles can be seen in their Custom Profiles Binder ($29) or CAD database ($69).

In the West, Arvid’s Woods (2500 Hewitt Ave., Everett, WA 98201; 800/627-8437) claims to keep 400 moldings in stock as well as the knives to make more than 1,500 custom profiles. There is generally no setup charge for custom moldings, but minimum orders range from $50 to $150, depending on complexity. They have free brochures available or a 120-page catalog for $6.

Before going the mail-order route, there are a few other strategies you might consider:

  • Repair old moldings — even badly damaged ones — with epoxy.
  • Restore small, missing sections of trim with epoxy molds and castings. Besides making epoxies, Abatron (5501 95th Ave., Kenosha, WI 53144; 800/445-1754) has mold-making kits for this purpose.
  • Scavenge extra pieces of trim from inconspicuous places like closets.
  • Build up trim profiles from combinations of stock moldings.
  • Replicate old profiles, or modify stock moldings, with router and table saw.