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Arched Mirror Routing Project

Arched Mirror Routing Project
  An elegant arched mirror frame constructed using a series of short wood lengths and butterfly insert joints.

1. This Arched Mirror frame has been constructed using a series of short wood lengths, with each joint featuring two timber butterfly inserts that have been dovetailed into the end of each section. As well as being decorative, the butterfly inserts are functional and can significantly increase the strength of a butt joint.
     

Design and Material Choice

Design and Material Choice
  2. I made the butterfly inserts from Walnut. These inserts stood out well against the oak, with an eye-catching contrast of the two timbers enhanced when oiled during the finishing stages. Various other combinations of contrasting timber would work well for this project as an alternative to oak and walnut, or this combination could be reversed. This project includes how to make these butterfly joints using a router.

After working out the size of the frame, its thickness needed to be calculated. The thickness of the lipped inner front edge, the mirror, backboard and fixing area to secure them needed to be considered, so that a deep enough rebate could be made in the back of the frame.

Design and Material Choice
  3. A template for making the arched sections was made from some 6mm MDF sheet material. This template enabled me to copy and repeat the arched segment pattern into the work-piece material, with the assistance of a bearing guided cutter.

To make the template, the inner and outer diameters of the arch were marked out onto the template material. The semi-circle was then divided into 3 equal segments through the centre point. The number of segments could be varied, depending on the size of the frame you wish to produce.

I then attached a router to a Router Compass (Trend Ref. T5EK & R/COMPASS/A) and set the jig’s radius to that of the frame’s outer profile. An arc was routed with a 4mm diameter TCT cutter. (Although I routed a semi-circle, only the template area need be routed unless more than one template is being made) Using a small diameter router bit helped to keep the MDF dust to a minimum.

The radius of the Router Compass was then reduced to the frame’s inner profile, and another arc was routed. A section was cut out, cutting the ends slightly longer than the segment lines so that a bearing guided cutter would have a smooth run up when trimming the work-piece.

Design and Material Choice
  4. A template of the frame’s inner curve was also made to assist in maintaining the correct shape during the gluing/cramping stages. To make the template, I increased the radius of the router compass from the previous setting by the diameter of the cutter being used. I also needed to re-position the pivot point to allow clearance from the previous cut made, and a semi-circle was routed.
This was then cut down the centre line to produce an exact semi-circle.


Design and Material Choice
  5. Material for the frame was then planed to the required thickness. Care was taken to feed the timber into the planer machine with the grain running the correct way to prevent the surface from tearing out. If using off-cuts of timber, ensure that the pieces are long enough to pass though the thickness planer safely.
     
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Machining the Frame Sections

Machining the Frame Sections
  6. Timber for the straight sections was ripped down and trimmed to match the width of the arched template. This could be done in a thickness planer if available or on a router table fitted with a straight TCT cutter.

To cut parallel strips on a router table, a clamp guide was fitted to the table surface on the left hand side of the cutter. Ensuring the timber had a flat edge on the bar to prevent rocking, the clamp guide was locked into position to take a light cut. The timber was held firmly into the bar as it was pushed through, keeping fingers a safe distance away from the cutter.

Once all the timber sections had been trimmed on one side, the clamp bar position was moved in slightly and the other sides were trimmed, creating parallel strips of timber.

Machining the Frame Sections
  7. The straight sections of timber were cut to length. A chop saw fitted with a negative hook blade was used for this. A spelch block was fitted to the saw’s back-fence to prevent grain tear-out at the back of the work-piece. It was vital that the straight section ends were cut squarely to ensure that the frame assembled correctly.
Machining the Frame Sections
  8. The curved template was laid over one of the blank timber pieces for the curved section. The template’s segment lines at the inner curve points were positioned in line with the material edge. This would allow me to mark the angles required on the ends of the curved sections the same, which is 60 degrees. (Based on three segments in a semi-circle). These lines were repeated on the other curved sections.
Machining the Frame Sections
  9. With the angles marked, the section ends were cut on the chop saw at this stage, before cutting the curved areas, so that the back of the timber could be supported on the saw’s back fence.
Machining the Frame Sections
  10. The template was then fixed in place to an arched section using double-sided tape, lining up the segment marks on the template with the ends.

