Guiding the Cut

Router table cut

Whether you’re using a table mounted router to shape a curved drawer front or a handheld router to cut a groove, before you switch on the power, you’ll first need to determine how you’re going to guide the router through the intended path. There are four common ways to guide a router and it all depends upon the type of cut and the bit used to create the shape. In this article I’ll illustrate how I use guide bearings, bushings, the router baseplate, and the router table fence to make a wide variety of cuts.

Guide Bearings—Undoubtedly the most common method for guiding a router bit is the guide bearing. In fact, most of today’s router bits have a guide bearing to limit the cutting depth and keep the profile consistent (photo 1).

furniture molding

Photo 1

Profile bits, such as an ogee or corner rounding, have a guide bearing attached to the end of the bit which rolls along the unshaped portion of the stock (photo 2).

edge profile

Photo 2

However, many bits, such as dovetail bits (photo 3), have a guide bearing on the shank while others, such as bits for shaping a mating tongue-and-groove, have a guide bearing between two cutters (photo 4).

router table joinery

Photo 3

tongue and groove bit

Photo 4

Guide bearings can be used to follow a linear path or an intricate curve; the key to good results is a smooth surface for the guide bearing to follow. For example, when chamfering the corner of a curved chair leg, the guide bearing will roll irregularly along the rough surface from the bandsaw. Therefore, after bandsawing the curve of the leg, it’s important to smooth away the saw marks and provide a smooth rolling surface for the bearing.

By swapping out guide bearings on many bits you can change the cutting depth or even the profile. For example, when using a rabbeting bit (photo 5) it’s a good idea to have a few other guide bearings on hand; you can easily increase or decrease the cutting depth just by swapping out bearings.

rabbetting bit

Photo 5

When routing a rabbet in a difficult wood, such as curly cherry, I’ll start with a large diameter bearing to score the wood and prevent tearout. Afterwards, I’ll switch to the smaller bearing and complete the cut. In fact, if the rabbet is very deep I’ll sometimes use three different bearing diameters. The final pass with the smallest bearing leaves an incredibly smooth surface because even though the rabbet is deep, the actual cut is light. This technique is not limited to rabbeting bits; it works well for profile bits, too.

Corner rounding profile bits, can be made to shape a bead by switching to a smaller guide bearing (photo 6).

router guide bearing

Photo 6

If you own a collection of various sizes of corning rounding bits then you also have beading bits of the same sizes. Just keep an assortment of guide bearings on hand. Amana offers a complete line of bearings from 1/4″ to 1-1/2” in diameter.

If you need to shape into a very small space then take a look at the Amana miniature bits (photo 7). These tiny bits each have a 3/16” diameter guide bearing and are available in several common decorative profiles as well as a rabbet and a flush trim.

miniature router bit

Photo 7

Today many grooving bits, such as dovetail, core box and straight bits, are now available with a guide bearing on the shank (photo 8). They are often referred to as pattern bits because a template, or pattern, is positioned above the workpiece directly below the router (photo 9). Years ago this type of cut required a bushing attached to the baseplate. The bushing complicated the setup because the template had to be sized to account for the offset between the bit diameter and the bushing diameter. However, when creating a template for a pattern bit there is no need to calculate the offset because the bearing and bit share a common diameter. In other words, with a pattern bit the groove becomes the exact shape of the pattern. This simplifies the entire process.

guide bearing on shank

Photo 8

template shaping with a router

Photo 9

Baseplate—If you’re routing grooves for shelves don’t overlook the economy and simplicity of guiding the router off of the baseplate (photo 10).

cutting a groove with a router

Photo 10

I’ll use this method often when routing the dovetailed sockets for drawer dividers in fine casework. When making a template for baseplate routing keep in mind that you’ll need to subtract the distance from the edge of the bit to the edge of the baseplate. Also, round router baseplates are not usually concentric to the router collet; if you rotate the router as you route the cut may be inconsistent. I simply mark a spot on the router baseplate with masking tape and keep it against the template as I route. If you use this method often you may want to solve this problem by replacing the round baseplate with one that is square (photo 11).

router sub-base

Photo 11

Additionally, when routing grooves off of the baseplate as long as the baseplate is against the template the groove will be straight. However, if the baseplate drifts away from the template the groove will meander. One solution is to make two templates and guide the router between them. However, with a bit of practice this isn’t a problem.

