Saturday, March 4, 2017

Making Picture Frames and Rabbet Frustration

Not the Elmer Fudd type of rabbit frustration ...

A neighbor of mine is an artist.  Some time back we hatched a plane where I commissioned him to do two paintings and I would make frames for them.  This is for my wife's upcoming birthday.  I made a mock-up of the frame from a 2x4, which came out great.  So I plunked down some cash for a nice cherry board to make two frames.

The pictures are 16 3/4" x 21" and with matting the inside dimensions of the frames need to be 19 1/4" x 23 1/2".  The frame parts are going to be 1 1/2" wide and 1 1/4" thick, so overall length of the pieces need to be 26 1/2" for the long (horizontal) members and 22 1/4" for the short members.
Marking locations of knots or other defects to try to avoid them
Cross-cut to length + a little extra
Ripping to rough width
I decided to try a Paul Sellers trick that I've seen him use recently, but I think I may have mis-applied it.  I wrapped the frame members in plastic wrap when storing overnight to minimize movement.
Long frame members wrapped up
Sellers wrapped glued-up cabinet sides or tops before any joinery was cut into them so they wouldn't warp.  In my case, I really should have let the wood do it's tricks so I could re-plane them later.  As it turned out, the wood didn't move much (it did move some) and I planed in stages, getting to final dimensions after first planing a little oversize.

BTW, that's the mock-up 2x4 frame behind the wrapped frame members.  I was very happy with how it turned out and how easily it planed.  Here's a closer look at the profile.
3/16" bead on outside edge, 3/4" wide by 3/8" deep chamfer on inside
Once the parts were to final dimensions, I laid them out for a pleasing look and marked them.
Parts laid out
Put top and bottom together and marked the triangle
Put the sides together and marked their triangle
The first operation was to make a big-ass rabbet on the bottom, inside corners.  So I marked those areas VERY clearly so that I couldn't mess up.
Clear enough?
After gauging the lines for the 3/4" x 5/8" rabbet, I made it even more clear
This is where the frustration started.  Last year I bought an old (not VERY old, just old - maybe 1970's) Record rabbet plane.  This probably should be called a moving fillister plane since it has a fence and depth stop.  During my practice with the 2x4 it worked pretty well, though the throat clogs frequently.  But I cut my left hand fingers a few times on the left side of the blade.  So this time I covered that part of the blade with tape - worked like a charm!
The Record rabbet plane with tape to keep my fingers safe
Here's the planing setup - a stop at the far end, battens on the right to keep the workpiece in place and I later installed a small wedge in the open space between vise's fixed face and the workbench to keep the workpiece from sliding backwards on the backstroke.
The planing setup
I set the fence to plane just shy of the gauge line.  Here is what I get after each shaving.  But after 3-4 rapid fire strokes, it really gets jammed up in there.  I mean really tight!
Not exiting as they should
The other side
Bob Demers (The Valley Woodworker) once told me that it could be caused by the lever cap not being in the right position.  The lever cap has a bump-like shape on the right side that should curve the shavings out to the left.  I'm fairly sure I have the thing in the right position, but I still get some major jamming.  It got so I would take 3-5 strokes, then use a plastic stick to punch out the jam.

This is a BIG rabbet, 3/4" x 5/8", so there was a lot of material to remove and it took a very long time.  I got a decent result, or so I thought.
The leading end stayed pretty close to the lines
The other end drifted off the vertical and horizontal lines (a little torn grain at very end, too)
But look in the middle how out-of-square my rabbet was!!
A swollen California river could fit under there!
I used a shoulder plane to trim it and get a much better result.
Squaring with a shoulder plane
I was very conscious of keeping the fence tight to the edge of the workpiece, but apparently I was not as good as I thought.  I also had the iron a little proud of the right side of the plane, but still strayed from the vertical gauge line.

Although the results looked very nice in the end, this took so long and the results were less than spectacular that I tried other options.  I have an ECE moving fillister plane that's been in a drawer for a while, so I tried it out.
The ECE plane
And an action shot
But I rapidly got a poor result.  This plane's fence is not good and I quickly strayed from the lines.
Holy crap!  And that's after just a few strokes!
I though of other methods and remembered a Richard McGuire video of cutting rabbets with a chisel.  So I tried that.  It worked - and believe it or not, it was probably faster than the Record plane, but there was a LOT of clean-up required with the shoulder plane and my router plane (yes, really!).
Starting the rabbet with the chisel
I hammer in the mor-or-ning, I hammer in the evening ...
That was a lot of hammering - so much so that I got my earplugs and earmuffs.

I also tried using a saw to cut the walls of the rabbet, but that wasn't happening.  Too much risk of catastrophic error.  I might try it again later, though.

When I used the Record plane on the mock-up frame, sometimes the shavings came flying out of the plane like they should.  Other times they just clogged.  This takes a long time and a lot of effort when the plane doesn't clear properly.  I spent most of the day yesterday cutting four (count 'em - four!) rabbets and I still have four more to do.  I'm going to stick to the Record plane and try to make some adjustments to see if I can get it working better.  I better make it quick - I've got a deadline coming up fast!


  1. I've not used this type of plane but, I'm well aware of the effect of a cap iron bevel on chip ejection. When a chip folds up like yours, the cap iron bevel is too blunt. Instead of directing the chip up and out, it's bouncing the chip directly towards the front of the plane. A slight change can make a big difference.

    1. Hey Greg. I'll have to experiment with a few things to see what works better. It sure would be nice to see those things flying out the left side of the plane on a consistent basis.

  2. Matt trying walking down the board as you plane and stay abreast of the plane. I had similar problems and I found it was me reaching out to finish the cut at the end. I was spiraling down the board.

    1. Thanks for that, Ralph. I'll try walking the plane as I move down the board. I'm also going to try an auxilliary fence to help me stay vertical and waxing the cap iron to help shavings eject. Got a bunch of things to try.

  3. im still new to this, but i keep reading about how rabbets should be started at the far end, and gradually moved backwards - but no reason has been given in any of these sources (new or old). I just realized that this could be because it better assures that you're always planing downhill and that could help with shaving ejection. I haven't had a chance to try this yet, but it could help you.

    1. Thanks for that, Aaron. I have been using that method, starting at the far end and taking a longer shaving as I move back towards the leading end. I believe the reason this is done is as Bob states in his comment below: to help you track in the profile that you've already cut.

  4. Aaron, same reasons as given for moulding planes. By planing toward an existing profile cut, we give something to the plane to track better and stay on course.

    Matt, if the shavings sometimes fly out or bunch up, it may be because of your hands positions. As you found out, it does mot seems to take much to do that... :-)
    Pay close attention to your hands position making sure you are not impeding the "flying " shavings.... ligther cut gives better flying shavings but in your case, you want a coarse cut to remove quickly the waste

    Bob, writing on a future blog

    1. Thanks, Bob. I'll be more aware of my hand position. Last night I made a few modifications to the plane and sharpened up (I sharpened before the last session, too). I'm heading out to the shop shortly and I'll see if I've made progress.

    2. Bob - thanks for the comment, and now i recall hearing that before. What i don't understand is how that helps the plane track... if i'm working backwards, how does a track I haven't gotten to yet help me stay in a straight line? does that make sense? I tried it, and i dont notice that it helps stay on track particularly - and for rabbets I'm pushing the fence hard to the workpiece.