For best adhesion, the surfaces were wiped clean and pressed lightly with a cramp to avoid the template from slipping during routing.
The shape was cut, leaving a slight overhang for trimming with a router.

     

Machining the Arched Sections

Machining the Arched Sections
  11. The curved sections were then trimmed flush with the template using a bearing guided cutter. I found this stage easier to machine using a router table.

To avoid the grain from tearing out of the curved edges during trimming, a cutter with bearings fitted on the nose and shank of the cutter were used (Trend Ref. 46/300X1/2TC). This allowed the template to be followed underneath or on top of the work-piece accordingly by adjusting the height, therefore all of the curve could be routed with the grain.

Machining the Arched Sections
  12. The inner edge of the curved work-piece was trimmed using the top-mounted bearing (table set-up) from the start to the middle of the approximate centre point of the work-piece. Then the outer profile of the same end was routed.
Machining the Arched Sections
  13. The work-piece was then turned upside down so that the template faced onto the table surface. The router height was then raised so that the bearing mounted on the shank could be guided against the template from underneath the work-piece. This allowed the other end of the curved section to also be trimmed with the grain.

This process was repeated for each curved section.

Machining the Arched Sections
  14. The curved sections were laid around the edge of the semi-circle template so that the ends could be checked for good joins. Although the joints should be reasonably accurate if the procedure in step 8 has been followed, the ends could be finely adjusted if required by fine sanding with a flat sanding block, or with a bench-mounted disc sander.

All the frame sections were laid out together and joints were edge marked and numbered.

Machining the Arched Sections
  15. It was then time to cut the dovetail slots into the ends of the work-piece sections. Although these dovetails could be cut out using the traditional method of hand-tools, using a suitable dovetail router cutter and jig will save much time, whilst producing accurate results. Alternatively a dovetail cutter in a router table could be used if the work-piece could be vertically supported sufficiently.
     
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Dovetailing the Joint Ends

Dovetailing the Joint Ends
  16. I used the Trend DC400 dovetail centre, which has a variable layout facility, allowing the tail and pin guide fingers to be adjusted in 2.5mm increments. This jig also has two guide rails, therefore the router is supported on both sides of its base and prevents the router from tipping.

The tail guides were laid out on the DC400 so that two dovetails would be symmetrically positioned on the material width. Refer to dovetail jig instructions for full set-up details.

Dovetailing the Joint Ends
  17. It is a good idea to make trial cuts before machining the work-piece to check layout is visually pleasing. I used a T5EK router fitted with a suitable guide bush for the jig.

There are several Trend dovetail cutters that have a 14 degree angle and are therefore suitable to match the butterfly spline bit for the butterfly inserts, and I decided to opt for Trend Ref. L120X1/4TC, which has a 12.7mm cut length. If using a dovetail jig for this operation rather than a router table, the maximum shank size that will fit through the guide bush of the jig needs to be considered. The DC400 uses a 11.1mm guide bush therefore the maximum shank diameter possible would be 8mm.

To prolong its life and put less strain on the dovetail cutter, I decided to make relief cuts with a straight cutter first, removing the majority of the waste material. Therefore the dovetail cutter would only have a light cut to make and the waste material would have more room to clear, achieving a better finish.

A straight cutter slightly smaller in diameter than the neck of the proposed L120 dovetail cutter was used to rout the relief slots. Although TCT or STC cutters should normally be used to machine abrasive materials such as oak, I found that using Trend Ref. 50/06X8MMHSSE worked well for this job, since the strength of the single flute Super High Speed Cutter allowed the waste material to be cleared out effectively in one pass without straining the cutter. Where possible, 8mm shank cutters should be used rather than 1/4 inch shanked ones, since an 8mm shank has more surface area to be gripped in the collet and the thicker shank suffers less vibration.

