Tool and Techniques for Shaping Wood

After wood pieces have been cut to size, minor operations such as grooving, scraping, and smoothing are often necessary before the pieces can be assembled. This is where shaping tools and techniques come into play.

Chisels have long blades squared off at the cutting end. Some have handles capped with metal, for driving with a hammer; others should be driven with a mallet or with hand pressure alone. The cutting edge of a chisel is beveled: turn the bevel up for deep cuts, down for greater control of shallow cuts.

Chisels are used for making notches and grooves. In shelf assembly, they are most often used in cutting joints. Sold individually or in sets, chisels commonly come in ¼”, ½”, ¾”, and 1″ sizes.

Planes use chisel blades set into a metal base to slice off wood at a controlled width and depth. The block plane, small enough to use with one hand, is used for fine work and for shaving end grain. To cut end grain, use short, shearing strokes. TO avoid splitting board edges, plane from the edges inward to the center of the board.

Short planes are not good for large surfaces. The shorter a plane is, the greater its tendency to ride up and down with the irregularities of a surface rather than shear them off. Bridging the small bumps, a larger plane will smooth the entire surface.

The jack plane is about twice the size of a block plane. Use the jack plane for smoothing longer surfaces, always cutting with the grain. Angle it slightly to the direction of travel and move it forward smoothly, applying even pressure. If possible, determine how the grain slopes and cut “uphill” – this keeps cuts shallow.

Files and rasps, abrasive tools that remove small amounts of material, are best for smoothing cuts and shaping edges. Very fine-toothed files are usually meant for filing metal and smoothing wood. Coarser rasps are designed for abrading wood rapidly. Perforated metal rasps are like cheese graters. Available in several shapes, they’re useful for planning end grain and convex surfaces. They’re especially good on hardboard and particle board.

The electric router is a very sophisticated power tool that performs as an electric chisel, woodcarving knife, and plane. It cuts all kinds of grooves: dadoes, V-grooves, rounded grooves, and even exact dovetails. It can round or bevel the edge of a board or finish the edge of plastic laminate at a single pass. Used with the proper cutter and template, it can whisk out hinge mortises in minutes. You’ll need a router with at least one horsepower if you want to make deep cuts, such as dadoes.

Because it’s a powerful, high-speed cutting tool, the router requires careful set-up and practice. Using one properly can be demanding; be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations.

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