Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Coopering -- Or how flat surfaces become round

I continue to be amazed by what can be done with wood when the proper tools and techniques are used. The latest thing to blow my mind is coopering.
The word comes from the name for barrel-makers because it incorporates some of their techniques for creating curves with wood.
It’s really simple. You figure out the curve you want and sketch it on a piece of paper. Then you take a flat board and mark it out in sections to be cut lengthwise, typically with smaller pieces (they’re called ‘staves’) near the outside, and wider ones in the middle.
Then you cut the staves out of the board, rearrange the pieces along the curve you want. Then you cut the edges of each board on an angle to create the curve, and rejoin them together with glue.
Benchmate Jim glues up his coopered door. The process takes time as only two or three staves can be clamped and glued at a time. The mating edge of each individual piece has been cut on an angle, or bevel, to make the curve.
And boom, you have the rough beginnings of a curve.
Of course at this stage the board is still faceted with the flat surfaces from each of the individual staves, and needs to be planed down with a round-bottom plane on the inside, a smoothing plane on the outside, then scraped and sanded until a perfectly smooth curve is achieved.
Using my round-bottom or coopering plane to turn the flats into curves.

But when it’s complete, it’s a beautiful thing. And when it’s done properly, the boards repositioned so the grain matches up, it almost looks as though it grew that way or was carved out of a solid piece. Amazing!
The finished board, ready to be hung as a door on a small cabinet!

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