Monday, July 6, 2009

Raising Wood Panels the Old-Fashioned Way

I have been asked a number of times about raising wood panels while working in the cabinet shop at The Landing, a living history museum in Shakopee, MN. So, I thought I would bring my camera to the shop and give a quick primer on raising panels for doors, drawers and paneling.

I used a piece of scrap pine from the firewood box for my demonstration. This piece turned out to be horribly mushy and prone to tear-out (see my discussion of the advantages of closely grained wood below) so the results are pretty embarrassing. However, what matters here is the process and rather than the results. One advantage of 19th century woodworking is that there is always a wood stove nearby to consume all your miserable mistakes so no one will ever know what horrible things you have done. That is, unless you are stupid enough to show them to the world on the internet.

First, I marked out the panel using a slitting gauge. Some people use a regular scratch gauge to lay out the dimensions of the raised field and then scribe the lines with a square and lay-out knife. I prefer a sharp slitting gauge because it is faster but still leaves a nice, deep mark like a knife would. Just be sure the edges of the panel are joined straight and smooth or your lay-out lines will be a mess.

I also scribed a line along all four edges of the panel. This way I will know how far down to plane the bevel so that it will fit snugly in grooves plowed on the edges of rails and stiles of a door, etc. In this case I am making a simple panel with a straight bevel planed to the edge. In other cases you might want to plane a rabbet around the panel so that the bevel does not extend completely to the edge. Rather than flat, bevels can be dished slightly with a round plane.

Next I roughed out the panel with a wide chisel. When you are removing lots of wood it is fastest and easiest to use a chisel rather than a plane. This is true even if you are using a rabbet or dedicated panel-raising plane, as both panel-raisers and rabbet planes need to be set fine for cutting across the grain on the ends of the panel.

The one thing always to remember is to work across the end grain first!! Even when you are working with sharp tools on good stock, there will be some tear out. If you work the end grain first, any tear out will be planed away when you are working with the grain down the sides of the panel.

After roughing out the bevels, I work the end grain using a wide rabbet plane to smooth and refine them. Be sure to use even strokes and be careful around the sharp edge of the raised field. I often use a smaller chisel to shape the bevel near the edge so I have some leeway when using the rabbet plane. A wide rabbet is perfect for this sort of work since the blade is skewed (good for working across grain) and the iron is slightly wider than the plane body so you can work right up to the sharp edge of the field.

The last step is to smooth and refine the the bevels on the long sides. Work with the grain on both sides of the panel. Again, the rabbet plane is ideal for this job since it allows you to flip the plane around and work with the grain on both sides. Planes with fixed fences force you to work with the grain only on one side and against the grain on the other. Use a cabinet scraper for final smoothing so you have a sharp edge where the bevels meet that runs at a 45 degree angle.

There you have it! Hopefully yours won't have the awful tear-out and ragged edges!

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