As a member of a trim crew, once the doors have been hung and the case and base is installed, I can’t wait to get to the fun and unusual jobs. Some of these are crown molding or built-ins, but, for me, the best is building Jacuzzi/garden tub surrounds. These surrounds come in all different sizes and shapes, but they all need some means of access to the pumps, motors, and valves hidden under the tub deck.
Like many carpenters, I build face frames out of poplar or oak with pocket screws, but that’s where the similarities end. I use a dedicated fixture for cutting the raised panels. What’s special about this fixture is its zero-clearance base and tall fence, which allows you to cut raised panels that are not limited in length, width, or type of material.
I’ve watched several people make raised panels on portable table saws from MDF without zero clearance inserts. To work around the danger of the panel slipping down into the throat guard, they fasten together two pieces of 3/4-in. MDF, making the panel 1 1/2 in. thick. Then they set the fence about 1 in. from the blade, tilt the table saw blade to about 14 degrees, raise the blade, and cut the bevel for the panel. Though this is safer than attempting to cut a 1/4-in. panel without a zero clearance insert, holding a tall panel against a short rip fence is risky; and besides, why waste so much material?
I cut panels on my table saw frequently, but to keep the operation safe and the cuts precise, I use a fixture with a zero clearance slot for the blade, which eliminates the need for a backup piece, and makes cutting narrow long panels a lot easier. My fixture has a 3/4-in. MDF base with a zero clearance slot, and a 12-in. tall fence to help guide tall and narrow panels with less wobble than the short fence would.
To set up the fixture, first decide on the shape, angle, and design of the bevel you want to achieve. A 3/4-in. panel cut at 13 degrees will have a bevel length of 1 5/8 in., leaving a 1/4-in. thickness at the edge of the panel. A 3/4-in. panel cut at 11 degrees will have a bevel length of 2 5/8 in. and 1/4-in. thickness at the edge of the panel.
The initial setup of the fixture for a 13 degree cut is as follows:
1) Determine the distance from the saw fence to the tall vertical fence—in this case 4 1/2 in.
2) Add 1/4 in. for the thickness of the panel at the edge: 1/4 + 4 1/2 = 4 3/4 in.
3) Set the saw fence to 4 in. and tilt the blade to 13 degrees.
4) Using a 3/4-in. x 5-in. wide x 12-in. long piece of waste material, cut a kerf about 6 in. long.
5) Stop the saw and do not move the material.
6) Set the rip fence 4 3/4 in. from the saw kerf—it’s easy to measure to the kerf!
|7) Retract the blade and clamp the panel fixture to the rip fence.|
|8) Turn on the saw and raise the blade fully to cut the zero clearance slot in the base. Then stop the saw.|
9) Retract the blade to a height of 1 1/2 in. Cut a test piece and check the bevel and shoulder cut. Raise or lower the blade until you are satisfied with the design. Then record the measurements on the back of the panel fixture.
10) To cut raised panels with an 11 degree bevel, set the saw blade to 11 degrees and follow steps 4 thru 8. Record the angle, height of blade, and saw fence setting on the back side of the fixture for future reference.
Remember to always use eye, ear, and dust protection, and use a push stick if the panels are especially narrow. When cutting solid wood panels, such as oak, cut the end grain first to avoid tear out.
To install the panels in the face frame, we attach cleats or stops on the back of the face frame, and we fasten two tabs to the top of the panel. Insert the raised panel with the two tabs behind the upper rail of the face frame, then push the bottom in until its against the cleats and let go. Gravity will hold the panel in place.
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Please don’t try anything you see in THISisCarpentry, or anywhere else for that matter, unless you’re completely certain that you can do it safely.
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Chris Cooper is a licensed builder in East Lansing, MI, and owner of Omega Design & Build. He started his business later in life, at age 57, when the company he worked for as a draftsman/designer moved out of state. Prior to that he was a machinist and mold fabricator, but he’s always loved building and fixing things. As a boy, he helped his father add a family room to their home, and moved on to old classic cars and TVs (remember Heathkits?).
The precision and design aspects of his previous jobs really help him now. Early on he started working with a crew of very skilled trim carpenters and discovered that his true passion lies in the details of woodworking.
Chris is a true believer in lifelong learning, and attends classes and seminars whenever he can to learn the latest techniques and trends. He always has a stack of home building magazines near his favorite chair! In his spare time, Chris enjoys trap shooting, flyfishing, diving, reading, and working on his own home improvements.