Monthly Archives: March 2012

Quick Design Tip & Tombstone Doors

The two book-matched slabs pictured above are panels selected for my secretary tombstone doors. Take a look at the different arrangements. Which pairing looks best to your eye, right or left? Your response, for furniture construction, should be the pair on the right. Know why?

When you look at furniture, you should try to direct eyes inward toward the middle of the piece, then upward. As you look at the left pairing, your eye is drawn toward the middle of the panels due to the grain. However, as you follow that grain up the panels your eye is pushed away from the center as the grain flows outward.

The right pairing clearly has the opposite effect. As you travel up the panels your eye is continually directed toward the middle. This is correct for period design.

Make a Tombstone Panel

In order to highlight the panel’s grain features and to find the best look, I position my completed frames on the slabs, then slide the frames around the panels. Because I was working with a pair of doors, I lined the two up side by side and worked to match the grain as best I could. When I had things set, I drew around the inside of the frames to mark each panel. The final step to layout was to offset each line, including the arched top, by 5/16″. Panels were then cut to that size.

To raise the panels, I turn to a router setup. This where using power tools makes the most sense, but there is also hand work that needs to be done before tombstone panels are complete. A router bit leaves rounded inside corners. It cannot create sharp turns. To finish up the panels, use a straight edge to pencil in the square shoulders, and a compass to set the round portion.

Using a sharp chisel, set the lines just drawn to a depth that matches the reveal found on the balance of the panel. Pare away waste until the reveal is set. Next, after a line is struck down the slope and set in with a chisel, work the square portion back to your line by continuing the profile into the corner as shown in the left photo.

To complete the rounded portion is a bit more tricky in that the profile is continued into the corner, but the area has to be on a continuous radius. Again, sharp chisels are a must, and you need to watch grain direction, too. (I also found that having a couple carving gouges – almost flat carving gouges – are great to set the rounded reveal lines, and to work nasty grain if necessary.) I’ll get the area as flat and clean as possible, then I’ll finish up with sandpaper.

Below you can see how the doors and panels look with construction complete, but without finish. (You can also see the completed fretwork discussed a couple weeks back.)

One additional note on my panels. Some tombstone panels achieve more than 180 degree bend, which looks unnatural. Others achieve the 180 degree half circle, then extend straight down a bit more in order to connect with the shoulders. I find both these examples distracting. To work out details prior to any shop work, I turned to SketchUp. I designed the panels to have a full half-circle radius at the inside edge of the raised portion, then work outward to arrive at a layout for the top rails. Sometimes a little planning goes a long way.

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Filed under Design, Hand Tools, Power Tools, Shop Tips

A New ‘Old’ Mallet from Woodworker’s Edge

It’s only fitting that a guy who reproduces antique furniture would, when he decides to dip his toe into woodworking hand-tool waters, choose to reproduce an antique tool. And so it is that today I announce the release of my first tool – a 16-ounce brass head mallet – designed for woodworkers.

Click here to go directly to the store.

A few years back while I was on staff at Popular Woodworking Magazine, I was bitten by the antique folding rules bug. As my collection grew ever so slowly, I considered reproducing rules. That idea didn’t get very far. Then one day as I sat in my cube tapping away at my computer Christopher Schwarz, former editor and now contributing editor, presented me with an antique brass mallet. He suggested that I reproduce it. I accepted his challenge, but only halfheartedly.

I played around with a SketchUp drawing of a mallet head, then sent it to my friend John Ostering at United Support Solutions so he could take a look and give me some pointers. Instead of evaluating the drawings, he put the team to work to make the very first prototype. It was awesome – and that swung me into full production mode. In my shop, I put the mallet to work so as to see what (if any) changes needed to be made. I came up with a few and when I visited John later in the year he handed me off to his lead guy and we worked the brass head into what it is today. Thanks John. Without your effort, this would have never happened.

With the new brass head in hand, I returned to work on an updated insert and handle design. Once complete, I produced a few new prototypes and asked fellow woodworkers to take a look and provide feedback. Feedback provided was excellent, and resulted in a better mallet. Now my mallet is ready to go. Tried and tested. I think you’ll find it exceptional.

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Filed under Hand Tools, New Products

Formidable Fretwork Frieze

With a project article for Popular Woodworking Magazine wrapped up, I got back to work on the large – some would say humungous – walnut secretary. This week I spent more than a few hours working on a frieze moulding to sit just below the crown.

