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Here’s how I made the pair of urns in last week’s post.
Step 1: Choose your material
My client wanted to use maple for one of the urns because she’s from Canada. She also liked the idea of walnut splines. She chose the other species — cherry for one of the boxes and burly ambrosia maple for the lids — during a visit to my shop.
I wanted the grain to run continuously around each box, so I marked each board with a number to indicate the order and orientation of the parts.
Mark the parts to be cut out of the board using a system that enables you to keep track of the orientation as well as identity of each part.
Step 2: Cut the miters
I mitered the sides on the table saw using a miter gauge. I used the rip fence to determine the length of each side (in this case, all of the sides were the same length). To keep the workpiece from binding, which could be dangerous, I set up each cut with a block of scrap, then removed it while holding the piece firmly against the miter gauge.
My box sides were in effect the offcut. This made it even more critical to keep the workpiece firmly held against the miter gauge fence. The block of mahogany is a temporary spacer to ensure consistent lengths for the sides in addition to a safe cut: After setting the workpiece in place against the miter gauge I slid it up to the block, held the workpiece in place with my left hand, then removed the block with my right. I turned the saw on with my right.
Hold the workpiece firmly against the miter gauge fence while pushing it forward steadily to make the cut.
Full disclosure: The shots of mitering were set up after the fact. The blade I used for the boxes was a Forrest Chopmaster, which made extremely clean mitered cuts.
Step 3: Groove for the bottom
Next, I changed back to my Forrest Woodworker II blade set at 90 degrees and ran each side over the saw twice to create a 1/4″ wide groove for the plywood bottoms. (This step is not illustrated here.) I presanded the interior faces of the box sides, then glued them up.
Step 4: Glue up
There are different ways of clamping miters. I used lightweight clamps, applying them gently at first and gradually tightening alternating clamps until the miters were fully and evenly pulled up. Tip: I used Titebond Extend for a little extra open time.
The next morning I removed the clamps and carefully gave the boxes a light sanding to clean up the corners.
Step 5: Kerf for splines
To cut the grooves for splines I made a quick cradle that held the boxes at 45 degrees. I could easily push the cradle forward, holding the box in place while pushing the cradle forward, keeping it firmly against the table saw fence. NOTE: If you make this kind of cradle and use screws or other metal fasteners, make sure that the fence is set so that the saw blade will not cut into them.
The spline kerfs cut
Step 6: Square up those jagged kerf ends
Because all of my table saw blades leave a V-shaped point at the center of the kerf, I had to trim the ends of the notches. I started by scoring across the grain with a marking knife, using a square as a guide.
Next, I set the tip of an 1/8″ chisel in the knife mark, bevel up, and carefully tapped with a wooden mallet to remove the V. I cut about 1/3 of the way in from each side and left the little bit of wood remaining at the inside corner of the miter.
Step 7: Spline time!
After ripping walnut splines to just the right thickness, I rough cut them to a little over size.
With each spline held in a vise, I scooped out a little semi-circle of material so that the outside portions of the spline would bottom out in the groove without being blocked by the little bit of material I’d left at the groove’s center.
I cut the splines roughly to size with an old backsaw. (Here the saw is lifted to show the spline against the bench hook. Yes, I know that this is not the angle at which one should use a backsaw.)
After the glue has dried, trim the splines with a saw, then carefully plane level with the box sides. Sand the box inside and out.
Step 8: Lids
My client decided on rare earth magnets to hold the lids in place. I cut the lids with about 3/32″ overhang on all sides, anticipating that they will shrink a little in width next winter. Next, I used a 3/8″ Forstner bit to drill holes for the magnets and glued them in place with epoxy.
And there you have it.
– Nancy Hiller
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