A Beaded Plane Rack:
Charles Mak shares some of his beading techniques while adding an ornamental detail to his new tool rack.
We woodworkers have at our disposal many different ways to personalise or dress up a piece, such as inlaying, carving, moulding and beading. Amongst them, beading – after some practice – is the simplest to execute. Beads can be added, for example, to a table skirt or shiplapped backboards to create visual interest. They have many other practical uses as well, such as softening a sharp edge or hiding its wear, disguising gaps around drawers or doors and adding a more sophisticated look or shadow line to a plain face frame.
Beads come in different profiles – cock beads, return beads, to name a couple – and are usually produced using a router and beading bit, a scratch stock, a beading tool or a beading plane. The router is the tool of choice in production work for speed; however, a beading tool or a beading plane may give a custom profile or a handmade look that you desire.
Through a recent manufacturer’s upgrade, my plough plane has been modified so it can be used as a beading plane as well. When I recently built a plane rack in sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum) similar to the kind of wood the Studley Tool Chest is made of, I dressed up the piece with the modified plough plane.
Top x 1: ¾ x 24½ x 10in
Bottom x 1: ¾ x 24½ x 10in
Middle shelf x 1: ¾ x 24½ x 10in
Side x 2: ¾ x 15½ x 10in
Cross support x 1: ¾ x 24½ x 2½in
Domino: 8mm x 40mm
For ease of access, I adopted an open rack design with a middle shelf instead of a cabinet with doors. I borrowed some moulding planes from Robert Lee, an engineer who is also a wooden plane expert, to guide the sizing of the rack for my expanding collection of similar planes.
The rack is sized following the Golden Ratio guideline which states that the longer portion is 1.618 times greater than the shorter portion: 241/2 (L) x 151/2 (W) x 10in (D) (see measured drawings). For joinery, I chose the butt joint, and Dominos to reinforce the joint. A cross support is included to add rigidity to the carcase.
At this time, pending the release of other profiles, only the single beading cutter is available. However, I can still make various forms of beads with just a beading cutter such as bolection beads, return beads or even astragals. Here, a slightly off-centred side bead is chosen and embellished on the front to add a decorative touch to an otherwise plain-looking rack.
Joinery first or beading first?
For most projects, I usually start by tackling the more complex aspects of their constructions such as the joinery. For this tool rack, I took, however, a different approach: I decided to bead all the pieces before working on the joinery. Such an approach was an insurance policy for if the beading process did not go well, I could easily trim off the edge and rebead, without sacrificing any joinery effort. For this reason, I started with workpieces cut to length, but slightly over-width.
Cutting the beads before the joints offers another advantage, too. The Domino joiner was set up referencing against the front edges that were already beaded, thus ensuring that the beaded edges would all line up flush when the rack was assembled.
Beading the front edges
Using the converted beading plane is similar to using the plough plane. Set the plane for a light cut and use an auxiliary fence for better control. I started the cut from the far end and worked my way backwards – the same way I would when planing a very long board. I adjusted the setting incrementally until the desired profile was cut. You may want to set the depth stop to cut the bead slightly below the surface to avoid the bead getting flattened on the top from the cramping or sanding process.
For crisp, clean lines and tear-out free beading results, always plane with the grain. Whenever possible, I try to choose straight-grained boards or orient them in such a way that I would always be beading with the grain. However, if you must bead against the grain, you can find in the sidebar some control techniques that will minimise or prevent the tear-out problems.
After beading, examine all the profiles and sand smooth any rough spots, if necessary, before trimming all the workpieces to width.
Controlling beading tear-outs
Sometimes, beading a difficult or reverse grain cannot be avoided. Here are a few tear-out control techniques that may come to your rescue when you have to work against the grain:
• The first technique severs the wood fibre before it can be torn. First, make an indentation on the surface with the cutter. Use the indentation marks to set the marking gauge and scribe deep lines to define the profile edges. Then bead between the scribed lines with the finest cuts. The first few cuts are critical and make sure the fence is pressed tightly up to the workpiece.
• For an edge bead, in addition to scoring the inside edge of the profile with a marking gauge, break the outside edge first with a fine file or plane.
• The third technique is to use a back-bevelled cutter, a brilliant idea gleaned from Australian woodworker Derek Cohen who honed a 15-degree back-bevel on the outer cutting edges of his beading iron to produce a high cutting angle. The high angle prevents any tear-outs when beading against the grain.
Using the Domino joiner
In all Domino applications, laying out the cuts properly on the workpieces will greatly reduce many of the mortising mistakes (see my article ‘Taming the Domino joiner’ in F&C 233 on avoiding Domino joiner blunders). For carcase butt joints, double lines can be drawn on the vertical pieces to mark the finished shelf locations as well as to avoid mortising on the wrong face. I also label the top side and underside of all the horizontal pieces to ensure the right- and left-handed mortises are referenced from the same face of each horizontal piece.
It is also less confusing when working with multiple shelves if you finish one shelf at a time. For example, I finished all the mortises (left and right) on the top shelf as well as their corresponding mortises on the sides and then put the top piece away before moving onto the next workpiece. Mixing up workpieces of same sizes is another common cause for mortising errors.
Cutting the joinery
The standard mortising procedures are followed to cut mortises for the top and bottom of a carcase, by registering the machine’s fence against the workpieces. For shelves, a different set of techniques
is needed in which the machine’s baseplate rather than the fence is used for registration purposes.
These steps were taken for positioning and cutting the mortises for the middle shelf:
• Stand the middle shelf vertically between the double lines on the side, ensuring that the beaded edges on both pieces face the same direction.
• Tip the shelf flat onto the side piece with the shelf’s underside facing up.
• Hold the joiner down on the side piece and plunge the machine into the shelf to cut the mortises.
• After cutting all the mortises on the shelf, stand the joiner upright on the side piece with its baseplate against the end of the shelf.
• Plunge the joiner down to cut the mortises on the side piece.
• Repeat the above steps for the other side of the rack.
After cutting the mortises for the carcase and shelf, I marked and cut the mortises on the underside of the top and on the cross support.
Assembling and finishing
After dry-fitting all the components, I taped off around the butt joints, a glue squeeze-out method I employ for hard-to-clean-up joints such as dados and box corners. To remove the rubbery glue squeeze-outs on the outside of the rack, I used a shop-made chisel plane.
Lastly, I eased all the sharp edges with a light touch of a fine-grit sandpaper and applied three coats of boiled linseed oil to the piece.
The plough’s beading function does not replace my beading tool which, for example, can scrape along a curved edge, or the scratch stock which can cut almost any custom profiles I want. But when a bead – whether it is an edge bead or a triple bead – is just the right call, the plough will be the trusted tool that I will now reach for without a second thought.