How To Make (lots of) Curved Brackets


I use brackets a lot in my projects.  I like the look of little brackets spaced at intervals along a band of wood, like you see in old craftsman houses.  They add structure as well as charm.  As I’m re-doing all the trim pieces in the house, the new trim is going to have plenty of these little curved brackets for added support, as well as architectural style.

Here’s an example of ones I did in a past project:


So they run along a band of wood with a little shelf on top, which makes for a convenent place to put your beer, collect D&D lead figures, or simply accumulate dust.  But I think it adds some character.  Anyway, in this house, I’ll probably need about 100 to 200 of these brackets.  When you need that many, you need to find a way to make lots of them and all the same size and shape.

I start by making a template.  I use 1/4″ laminated MDF.  It’s very easy to work with and retains its shape well as long as it’s not abused.  I’ve got a growing collection of templates for various brackets and curves that I’ve done.  I first make a rough cut with a coping saw, then file it smooth, then sand it even smoother, checking the final shape for symmetry and correct geometry.  The one on the right is the one I’ll be using.

FormsUsing the template, I scribe out the line I need to cut on the wood.  I make a fine line right along the edge, then use a bolder pencil to line out where I’m going to cut with the jigsaw.  The idea is that the rough cut is not going to go all the way to the line, it’ll leave about 1 or 2 mm of wood left to shave off.  See, I’m so freaking close to Canada that I’m starting to use metric units.



Each piece is very carefully marked.  That little hatched area is the area the saw will cut away.



With this jigsaw, I like to cut from underneath the piece.  This way you see exactly where the blade is cutting.  The trick is to keep the jigsaw plate square to the wood.  If it’s not square, or if there’s some movement or vibration in the wood, you run into trouble.  Press firm.  Watch the blade carefully.  Cutting freehand along a scribed line is not something I’m particularly good at, so I need to take my time with this step.Festool Jigsaw

Again, Festool makes short work of the project.



The nice thing about being a woodworker and owning a wood burning stove is that every project I work on makes my house warmer.  As I type this blog post, those little pieces of wood are on fire and heating my home.  We don’t let much go to waste out here.

Next thing I do is affix that template to the work piece and give it a few passes on the router.  Using a nice smoothing bit, it cuts right along the template edge, and gives me an exact cut that’s going to be the same shape every time and typically I don’t even need to sand it.

Router Work


I attach the template to the board using push pins.  Yes, push pins.  I used to have push pins made entirely of steel but they are now lost and I have no idea where they are.  They went to push pin heaven or something.  Now all I have is a dwindling number of plastic push pins that tend to break when I push them into the wood.

Now if you plan this appropriately, you can drive the pin through a section of the wood that’s going to get sawn off.  Therefore there’s no need to fill or repair the hole it made.  But I’ll be honest here.  I’ve made a lot of brackets and the vast majority of them have little pin holes in them where the template attached, and I made no attempt to repair them.  And no one ever notices.  Anyway, these particular brackets will have the hole marks sawn off.


Now there is a problem with tear out when you do it this way.  That’s when the router bit tears the wood at the corner, like in the pic above.  Sometimes it’s pretty minor, sometimes it ruins the piece.  There’s a few ways to avoid tearout but the method I prefer is to cut the wood with a chisel right where the router bit is going to tear.



It’s a pain in the butt to do it for every single bracket, but you really want that point to look neat and clean.  It’s going to be the most prominent point on the bracket, very visible.  So I take the time to do it right and ensure a clean look.

Once each bracket is hollowed out, it’s time to rip it down to the correct width.



The table saw made this cut flawlessly and effortlessly.  Which is pretty much the only thing that has gone flawless and effortless since I moved to this island and started working on projects.  So immediately my guard was up, waiting for the next thing to go wrong.

I cut out the individual brackets on the chop saw.  I don’t like cutting small pieces on the table saw, as small things have a tendency to want to go flying and poke someone’s eye out.

Final Cuts


My template pre-marked where the saw needs to cut to make each bracket symmetrical.  After cutting this way, it looks like I have a stack of ribs, ready to make a boat or something.



Ha ha!  A boat.  That would imply I have time for recreational activities.  Ha ha ha.  I’m so funny.

Back to reality.  One more cut and they finally look like brackets.



Just some final sanding needed now to get rid of those stubborn burn marks.  A nice drum or spindle sander should get rid of those marks pretty easily (problem:  I don’t own a drum or spindle sander).

This is a good technique to make any number of curved pieces with repeatable accuracy.  These brackets are going to be along a band and shelf that goes around most of the interior of the house so it’s important they all look uniform.  They don’t need to be down to the tenth of a millimeter or anything, but they have to look the same when viewed with the eye.





How To Cut a 20 Foot Long Piece Of Lumber

Rip Cut

So I have this piece of rough hewn cedar leftover from the garage construction.  It’s about 1″ thick and 10″ wide, and 20 feet long.  Yes, 20 feet long.  Hell, until I moved to Orcas I didn’t even know they made trees that high.  I can’t imagine what it cost.  I held onto it, of course.  You see, woodworkers are also wood collectors, and the more active ones can accumulate 35 pounds of scrap wood per month.  We keep it all.  You never know when you’ll need a piece of wood just that size.

twenty feet long

Well, it turns out I did need this 20′ monster beam for some trim work, but it needed to be 5 1/2 inches wide.  All I’d need to do is run a saw blade in a straight line all down it’s full length.  That’s called a rip cut, when you cut along the length of a beam of wood.  I was going to do this on the table saw and I even set everything up and then decided that was absurdly unsafe.  It would have gone down as one of the top ten stupidest things I’ve ever done.  That’s a tough list to get on, believe me.

Wood is normally solid and strong, but at that length it’s like a heavy, floppy piece of rubber with the added benefit of generating skin-boring splinters.  One dry run over the table saw (with the blade down and the saw unplugged) and I could see right away there was no way the wood would remain straight and flat on the table surface.  It would bow, twist, bend, and just generally be a turkey.  The table saw blade could bind and shoot the lumber into the air like a 20′ bullet, or pieces could splinter off in an exploding grenade fashion, or it could simply catch fire from the friction.  Yeah, dumb idea.

Festool Rocks

So, Festool to the rescue.  Their tools have a good combination of safety, accuracy and comfort.  Their plunge saw is pretty good and I have a little rail system that keeps it in a straight line and puts the saw blade exactly where you want it to go.  Just to be safe I first cut halfway through the lumber, then made a second pass all the way through.  The rails ensured each cut was in exactly the same place.  The final cut was seamless, with nary a saw mark along its length.

Because my rail is about 1/6 of the length of the lumber, it took a few passes to get through the whole thing.  And fortunately the beam didn’t want to pinch together when it was cut apart.  Wood sometimes does that, since wood fibers are like a series of little springs.  This particular board spread apart when cut.  That was lovely.  Sometimes it wants to pinch together, and you have to use little wedges and spacers as you cut it apart.  Otherwise it will pinch the saw blade, causing it to bind and creating a very unsafe place to be.

Panoramic Shop

There’s a panoramic pic of the whole thing (click on it to see full size).  It ran the entire length of the back of my shop.  I know you non-woodworkers are shrugging your shoulders like it’s no big thing, but to me this is one of those milestones, like bench pressing 365 pounds, or making homemade tamales for the first time.  It’s a woodworking thing.  You wouldn’t understand.

I dont understand