The depth was set to slightly less than the dovetail’s cut length.

Clamping a piece of waste timber behind the work-piece timber being routed prevented the back from break-out. Therefore the frame’s front surfaces were faced inwards towards the jig body.
Slots were routed in all the required dovetail positions.

Dovetailing the Joint Ends
  18. With the guide bush remaining in place, the 14 degree TCT dovetail cutter was fitted to the router.
Dovetailing the Joint Ends
  19. Dovetails were routed in all the slot positions.
Dovetailing the Joint Ends
  20. The joint at the bottom corners of the frame comprised of a side grain to end-grain joint, therefore these side sections needed to be fitted horizontally in the jig.

Technical Note: The front bar of the jig is designed to accept the material vertically, however if the timber is inserted horizontally in the front bar as needed with this corner joint, the material needs to be a minimum width of 75mm for the clamp mechanism to work correctly and a maximum length of 400mm. Maximum clamping thickness 25mm.


     
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Making the Butterfly Inserts

Making the Butterfly Inserts
  21. A Butterfly Spline router bit was used to make the butterfly profiles. (Trend product Ref. 10/40X1/2TC) This cutter needs to be used in a router table with a 1/2inch shank capacity router for accurate results.

Consideration was given to which way to machine the inserts in terms of grain direction. If I had routed the profiles along the length of a piece of timber, this would of produced an insert with the end-grain facing upwards on the surface. Although this can give an interesting appearance in the surrounding timber, the grain direction does not give the same strength as inserts that have been machined with the grain travelling length-ways across the surface of the inserts.

Given that the frame would be housing a fairly weighty mirror, I made the butterfly inserts with the grain travelling lengthways across the inserts, for maximum strength. To do this the timber needed to be pushed through the router table with the end-grain faced on the table. Material that is cupped would be difficult to machine accurately. Using a piece of timber that is relatively flat would be easy to hold into the router table fence.

I used a reasonably wide piece of timber so that a strip of the butterfly insert profile could be made and cut down into a number of pieces afterwards, saving machining time.
The insert material was machined to the thickness of the dovetail slots width (12.7mm if using the L120X1/4TC cutter), although if it is slightly thicker than required it could be adjusted later. Ends were trimmed square.

Making the Butterfly Inserts
  22. A false fence was clamped to the back fence to bridge the left and right fence cheeks.
The height of the cutter was adjusted so that the outer point of the cutter was equal to the depth of dovetails that have been cut in the frame sections. A fine height adjuster is useful for this.

Making sure the power was disconnected, the cutter was rotated until the blade was positioned at its maximum cutting point to the timber. This enabled me to set the table’s back-fence, by lining the bottom corner of the timber with the cutter. If the fence is moved more forward than this and timber cut, the width of the butterfly will be reduced.

With the fence locked in position, the timber was pushed through vertically. It is advisable to make a trial cut at this point to check the cutter is aligned with the timber correctly. A side finger pressure was fitted to the table to help hold the timber to the fence.

Making the Butterfly Inserts
  23. The timber was then rotated 180 degrees and the second side routed. If the insert material being used is thicker than required, the back-fence can be moved over to allow the cutter to trim down the thickness.
Making the Butterfly Inserts
  24. The routed section was then cut down as a strip to the overall length of the butterfly. A table saw fitted with a fine finish alternate bevel tooth blade was used. The timber was pushed through with the strip on the off-cut side of the blade, therefore fingers were kept away from blade. Alternatively a hand held tenon saw could be used.
Making the Butterfly Inserts
  25. The butterfly strips were then cut into pieces to slightly over the thickness of the frame so that they could be finished flush when glued in place.