Bushings—(photo 12) A bushing is a metal sleeve that fits into the router baseplate; once it’s locked in place the bit slips through the bushing (photo 13).

router guide bushing

Photo 12

router guide bushing used in woodworking

Photo 13

With the plethora of pattern bits available I don’t use bushings as often as I once did. However, there are times when a bushing is still the only option; sometimes it’s necessary to cut a groove in a width for which a pattern bit is not available. Just keep in mind that the pattern will need to be sized to allow for the offset between the bushing and the bit (photo 14).

cutting curves with a router

Photo 14

Fence—Router tables turn an ordinary router into a mini-shaper capable of performing many cuts that are out of the realm of a handheld router. When routing on a table, the fence limits the cut and rather than guiding the router, it guides the workpiece in a linear path. Even so, guide bearings still play a major role. Positioning the fence tangent to the guide bearing takes the guesswork out of setting the fence (photo 15).

router table fence

Photo 15

And if you’re routing the ends of door rails, even though the stock is technically guided by a miter gauge, the fence and guide bearing is used to control the cutting depth and keep parts consistent (photo 16).

cutting end grain on the router

Photo 16

Carving a Fan for Your Next Piece of Furniture

Carving a Fan for Your Next Piece of Furniture

Beautiful Drawers with Fan Carving

The Carved Fan in Furniture

Carvings found on 18th furniture are sometimes an ostentatious display of vines and leaves which cover nearly every exposed surface of the chair or chest to which they’re applied. I’ve always had a greater appreciation for minimal amounts of carving that accentuate a furniture piece rather than dominate it. In my mind, a carving should become part of the overall design. Carved feet, finials, table edges or drawer fronts all add a small degree of embellishment without overwhelming the rest of the piece.

One of my favorite carvings has always been the simple fan (Photo 1). New England craftsmen of the 18th century obviously liked it too. Judging by a study of the antiques of the period, the fan was perhaps the most commonly used carved element. There were a number of design variations; some were even a 360 degree pinwheel. And in fact, some Boston chests feature a carving of a virtual folding paper fan complete with the sticks and paper folds (Photo 2).

Carvings should embellish a piece of furniture, not overwhelm it

Photo 1


Photo 2

When compared to other furniture carvings of the period, the fan is one of the easiest, perhaps the easiest to carve. Adding a fan to your next project is a great way to become introduced to this aspect of the craft. And unlike many furniture carvings, layout is simple, and carving a fan only requires a few tools. In this article I’ll demonstrate the steps that I used to carve three matching fans for the gallery of a New Hampshire desk that I recently completed (Photo 3).

Period Desk with Fan Carvings

Photo 3


Carving Fan Layout

Before making the first cut, I create a full-scale drawing of the carving to ensure that I’m satisfied with the proportions and details. Then I’ll often take it a step further and carve a prototype. For example, before carving the fan into the three drawer fronts for the desk, I first took a few minutes to carve a basswood sample. I like being able to see the carving in three-dimensional form; this ensures that every detail is in proportion and works toward the success of the final design. Afterwards I used the sample as a guide when carving the drawer fronts.

Like many period fans, this fan is positioned toward the center of the drawer front instead of on the lower edge. The area directly below the fan is hollowed and this design element is carried through to the drawer divider and into the drawer below. The effect is called blocking, and it’s a great way to catch the light, and break up an otherwise flat, boring surface while adding a bit of detail.

The initial stage of carving the fan is to use a large gouge and scoop out a shallow bowl or recess in which the fan details will be carved. The area directly below the fan is scooped out just a bit deeper to create the blocked effect and make the fan stand proud.

The first step is to lay out the arc of the fan and the depth to which it is scooped out (Drawing One). I draw cross-hairs at the center point and use a compass to draw the arc (Photo 4). As you layout the arc, notice that there are actually two large arcs of different radii spaced 1/4″ apart. The space between the two is used to create an array of small arcs at the ends of the lobes. However, for now it is sufficient to draw the two large arcs; if you take the time to lay out the individual lobes you’ll lose the layout lines in the initial stage of carving.

locate the center point and use a compass to draw the arc

Photo 4


Notice from the drawing that the arcs stop at the centerline and the layout line extends downward in a straight line to the lower edge of the drawer front.

