We don’t cut corners, except when we’re supposed to cut corners

The Cabinet Maker at School… Part 6

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Building the School Box has been a wonderful experience – it is a lovely project and if you follow the text there are a great number of valuable handwork lessons to learn from. The element of this build I’ve been most nervous about was carving the corners of the base moulding. If you remember, I previously deviated from the text and dovetailed the base moulding, which meant that instead of neat mitred corners on the moulded edge, the front moulding crossed the corners and abruptly terminated the side moulding runs. I knew this would be the case when I decided to dovetail the moulding, and so I’d always intended to carve the corners of the front moulding to give the appearance of mitred corners.

Carving transitions of this sort is delicate work – one misplaced cut and that beautiful moulding will be butchered. So there is no room for error. The key is careful layout, and a methodical approach to the carving itself.

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Clear lay out is key to carving the mitred corner

The ovolo pattern cut by my moulding plane consists of three elements – a central curved section on either side of which is a square shoulder. My first step was to strike a fine pencil line at 45 degrees from the corner of the carcase across the moulding, to identify the transition point for each element of the ovolo molding, and I shaded the waste elements for good measure.

When detail carving I prefer to order the work so that I use as few chisel cuts as possible. This reduces the risk of making a catestophic slip, and also provides a simple order of work for repeatable results (for instance, on the opposite corner of the School Box moulding). Using a wide chisel I defined the top shoulder of the side moulding, and pared down so it was level with the corresponding detail on the front moulding run. This gave a simple ledge from which I could then define the bottom shoulder of the ovolo, and pare down to that. I find a wide chisel is best for this sort of work as part of the blade can cut the waste material while the remainder of the blade registers against the moulding, which keeps the carved elements running in line with the rest of the moulding.

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The top of the ovolo has been pared flush, just the bottom shoulder and the curved section left to cut now.

With all three levels then established, it was a matter of knocking the corner off the middle ledge and rounding it over so that it matched the ovolo from the moulding plane. I pared most of the material away with a sharp chisel, and then refined the shape with a fine needle file.

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The finished carved corner.

The only other work that was needed before applying finish to the School Box was a gentle spot of clean-up – removing any remaining pencil marks and stray fibres, all of which is quite usual. Unfortunately, I also had to steam out a couple of bad dents left in the workpiece by my bench. My current Sjoberg bench has a number of metal fixings in the bench apron which used to be recessed in the timber, but which thanks to seasonal wood movement have become exposed (despite repeatedly adjusting them with a large hammer). The most prominent of these is just to the right of my face vise, which means that any stock secured in the vise tends to pick up some dents and scratches. When your workbench starts to destroy your work it is definitely time to build a new bench, and this only adds to my motivation to get started on the oak Roubo build. I’ve not steamed dents out of work before, but the Canadian pine I’m using responded very well, and only a few seconds with hot iron and damp towel removed all of the dents.

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At top the dents in the box lid, and below the culprit – situation next to the face vise.

The School Box is now ready to be milk painted, which I’ll cover in my next post.

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