Canadian Woodworking

Wave Cabinet

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2013

A random wave pattern in wood is fairly easy to produce, and can be varied to suit your needs. With an assortment of tools and a sound approach to the steps involved you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish.

The inspiration for this technique came directly from sitting near the shore of a quiet lake. The small waves were constantly rolling ashore, and I noticed their overall form. Unlike huge surfing waves, these waves had a more simple, subtle look to them that I liked. I now had to figure out how to make this pattern in wood. After considering the challenge for a while, I came up with an approach. I tested and refined the steps on some scrap wood then set to work on the real thing.

After assembling the four sides of the cabinet, I created the basic shape and pattern of the waves with the wave template.

This would be clamped to the workpiece to help create each individual wave. It would be adjusted slightly after each pass, and from time to time cut to a slightly different pattern to give a more organic pattern. The width of the wave template needs to be at least 2″ wider than the workpiece, to give you some flexibility when clamping it down.

I started off by drawing then bandsawing a gentle double curve in the end of the template. It’s best not to get too complex with the shape. After some fairing, I clamped the template to the cabinet. I then installed a 1/2″ diameter plunge ball bit in my router and attached a template guide just large enough to allow the bit to spin freely. The height of the tracing template needs to be thicker than the template guide, so the guide doesn’t bottom out on the cabinet.

A Round-End Bit
Brown used a round-end router bit to produce the initial pattern of the waves. The template guide installed on the router’s base plate runs against the wave template.

Rout the Waves
Pass by pass, the location and pattern of the waves is made with a router.

A Natural Look
Between passes with the router, Brown would occasionally cut a slightly different pattern into the wave template. This varied the pattern being routed, producing a more natural look.

Power Carving
To remove most of the waste, Brown uses power carving tools. Though it would be slower, you could also use hand tools.

Sand it
The flats between each wave are smoothed with a small diameter random orbit sander. It’s imperative to remove all rough shaping marks at this stage.

Smooth Transitions
 The surfaces between the crest of each wave are at slightly different angles, depending on how far apart the routed grooves are.

Make some waves

With the wave template clamped down and the router bit set to cut 1/4″ into the cabinet I made my first pass. If unsure of your settings, make your first pass on some scrap wood. Once the pass was complete, I unclamped the wave template and repositioned it about 3″ down the workpiece. I also twisted the wave template so it was on a slight angle to the previous cut before making my next pass with the router. Every two or three passes, I would adjust the pattern on the end of the wave template to provide a slightly different groove.

Grab the grinder

Once all the routed waves have been cut, it’s time to remove some material with an angle-grinder equipped with a wood cutting attachment.

The goal is to fair the surface between each routed groove so there is an even transition from the bottom of one groove to the top edge of the neighbouring groove. It takes a little practice, especially if you’re not familiar with power carving. When in doubt, remove less material than you think, as you can always return to remove more later. It takes a light, careful touch to create an even surface.

Hand tools will help

Once I power-carved all the surfaces, some hand tools assisted with levelling things. A small block plane, a surform plane and a chisel removed the high spots. I was also very careful not to damage the side of the routed groove that remains; it’s all too easy to damage this area when working with hand tools.

Sand the surfaces smooth

With the shaping complete, my best friend was a small random orbit sander with a slightly malleable pad. It got into tight spaces, and allowed me to fair the transition between the flat surfaces and the routed grooves. It takes a lot of time and care, but this is an important step in the process. I was sure to remove all the rough power carving marks, as they will jump out as soon as the finish is applied.

Once I was finished with the power sander, I grabbed some sandpaper and hand sanded the routed grooves – another long, tedious process.

There was a bit of tear-out as the router bit exited the workpiece. I fixed it by rounding over the edges slightly and evenly. This also made the ends of the waves stronger and less likely to get damaged.

When applying a finish to the cabinet, I made sure to apply a bit more finish to the end grain areas of the waves. It was just a matter of wiping on an additional coat or two only on the end grain to fill the pores and even the sheen of the final coat.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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