Click link to view drawing of fan: Drawing One

Next, I use a marking gauge to create incised lines on the lower edge of the drawer front that indicate the depth of the carving (Photo 5). Unlike a pencil line, the incised lines create a distinct depth line to which to carve. There are two depth lines, the first is the fan and the second is the deeper blocked area below the fan. Now I’m ready for the initial stage of carving.

Using a marking gauge to indicate depth of carving

Photo 5

Carve a Shallow Bowl

With the initial layout complete, I begin carving by scooping out a shallow bowl. The key, as with any carving, is to keep an eye on grain direction. Carving with the grain is easiest but not always possible. However, if the carving gouges are sharp, a smooth finish can be created by carving across the grain. Carving against the grain typically causes the wood fibers to tear and splinter.

I use a #5, 30mm gouge to create the bowl (Photo 6). The curvature of the #5 is a perfect sweep for the edges of the fan. Starting at the lower edge of the drawer, I carve upwards and across the grain toward the apex of the arc. At the apex the grain changes direction and I repeat the process from the opposite side. As I carve, I’m careful to blend the two series of cuts at the center for a seamless transition. The first cuts are heavy and somewhat aggressive in order to remove a lot of wood.

The curve of the gouge naturally creates the curve at the perimeter of the bowl.

Photo 6

As I approach the perimeter I take smaller cuts and gradually work up to the arc (Photo 7). The scribed layout line on the lower edge is my stopping point for the depth of the bowl.

The scribed layout line on the lower edge is my stopping point for the depth of the bowl.

Photo 7

To finish this first stage of the fan I remove small shavings all across the carving (photo 8).

To finish this first stage of the fan I remove small shavings all across the carving

Photo 8

This minimizes the depth of the facets and smoothes the surface for the next step (Photo 9). You may be tempted to sand this surface but I encourage you to avoid sandpaper; the small particles of grit left behind will dull your tools when you continue the carving process.

Preparing the Carving Surface

Photo 9

Carve the Blocked Area

The next step is to carve the blocked area directly below the bowl. First I mark the line at the base of the fan with a marking gauge (Photo 10). This provides me with a clear stopping point as I carve the recess.

mark the line at the base of the fan with a marking gauge

Photo 10

Because most of this surface is flat, I use a #2, 12mm to remove much of the material (Photo 11).

use a #2, 12mm to remove much of the material

Photo 11

The #2 has a very slight curvature which prevents the corners of the chisel from gouging. I switch to a #7, 14mm gouge to carve the curves at each end. A 1” wide, flat bench chisel can be used to create the vertical wall at the base of the fan (Photo 12). Now the carving is ready for the next step of lay out.

A 1” wide, flat bench chisel can be used to create the vertical wall at the base of the fan

Photo 12

Lay Out the Lobes

With the bowl and blocked area complete the next stage of the carving is to layout each of the individual lobes. To find the location of each lobe, I use small dividers and step off the arc into ten equal divisions (Photo 13).

Keep in mind that a larger fan will require more divisions. I settle on the exact number of lobes during the design phase. Too many lobes appear crowded and each lobe lacks sufficient taper for an attractive appearance. Too few lobes creates a provincial appearance.

Laying out a fan carving

Photo 13

Next, I use a straightedge and a sharp pencil to mark each line. Once I’ve checked the layout for accuracy I mark each line with a knife (Photo 14). Unlike a pencil line, the incision made by the knife guides the gouge in the next step.

mark each line with a knife

Photo 14

Carve the Vees

The next step is to separate the lobes with vee cuts (Photo 15). Afterwards, the lobes are created by rounding over the surface into the vee cuts. Keep in mind that as the lobes converge at the center of the fan each vee cut is very shallow. Also, the vee cuts don’t actually intersect. Instead, once the carving is complete a small brass pull is fastened to the drawer front at the center of the fan.

carving the lobes with Vee cuts

Photo 15

Using a #12, 6mm vee gouge I start by carving down each incision toward the center point. Rather than cut one vee in its entirety I first make a shallow vee at each incision. As I deepen each vee I check for spacing and make corrections as necessary. When this stage of the carving is complete the vees will each be tapered in width and depth as they converge toward the center of the fan (Photo 16). In the next stage I’ll often find it necessary to deepen the vees but that’s preferable to carving too deep initially.

Carve down each incision toward the center point

Photo 16

Round the Lobes

I find that rounding the lobes is the most enjoyable part of the carving. It’s at this step that the fan takes its form and all your effort pays off (Photo 17).

