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Simple and Useful Coat RackElegant American Chippendale MirrorThe holidays are upon us and whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Ashura, another religious holiday or just a holiday, this is often the time of year when we need that perfect gift idea. Usually this means walking the mall and looking in the store windows, imagining what a loved one might want; of course, if you are like me, you have no idea what they want – not a clue! The pressure builds until you grab something from a shelf, convinced you have found that perfect gift. Probably not – what you have likely accomplished is added a little more profit to some giant corporation such as WalMart.

Handy, Stable & Easily Portable Foot StoolWe all know the pressure, the sick feeling of not knowing what to get and the worrying about whether someone will like it. I suggest a different approach, one that will give you enjoyment and is bound to please the recipient. Make something small in your shop; something elegant and useful. Something handcrafted that says “I care enough about you to put my talent and effort to work”. My holiday gift to you is three gift suggestions, complete with plans and some shop hints. One or more of the projects shown on this page can be gifted to a man, woman or child. They can easily be completed in one or two weekends. Check out my Chiefwoodworker’s Newsletter October 6, 2012 for complete information and SketchUp Models. Happy Holidays to you!


Tiger Maple Finished With Golden Amber Aniline Dye Well Santa and Mrs. Claus have finished their list and have checked it twice. And now the nice little boys and girls in their family will each receive one of these reproduction mirrors for Christmas. I described the origin of the original, from which these are reproduction copies, in “An American Chippendale Mirror Makes A Great Gift”.

Tiger Maple With A Clear Finish Willow and I made six mirrors in all. Five are tiger maple and one is a combination tiger maple and cherry (I have a fetish for mixing woods). Four of the tiger maple mirrors were stained with Moser’s 1490 Golden Amber water-based aniline dye followed by 4 coats of hand rubbed Minwax Wipe-On Satin Polyurethane. This was followed by one coat of hand rubbed J. E. Moser’s Premium Quality Paste Wax.

The remaining two mirrors have a clear finish; 4 coats of hand rubbed Minwax Wipe-On Satin Polyurethane followed by one coat of hand rubbed J. E. Moser’s Premium Quality Paste Wax. The cherry frame, below left, will darken substantially over time as it is exposed to light. This will provide a nice contrast to the blonde finish of the tiger maple.

Tiger Maple And Cherry With A Clear Finish The tiger stripes are striking in all three mirrors. I am partial to natural (clear) finishes. However, the Golden Amber stain is a more traditional finish for tiger maple pieces. It’s simply a matter of taste and that is a very individual thing. Fortunately, the recipients chose their desired finish. Yes, Santa let them peak using the “anyone over 26 years of age can peak rule”. I think they will enjoy them for years to come and hopefully they will be passed down for many generations in our family.

I must admit, when Willow told me we were going to make these for the kids as Christmas gifts, I was feeling a lot of “Oh Humbug” – read “Pressure”. But now I am Ho, Ho, Ho Jolly. Merry Christmas to all and to all a Happy New Year from Chiefwoodworker.


Duelling Dubbys - Right And Left Dubby Jigs The title of this blog should be “Progress In Crafting American Chippendale Mirrors”, or some such thing. But as often happens to me while working on a project, a thought catches my attention and I can’t get rid of it. Over the last few days, while working on this project, it happened that I had to use a commercial fixture and build another fixture; or was it a jig? Woodworkers often confuse the two and use these terms incorrectly, as I have done here – and many times in the past. So I was compelled to do a little research.

It turns out there are many mechanical engineering and fabrication books written that give the definition of, and explains the use of, fixtures and jigs. They are perhaps the most useful source in answering this question. I have a number of woodworking books in my library that also give us some guidance. There is also the dictionary. After reading a number of these sources the difference is still not clear.

However, taking the common elements you can boil the definitions down to the following:

  1. A jig holds and guides the work piece
  2. The fixture holds the piece while it is worked on

Setting Blade Height Correctly & Dubbys To Cut 45 Degrees Produces Horizontal Corner Slices OK, so what is a tenoning jig? Does it hold the piece while it is worked on? Or does it hold and guide the piece. It is universally called a jig, but it does no more guiding a tenon than it guides a piece I cross cut without its use. I am doing the guiding, or perhaps you can argue it is the table top miter slot that is doing the guiding. But the tenoning jig certainly isn’t. So perhaps the definition should be:

  1. A jig holds a piece and is movable while working the piece
  2. A fixture holds a piece and is fixed in place while working the piece

With this definition I can actually determine what I am working with. Now I can clearly say a tenoning jig is indeed a jig, and the Supreme Drill Press Table I wrote about a few weeks back is clearly a fixture. More importantly, I can say the two helpful tools I use in this blog are clearly jigs.

