Straight lines are relatively easy to create in a shop setting. Curves are more of a challenge to produce, though they can add a lot to the overall look of a project. Learn about some of the tools used to lay out and cut curves in a workshop so you can add them to your next project with confidence.
By Rob Brown
Photo by Rob Brown
In order to lay out proper curves, an assortment of tools should be at a woodworker’s side. A compass, trammel points with an appropriate length of wood, French curves, flexible curves, plywood or solid batons and even randomly sized objects around the shop can be used to lay out beautiful curves.
It’s possible to use disc, edge and belt sanders to add curves directly to a workpiece, but it’s more likely they would be used to shape curved templates that could then be used with a router to shape a workpiece.
Used with a template, or with a circle or elliptical cutting jig, a router is a very common tool for producing curves. When used with templates, a flush trim or template bit is used; otherwise a straight bit is the best choice.
A band saw or jigsaw both work wonders when it comes to quickly cutting rough curves. They aren’t as accurate as other methods and sometimes aren’t appropriate for larger quantities, but they leave a curve that can be faired with hand tools or sanders.
Metal compass planes, though not common, can be adjusted to the radius needed, while custom shop-made wood planes are fun to build and very helpful to have around when fairing edges. Even a block plane is helpful on some gentle curves, as it will remove just the high spots.
This multifunctional tool is great when smoothing edges and fairing curves as it allows you to slowly sneak up on the curve you want, and it provides a lot of flexibility. A spokeshave also allows the user to produce more three-dimensional shapes with ease.
For fairing curves off a band saw, a sharp rasp or file works great and is a lot of fun to use. They tend to remove material relatively slowly, unless you’re using a very aggressive rasp, and this is often a good thing. Rasps and files are great for shaping three-dimensional curves.
A helpful saw for cutting smaller, rough curves, it can also cut very tight curves that can be sanded and shaped with finer tools. An assortment of blades will go a long way to assisting you with fast, rough cuts, or smooth cuts, depending on the situation.
Before you write this off as a crazy idea, think of the curved opportunities a vacuum bag allows. You can form curved aprons, panels, legs and many other parts, often with just one form to press the wood layers together while the glue dries. A vacuum bag also excels at pressing veneer – whether flat or curved – onto a substrate. One of my very favourite tools.
While not an option for many, a CNC machine will cut curves onto flat parts with incredible ease and accuracy. They have a heavy up-front price tag but will bring a smile to your face when curved parts of just about any shape are required. Making accurate templates is child’s play with a CNC machine.
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