Rounding the lobes of your carving

Photo 17

Because you’ll be carving details inside of a shallow bowl the best gouge is a #25 backbent. As the name implies, this unusual gouge is forged in a backwards shape. I used three sizes: a 6, 8 and 10mm. As the lobe converges you’ll need to switch to a narrower gouge.

You’ll likely find that it’s easiest to round the horizontal lobes at the base of the fan and the vertical lobes at the center. The grain is easiest to read and cuts cleanest in these two areas. The challenge is the lobes in between. The grain in these lobes usually runs in the opposite direction on each edge of each individual lobe. The key is to keep the gouge very sharp, take light cuts, and watch the changes in the grain. Although much of the carving begins at the perimeter and works downward toward the center point of the fan, when the grain direction changes it’s easier to carve upward toward the perimeter (Photo 18). Once again, the key is light cuts with a sharp tool.

Keep the gouge very sharp, take light cuts, and watch the changes in the grain

Photo 18

With care, sharp tools, and a bit of practice you’ll be able to create smooth rounded surfaces with only a few tiny facets.

Carve the Terminus

The final step of carving the fan is to create the double arch detail at the end of each lobe. This small detail adds a lot of interest to the fan and catches light to create an attractive series of undulating shadow lines.

Using a #7, 14mm gouge I make the first cut while holding the chisel at about a forty-five degree angle (Photo 19).

make the first cut while holding the chisel at about a forty-five degree angle

Photo 19

To make the second cut which completes the detail, the chisel is held vertically (Photo 20). The two cuts meet and a small chip pops out to create a crisp arcing recess. It’s that easy. However, you may want to practice a few times on some scrap wood to get a feel for the cuts.

the chisel is held vertically for this part of the carving

Photo 20

The fan is now ready for very light sanding and a finish (Photo 21).

Finished Fan Carving

Photo 21


Dentil Molding on a Corner Cabinet

Dentil Molding on a Corner Cabinet

In a time span of approximately one hundred years, from around 1730 to 1830, craftsmen working on Virginia’s Eastern Shore created one of the most distinguished forms of 18th century furniture, the architectural corner cabinet.  Dentil molding on a corner cabinet was one of the hallmark features of the piece.

Although corner cabinets were produced by many craftsmen from several colonies, few reached the level of sophistication of the corner cabinets crafted in this isolated portion of Virginia.

Like the houses of the time, the Eastern Shore corner cabinets feature a myriad of rich architectural details such as deeply carved crown, waist, and trim moldings, shapely corbels, fluted pilasters, paneled plinths, paneled doors, and divided light doors (Photo 1).


Photo 1

Arguably, when compared to corner cabinets from other furniture making centers of the time, the Virginia corner cabinets are unrivaled. The numerous architectural elements combine to create a composition of remarkable harmony, detail and richness. As an example, one of the most unique and beautiful features of the Eastern Shore corner cabinets is the distinctive outline created as the crown molding and dentil wraps around the top of the corbels that flank the cabinet.

Dentil, a series of closely spaced blocks, is not at all uncommon on period casework. However, dentil molding is an unusual detail on Eastern Shore corner cabinets. But the effect is striking; each time the cabinet is viewed the eye is drawn toward the cornice and dentil (Photo 2).


Photo 2

One of the keys to successful dentil is accurate spacing. Dentil typically starts and ends a run on a full dentil block; partial blocks at the corners would appear disjointed. However, on the forty-five degree angles of a corner cabinet it works best if the front dentil starts and ends with 1/2 of a block; full dentil blocks on these corners appear disproportionately large (Drawing 1).


Dentil molding (drawing 1)

A decision also must be made regarding the dentil spacing on the narrow sides of the cabinet and the face of the corbel. In other words, if the block spacing on the front is continued around the corners of the corbel, it may create distracting block fragments at the miters. Instead, the size of the dentil blocks should be slightly modified to create a full block at the corners. The modification is very slight so that in the end, the dentil blocks appear uniform and continuous.

To accurately layout the dentil I use the legs of a divider to step off the blocks from end-to-end. Then I mark the location of each block with a sharpened pencil and saw accurately to the layout lines (Photo 3).


Photo 3

We offer a class that includes dentil molding on a corner cabinet as an architectural element. We also offer many other furnituremaking classes. See our current woodworking class schedule for more details.

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