A Jig Enables Cutting Vertical Corner Slices OK, having wasted a lot of time, energy and blog space on that overdone thought I can write about “Progress In Crafting American Chippendale Mirrors”. The picture frames thus far are joined with end grain to end grain joinery; a joint which is notoriously weak and needs reinforcement. There are traditional ways of doing this, one of which is to cut corner slots and use splines. For reasons to be explained later I used a modified version of this joint. To assist me I turned to one of my favorite and most used jigs, the Dubby from In-Line Industries. In the first picture above you can see Left and Right Dubbys set to 45 degrees. I am using them to cut horizontal slices in the corners of the frame. Two opposite slices are cut with each of the two Dubbys producing the slices you see in the picture ant right above. These are the first of two cuts needed to remove triangular shaped pieces.

The Weak Corner Pieces Are Cut Out And Roughed Out Long Grain Pieces Will Replace Them To make the second cut I needed to build a simple jig. Shown in the picture above left is a vertical board with support stock glued 45 degrees to an edge. The picture frame sits in these supports allowing a properly set fence and blade to cut the corner pieces out. These corner pieces will be replaced with similar roughed out corner pieces  with the grain arranged such that there is long grain to long grain joinery. I trace multiples of these corner pieces on a rectangular piece and rough them out using the band saw, leaving just enough along the edges to assure complete coverage. After they are glued in place I use a patterning bit in the table router to trim the edges flat.

You Can Visually See The Reinforcing Nature Of This Joinery Change In the picture at left you can see the results. From this picture it should obvious the improvement in joinery strength. Imagine picking up the end grain to end grain piece and snapping it with your fingers. No problemo! Now imagine picking up the replacement piece and trying to snap it. Good luck!

Another thing to remember is that a properly glued long grain to long grain joint is stronger than the wood itself. This has been demonstrated in numerous studies and wood working articles. You can demonstrate this in your own shop easily. Glue two pieces edge to edge (1/4” to 3/4” thick). Let the joint cure for 24 hours. Place it in a vice with the joint near the jaws of the vice and hit the protruding piece with a hammer or mallet. You will notice (provided the joint was glued correctly) that the board will split in the grain of the wood, not at the glue line.

So why did I use this modified spline instead of the traditional joint? Because I need to cut 1/4” by 1/4” groves along the top, bottom and sides to accept the scroll work. Doing so would remove a substantial amount of the spline. Further, the resulting joinery when the scroll work is glued in place would be long grain to end grain. Stronger than end grain to end grain but not as strong as long grain to long grain. Does this make a difference? Yes a little, especially if you are expecting your work to last for hundreds of years it does. That said, it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.

These Mirrors Are Ready For Staining & Finishing In the picture at right is the finished glued up mirrors ready for stain and finish. The strange uneven coloring is a result of using mineral spirits to search for unwanted glue spots before completing the sanding. It will disappear after drying. The mineral spirits also give you a good preview of what the tiger maple will look like when finished. You can see it is quite spectacular. The frame at right in the picture has a cherry picture frame and tiger maple scroll work. The one at left  is entirely tiger maple. I love mixing wood types. The cherry will darken over time and the tiger maple will lighten slightly making the contrast even more noticeable.

My wife and I are excited about finishing these mirrors and giving them to our kids for Christmas. A few hundred years from now I hope a descendant will write a blog like An American Chippendale Mirror Makes A Great Gift explaining their origin.


Willow At The Bandsaw Cutting The Scroll Work In An American Chippendale Mirror Makes A Great Gift I wrote about my wife’s (Willow’s) mission to craft mirrors for Christmas gifting. I call this a mission because once Willow decided this is what she wanted to give our family for Christmas there was no stopping her. I got my instructions – create the plans, mill the material, set up the machines and then get out of the way. I turned my shop over to a tornado. She blew through my bandsaw, Delta BOSS, sanding station, drill press, work bench, rasps and files leaving chips and dust in her wake. She left no doubt this was the first project to pass through Swamp Road Wood Works that would be completed on time. The results were every bit as stunning as the pace was fast.

The Templates And Rough Cut Scroll Work The first stop was the bandsaw. Not having a scroll saw I mounted a 1/8” blade. The design called for 1/4” tiger maple, so a 3 HP 18” bandsaw was a little overkill, but none the less made for quick and easy cutting. I printed 1:1 drawings on card stock to produce templates. Willow traced the templates onto the material and cut out the scroll work pieces, leaving the pencil marks. The edge finish was rougher than a scroll saw would produce. It was obvious there was a lot of sanding in Willow’s future. You can see from the picture below that she took to the task with a smile.

Rasps, Files And Hand Sanding Provide Great Results Many of the scroll work curves had radii smaller than the Delta BOSS or drill press would accommodate, so Willow used a combination of rasps and files followed by hand sanding. In the picture at left you can see an assortment of rasps and files behind her. All told the bandsaw work and edge cleaning took two and a half days. Fortunately the shop is cozy, brightly lit. With the radio alternately tuned to NPR and sports talk for listening pleasure what more can you ask for?

