Mirror Frame

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.

Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Yep, that says Feb 23 1966. It was made by Carolina Mirror Corp, a company that was in business from the 1930s until about the 1990s. Of course, the “Electro Copper Plated” stamp made me curious, so I learned more about how mirrors are made here. Apparently, copper has fallen out of favor somewhat in the mirror-making process, as I learned here. Who knew there was so much to discover about mirrors?!

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.

Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.

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.

Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.

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.

smoothing a reference face with No. 5 and No. 8; gouging out the moulding cove

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.

Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.
Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.

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.

Hand-crafting a custom cedar mirror-frame, at RivenJoiner.com.

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

4 thoughts on “Mirror Frame

  1. So pretty! And yes, things that are made by hand take so much more effort and time than in a factory, but they have more meaning because of that effort and time. 💚

    1. Thank you! It’s so true…We have actually learned a lot about how much we are made by the Lord to work with our hands. The time and effort spent in making something, even something simple, can be so honoring to the Lord and good for our growth in Him! 💕

      1. I agree! I have taken wood carving classes as well as basket weaving and a few other arts and crafts. I also make homemade soap (with lye). I try to use natural cleaners, deodorants, etc which mainly started out because of how chemical fragrances made me sick but it opened my eyes to how harmful all those things are. 😉

      2. That’s great! We find ourselves doing the same thing. At first, we simply prayed to honor the Lord with the work of our hands, as He calls us in 1 Thess. 4:11. Then, we began to think about honoring God by using things that were as close to the way He created them as possible. This meant eating less processed foods, then growing our own foods, and also making our own cleaning and personal products…And it’s amazing how reducing all the synthetic chemicals, for the purpose of honoring God, shows us how harmful these things were in the first place, and how much we are better off heading back to more simple ways!

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