This story begins back when we first purchased our little property here in Downeast Maine. It had been abandoned for six years, a little cabin, a collapsed mobile home and a caved-in shed. We went through everything from front to back, sorting out trash and recyclables and reusables. The trash and recycling piles were giant. The reusable pile was quite small. To be eligible for reuse, we had to be able to completely sterilize it, because six years of exposure to elements and small wildlife renders many things beyond rescue.
Still, there were some really great saves! Our little woodstove, that faithfully provides all of our heat, dries our laundry in the winter, and even does some of our cooking, was one of those rescues.
And today’s project was another! Abandoned and buried, Joe uncovered an old-fashioned mirror.
The frame was trash, but the glass was still completely intact. It was a nice big rectangle, about 26″ x 30″, and a solid 1/4″ thick. And so he cleaned it off and set it aside for later…And now later had arrived!
In order to put this old mirror to good use, Joe decided to fit it with a cedar frame.
It’s interesting the things that we take for granted in a factory world. Things like moulding. You can walk down aisles of trim pieces at any home improvement store, door mouldings and crown mouldings and baseboards. You can grab a few pieces that you like to make a DIY picture frame and never think too much about it. In a factory, lumber is simply turned by big machines into long strips, which are fed through different big machines to shape them into moulding.
But in traditional times, moulding started out as just another piece of tree! It was split, and it was smoothed, and it was shaped, using a series of hand tools. In this case, not having cedar that we are ready to harvest from the forest, we started with cedar 1x6s from our local lumber store, which Joe set about smoothing and joining, of course, by hand.
We talk about planing down the surface of a board to make it smooth, and it sounds like a single task…But planing is actually a series of steps with a series of tools, each one taking a finer shaving, to give that perfectly-smoothed, finely-shaved surface that is silky to the touch, but retains all of the beautiful light and texture of the natural grain.
Look at those planes lined up for duty! From front to back: Stanley 45, No. 5, scrub plane, and No. 8 jointer. All four planes were employed in turns throughout the course of this cedar-framing project.
The first step in making this frame was to hand-saw the 1x6s into 1x3s, and size them for the frame, so that we had 4 pieces of rough 1x3s. Joe checked for twist using winding sticks. Next, he jointed the first face with the No. 5 and No. 8 planes, followed by truing the perpendicular face, so that the result was two flat and perpendicular reference faces. He marked all four pieces to the same width using a marking gauge. Then, he took the rough edge down to the marking line with the scrub plane, No. 5 and No. 8 planes. Finally, he smoothed the last face with a No. 5 only, since it would be the back of the frame. Using the Stanley 45, he created the rebate on the back of the frame that would accept the mirror.
Next, it was time to shape the moulding. Traditionally, joiners or carpenters had tool chests full of moulding planes to create different patterns for their trimwork. But Joe doesn’t do a lot of moulding, and so it doesn’t make much sense to collect all of those specialized tools, even though they are pretty awesome. Instead, he uses the planes and gouges that he already has, and adds in a little extra time and effort! First, he used the Stanley 45 to create a bead, and then used a gouge to create the cove. He used the scrub plane, followed by the No. 5 and No. 8 planes, to finish the moulding detail with a sloped bevel.
Moulding complete, Joe mitered the four corners, and then put the kids to work, burnishing all of the surfaces with wood shavings!
For added strength in the corners, he used a handsaw and mortise chisel to cut slots to accept keys to stabilize the mitered joints.
And now it was time for glue-up, with traditional hide glue. Joe mounted the mirror with epoxy, and then installed four corner brackets across the back for extra safety, because old mirrors are heavy! He finished the cedar with a simple wax finish.
And a mirror from 1966, buried in an abandoned property for six years, was brought back to new usefulness on our little family homestead.
A hand-saw, four hand planes, a gouge and a mortise chisel…Making moulding, by-hand, the old-fashioned way!
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…(Jeremiah 6:16, KJV)
To read more about why this is the first time our family has had anything larger than a hand-mirror in more than five years, check out our latest post here!
by Sydney Michalski