All Pieces Are Sanded And Matched With A Picture Frame

After all pieces were sanded and the picture frame molding milled, sets were chosen by matching wood grain and color. You can see one set in the picture at right. The scroll work will be inserted and glued into a 1/4” deep x 1/4” wide slot in the sides, top and bottom. The recipients will choose the finish. One very popular finish is Moser’s 1490 Golden Amber water-based aniline dye stain followed by Waterlox Original Tung Oil. This enhances the tiger stripes, making them jump out. Another finish I like is simply MinWax Wipe-On Polyurethane. I have made tiger maple tables using both finishes, a Shaker Drop Leaf Table with the Moser dye and an Office Table with the Wipe-On Poly. Both are shown on my Gallery page and both produce excellent results.

I have to agree with Willow. These will make excellent holiday gifts and will be passed down in our family for many hundreds of years, much like the mirror that inspired these reproductions. Now that’s a gift that keeps giving!


A number of months back Lonnie Bird sent out a newsletter describing a Pennsylvania German Mirror he crafted as a Valentine’s Day gift for the women in his life, his wife and daughters. I showed it to my wife and she said “What a wonderful gift. We should build some as Christmas gifts for our family.” She didn’t forget. A few weeks back she said “It’s time we begin building those mirrors for Christmas. We’ll need five of them.”

The Original Mirror Is Approximately 130 Years OldSo I set about looking for a design. I searched the net and looked at many a mirror but none caught my eye. Then it dawned on me that we had an American Chippendale mirror hanging in our house. Why it took me so long to make the connection I don’t know. I studied it some and realized it was much more pleasing than any I had researched. Better yet there is a story behind this mirror. In that moment of realization a reproduction effort was born.

The original mirror is an American Chippendale mirror made sometime in the late 1800’s. My wife received it from Marguerite Emily Davis, of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, who was her maternal grandmother’s older sister. It had originally been a wedding gift to Marguerite’s parents William Aquilla Davis (1855 – 1911) and Hattie A. Haskell (Feb 6, 1858-1929). William Aquilla Davis (named, we suppose, for the Revolutionary soldier) was a New Hampshire granite quarryman who cut stone for the Library of Congress which, in 1897, was moved to a new building east of the Capitol. His initials are carved into the stone of the Library. Hattie had worked in Concord, Massachusetts as the paid companion to Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), author of the book Little Women, prior to marrying William.  This must have been in Alcott’s later years (though she was only 56 at her death) when she returned home from her work as a Union Army nurse in the Civil War and following the success of her book, Little Women, which provided her with the financial security to afford a paid companion.

A picture of the original mirror is shown at left, above, with a reflection of me and my camera as I take its picture to form the basis of a Google SketchUp drawing.

Use The Cubic Bezier Tool To Trace One Half Of The Outline The first step in creating reproduction drawings was to import this photo into SketchUp and place it on its own layer. I carefully measured the real mirror’s overall width and height and created a rectangle in SketchUp with these same dimensions. Next I scaled the picture until it fit precisely tangent to the rectangle’s edges. Looking at the picture it became obvious that a vertical line bisecting the rectangle would provide a line of symmetry that would be quite helpful. Lastly, using the Cubic Bezier Curve tool (a Ruby plug in) I traced the scrollwork. See “An Intermediate Google SketchUp Tutorial”  Parts 3 through 5B on my Google SketchUp page if you are not familiar with this tool. The results are shown at right.

Use the Push/Pull, Move/Copy & Flip Along Tools To Achieve A Solid Scrollwork The scrollwork in the original mirror is 1/4” thick and seats in a grove (mortise) in the picture frame. Using the Push/Pull tool to give my tracing thickness and the Move/Copy & Flip Along context tools to complete the second half, I achieved a single scrollwork piece as shown at left.

Only Three Different SketchUp Components Are Needed To Complete The Scrollwork A quick study of this image reveals that all four corner scrolls are identical and that only three pieces are needed to complete the scrollwork. A few measurements taken from the picture above right, and the original mirror, allowed me to create three smaller components as shown at right. Notice that I added 1/4” tabs (tenons) to secure the scroll pieces in the slots (mortises) in the picture frame.

Front View Of The SketchUp Model With Textured Mirror The rest of the reproduction was rather basic. I carefully studied the original mirror’s picture frame and made measurement to reproduce the picture frame profile. I used the Push/Pull tool to create a basic component, and then created two more components with mitered corners; one for the vertical frame pieces and one for the horizontal pieces. The mirror is a simple block with the picture textured on its surface. A completed SketchUp image, complete with a textured mirror, is shown at left. An Isomeric view is shown at right below.

Now here is my gift to you; you can access a completed plan for this mirror, including a CutList Plus cut list, Excel cut list or Comma Separated Value cut list by clicking the below hyperlinks.

Isometric View - Notice The Mirror Texture Is Adjusted Automatically For The View

You can change the mirror’s texture to put your own image on it. Some dimensioning still needs to be added to the model, but I assume you as a SketchUp user can do that yourself. Also, the texture on the wood is a simple color patch. If you have a good .jpg image of, say tiger maple, you can use it to texture the wood with grain. The mirror itself is 1/8” thick. The original was thicker, but significantly heavier. Otherwise this is an accurate reproduction. Lastly, the picture frame profile, though an accurate reproduction, my require bits you don’t have. Simply change the profile to your liking.

If you choose to craft this mirror please send me a picture of your finished piece.


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