A chop-saw with a fine tooth blade was ideal for this. A false fence was fitted to the back-fence and saw bed to prevent the grain from breaking out. A side stop was also fitted so that all the butterfly inserts were cut to the same thickness.

     
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Assembling the Frame

Assembling the Frame
  26. Each insert was checked for fit in its position.
Assembling the Frame
  27. Rather than try to glue several joints at once, I glued just one or two joints at a time. This allowed me to apply end pressure to each joint as it was being glued, helping produce a strong joint. To maintain a flat frame the components were clamped to the workbench to prevent distortion. I put some plastic underneath the joint to prevent any oozing glue from sticking to the bench surface.
Assembling the Frame
  28. The joints were clamped end-to-end and downward pressure applied.
Padded bar clamps were ideal for this since they do not mark the work-piece (Trend Ref. BCS/6).

Assembling the Frame
  29. Using the semi-circle template made earlier to hold the correct shape, the first curved section was clamped. Blocks were made to protect the corners of the curved section from crushing whilst being clamped end to end. Since clamping a curve causes the middle to give way, the middle was pushed into the template by the use of a spreader (The Trend Bar Clamp can be re-arranged to act as a spreader).

Assembling the Frame
  30. Once the first curved joint was dry, the process was repeated adding the next curve section.
When all the joints were glued and assembled, the butterflies were planed flush with the frame.

     

Rebating Frame and Routing Keyhole Slots

Rebating Frame and Routing Keyhole Slots
  31. A rebate cutter was fitted to a router (Trend Ref. 46/39LX1/2TC or C040X1/2TC) and a small piece of material of the same thickness as the frame was attached to the router base (known as a shoe). This prevented the router from tipping. The frame was clamped faced down on a clean, flat work surface, ensuring there were no particles that could scratch or damage the frame.
The rebate was routed in several passes to reach the required depth.

Rebating Frame and Routing Keyhole Slots
  32. Keyhole slots were routed into the back of the frame so that it could be fixed flush on the wall (Trend Ref. 35/0X1/4TC).

The positions were marked for 20mm long slots. Firstly I routed relief cuts using a straight cutter that was slightly smaller in diameter than the neck of the keyhole cutter to remove the bulk of the material.
I used a T5 router fitted with fitted with a side fence to guide against the frame’s outer edge. The cutter was centralized with the middle of the frame width and the slots were routed. I plunged down at either end of the slot and then removed the middle section in several passes.

Rebating Frame and Routing Keyhole Slots
  33. The depth of the router was then set so that the keyhole would form a sufficient lip to house the screw head. The keyhole slots were routed, plunging down at the lower end of the slot and applying the router’s locking lever to ensure the cutter remained at the required depth. Remember not to release the plunge lock until the router is clear from the slot or the result will be a double ended keyhole- which will not secure the fixing!
Rebating Frame and Routing Keyhole Slots
  34. The frame was sanded with 180 grit sandpaper.

A small chamfer was routed on the frame edges to remove the sharp corners. I used a bearing guided 45 degree cutter with 3 flutes for a fine finish (Trend Ref. 41/5X1/4TC or C049X1/4TC).

     
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Making Backboard and Finishing

Making Backboard and Finishing
  35. I made a backboard from 6mm MDF to sit behind the mirror. A rectangle was cut slightly under the size of the overall length and width of the rebated area. A router compass was used to rout the arched top.
Making Backboard and Finishing
  36. A finish was applied to the bare frame. For this project I wanted to go for a finish without a deep sheen. I decided to use Linseed oil, which looked more natural than a varnish, highlighting the beauty of the grain and enhancing the butterfly detail. After leaving the oil to penetrate for a few hours, another coat was applied. Any residue was wiped clean with a cloth.
Making Backboard and Finishing
  37. The completed frame with mirror fitted.

Written by Derek Greig - Technical advisor at Trend Machinery & Cutting Tools Ltd.
     
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