We'll make a simple molded frame with a single raised panel. I'll call it a door because it's the shortest name, but several of these basic units could make a cabinet—more could wainscot an entire room. The mortise and tenon process from the table leg and rail joint is modified here to allow for the groove and the molding. A name changes too. In frame work, rails are still rails, but the vertical posts are now stiles.
The stiles and rails of this door will have a decorative molding down their inside edges. This molding is a simple quarter-round shape, set down into the corner. This ovolo is easily struck with a single molding plane, a combination of planes, or a scratch stock. The single wooden molding plane is simply called an ovolo. It will cut both the round surface and the two square shoulders, or fillets. Alternatively, you can sink the square shoulders with a moving fillister plane and shape the round with a hollow — a common wooden molding plane.
However you cut the molding, it's safer to work from gauge lines than from stops and fences on the planes. Having said that, you must first set your gauge according to the cut of the ovolo plane. Then, when working with the ovolo plane, use it within lines established by the gauge. It's easy to rock or reverse the plane, but the gauge lines never lie.
The face edges in panel work are turned to the inside of the frame, so the first step is running gauge lines for the ovolo around the face edges and face sides. We'll mold just the face of this door; the back will be plain.
Set the double-toothed mortising gauge for the groove that will hold the panel. The width of the groove must match one of the irons on your plow plane, and for the simplicity of the moment, the width of your mortising chisel. Run this double line all around the inside face edges of the frame, gauging in from the face sides. Continue this double line around the ends of the rails where the tenons will go. These are going to be through mortises (and through tenons) so run the double line on the back edge of the stiles where the mortise will pass through.
The groove and the ovolo complicate layout somewhat, but only the impact of the ovolo needs attention right off. Earlier, in the table rails, the tenons had level shoulders to fit flush against the flat face of the legs. In this case, however, we have a curvy, molded face to deal with. Cruel as it seems, we're going to cut away most of the curvy ovolo on the stiles where the rails intersect. This means that the shoulders on the face side of the rail must be that much wider than the shoulders on its back.
Lay out the offset shoulders of the rail tenons, marking both pieces in tandem, placing them face sides together, face edges up. The narrower span of shoulders on the back sides equals the total width of the door, minus the full width of the two stiles. The shoulders for the face side are each an ovolo-molding's width farther out. Separate the two rails and run the lines around with the try square.
For the stiles, clamp them together and lay out just the inner and outer dimensions of the frame. We'll get the mortise by superimposing the tenons later on. If you want to mark the mortises now, remember to subtract for both the setback and the loss to the groove in the rail.
Moldings are there for looks, so it's good practice to wait as long as you can before striking them into your stock. The groove, however, is mostly mechanical, so start with it. Mount the stock on the bench top, face edge up, face side to you. Adjust the plow to fit right between the gauged lines and work your way back from the end, bringing down a section at a time. The depth is usually no more than 3/8 inch.
Now saw the offset shoulders on the rails, squaring and scribing a little V for the back saw as before. Don't saw the cheeks yet, as the intact wood will help the ovolo plane ride smoothly to the end, right over the saw cuts for the shoulders. You can use the ovolo plane with your frame pieces either standing face edge up, or lying face side up, but you have to choose one and stick with it—unless you have the world's only symmetrical ovolo plane.
As with many molding planes, ovolos are usually "sprung," that is, they are used with a cant to the side. They still progress straight down with each pass, but you hold them with a constant sideways tilt. Spring helps the shavings pass out of the plane and keeps the curviness of the edge more square to the length of the irons.
The word for planing a molding into a piece of wood is "sticking." It can be confusing because it sounds like you're putting something on, when you're actually taking something off. You have gauge lines to guide you, and if you want or need to, you could cut to these gauge lines with a moving fillister, and shape only the quarter round with the ovolo. It's good practice to do as much as you can with easily sharpened tools and then use the slower or harder-to-sharpen ones for the finish.
When the ovolo molding is completed, saw off the cheeks of the tenons, taking care not to let the plowed groove pull your saw into it and make the tenon
... then undercut the profile with the scribing gouge.
... then undercut the profile with the scribing gouge.
too thin. You may even want to remove the wood on either side of the groove and re-strike the lines with the mortising gauge.
Now saw off the wood for the setback of the tenon, stopping at the face side shoulder. A rail tenon for an unmolded frame is always haunched to fill the groove in the stile. Here, the offset of the shoulders fills that space.
Lay the completed tenon across the stile and confirm the layout for the mortises. These are through mortises, rather than blind mortises such as you find on a table leg. Through mortising is easier, because you can work from both sides and meet in the middle. You can also more easily check the ends of the mortises with the try square, fitting the blade all the way through.
It's standard practice to chop the mortises before plowing the grooves in the stiles, even when they're the same width and placement. See that the tenons pass a test fitting in their mortises before you plow the grooves and "stick" the moldings up to the gauge lines. You'll be plowing right over the open mortises with a risk of damage to the wood if the plow skate hits the far end like a blunt axe. Plow with care.
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