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Building Your Own Furniture

Jan 3, 2008
Every piece of furniture is designed to serve a certain specific purpose and at the same time withstand wear and tear and accidental damage. The proportions of the parts are an important factor in constructing a piece that will withstand more than normal usage, yet look well. Of equal importance is the way those parts are put together. Joints are always potential weak spots, and they must be properly designed and proportioned.
The cabinet maker needs to know how to form all the common, and some uncommon, joints, and also where to use them.

There are many types of operations used in everyday cabinet making. Three of these, chamfers, bevels and beading are outlined below.


A preliminary to any cutting operation is to mark the line along which the cut is to be made. Whether you use a marking gauge, butt gauge, try square, a straightedge, or your fingers, depends upon the location, direction, and shape of the line. But suppose for the moment that you are merely to cut a chamfer along the edge of a board. This is probably done more for decorative reasons than for fitting, so the line does not have to be exact.

More likely than not you can draw such a line with a sharp pencil by running your fingers down the edge of the board. The pencil is held firmly between thumb and forefinger, and the tips of the third or fourth fingers held lightly against the edge of the board. It is best to draw the pencil toward you and not to move the body during this operation.

Chamfers and Bevels

The sharp corner of the board (called an arris) is removed in chamfering, but the cut does not go the full thickness of the board. Such a full-thickness angle cut would be a bevel. Therefore, in making the chamfer, it is best to mark both the edge and face of the board. The board can then be held in a vise while you plane off the arris down to the lines. If you wish, you can take off the sharp corner first with a spokeshave or drawknife or even a chisel, and finish with the plane.

In cases where the chamfer does not go the full length of the edge but tapers off, it is called a stopped chamfer. In this case you chamfer as much as possible with the plane, and finish off the ends (stops) with a spokeshave or chisel, depending on the shape of the stop.

In making a bevel, only one line need be drawn (on the face or back of the board), and most of the work can be done with a plane. The commonest bevel is 45 degrees, in which case the guide line is marked back from the edge a distance equal to the thickness of the wood.


Another non-structural operation is that known as beading. It consists, in its simplest form, of forming a round corner in place of an arris, and is often used in conjunction with a chamfer on an adjoining board to make a decorative joint.

The line of the bead is marked off with a pencil as in the case of the chamfer. If the board is short you may be able to make a saw cut along this line, an eighth of an inch or more deep. Then you round off the arris into the saw cut with a plane on the outside and a chisel on the inside of the bead, finishing off with medium sandpaper, preferably glued to a hollowed block.

All of this of course takes time and effort, with plenty of opportunities for spoiling the work. It is far better to get yourself a good combination plane with cutters for the sizes of beads that you want most often. With long boards something of the sort is a practical necessity, unless you have a power saw to make the groove.

These are just a few of the operations that a furniture maker will need to know in order to make beautiful furniture.
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