I say formidable fretwork frieze not because the moulding causes fear or apprehension, or due to its awesome strength. To me, frieze arouses feelings of grandeur. It is a nice addition to a piece of furniture, but it’s not a moulding you should include if you’re short on time. To make this moulding, I use a scroll saw which is not part of my machine inventory. I borrowed this Craftsman saw from a friend and would highly recommend it if you’re in the market.

To make my frieze, I developed a pattern from my SketchUp model. (To read how to do this from an earlier post, click here.) After my pattern is spray-glued to thin walnut stock, the work begins. As shown in the photo above, step one is to drill a small hole through each and every one of the areas that are to be cut away. Your hole has to be large enough to fit a scroll saw blade through, but still smaller than the waste area – this almost didn’t happen for me and I thought I was going to have to go back and rework my pattern.

With every hole, you have to thread your blade through the hole, reattach the blade to upper arm, tighten the blade holder screw then re-establish blade tension before you cut. Each repeating pattern has four waste areas around the oval, then between each oval there is a small diamond. You can see why I say don’t use this moulding if you are short on time.

Note the small bridge used to elevate the moulding above the tabletop and provide clearance for my router bit.

You may have noticed that I did not drill a hole through each of the ovals, which is also waste area. I planned to speed-up this part of the process. Yes, I use my router and a plywood pattern to do that. To create a pattern, I pasted my paper pattern to a piece of plywood scrap that was sized to match my working stock. I cut a short piece of stock at the scroll saw to use as a test piece and determined that my original oval was too thin. I needed to boost the width of each oval. (you can see by how much in the photo.)

Instead of making a new pattern that would be difficult to position – the pattern oval was exactly the size of my original pattern – I turned to router accessories to do the job. Take a look at the photo immediately above and you can see a bushing with my router bit peeking through. My bushing rides the edges of the pattern while the router bit sits inside the lines. Bingo, my ovals were beefed up, and routing out oval waste was much less time consuming than doing this work at the scroll saw.

The moulding shown here is from paper pattern to sanded smooth. When I get things wrapped up on the secretary, I’ll drop in a close-up photo of the finished frieze.

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Filed under Power Tools, Routers

Moulding Tips

Any piece of furniture looks best with proper mouldings – be it waist mouldings, base mouldings or the most important crown mouldings. Crown mouldings can be as simple as a flat-cut, angled design as on my adapted Shaker Press Cupboard from “Fine Furniture for a Lifetime” (Popular Woodworking Books), or a complex assembly such as found on the Canadian Step-back Cupboard in the same book (shown on the right). Installation of these mouldings can sometimes be laborious and/or tricky. With this post, I thought I would share a few tips to make sure your moulding work is easy.

First, take a look at the poplar spacer in the photo below. In working on a three-stage crown moulding, I need my thin, lower moulding to extend beyond the cove just the right amount, at least to my eye. With two pieces of scrap cut to 1-1/8″ in width (an estimated width), I can balance the first moulding in place then fit the cove to the case. Not happy with the look, I shaved an 1/8″ off each piece and took another look. Those spacers keep me from having to mark up my case with lines that need to be sanded away. I made three changes before deciding on the location. I ended up with a 3/4″ spacer. Spacers also hold pieces in position as you work to wrap the mouldings around the case.

It's always a good thing to wrap mouldings around your case. Here the end piece was a cut-off from the front. By wrapping it around the corner, you have a nice match in grain and finish.

Another tip is to use spring clamps to hold your cove in place as you fit pieces. I set my miter saw to 45 degrees to the right and leave it there throughout the job. Begin with the left-hand piece as the case sits on its top  – upside down is the easiest way to install crown mouldings (as shown in my photos). Make your miter-saw cut with the piece upside down and backward, then position it to your case. (Because you can trim the length anytime, keep the piece extra long.)

The front piece of cove is next to fit. Make your saw cut with the cove right-side up, or so the bottom edge is down to your miter saw table and fence. It takes a bit of balance to make this cut. If you lean the moulding out or back, you influence the cut – that is something you can use to your benefit to tweak your fit as you gain experience. Position the front cove to your case by matching the angle-cut ends, add spring clamps to hold everything in place then mark and cut the second end of your front cove. Finally, fit the remaining end and trim the lengths to size.

My last tip for mouldings is to glue end grain as you assemble pieces. Most woodworkers forget this step, but it really adds strength to your stacked mouldings. Below is what I’m working on with most mouldings in place. There is one more piece to add to the works. It’s a frieze moulding that is centered between the bottom edge of the crown moulding and the edge of the door opening. I’m sure you’ll see the finished piece somewhere down the road.

If you have a simple trick to cut or install mouldings, please add it to the comment section below. Any help is appreciated.

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Filed under Power Tools, Shop Tips