The inspiration for this mirror came during my first year in the Sheridan College furniture program, in southern Ontario, back in 1995. I’d seen wedged mortise-and-tenon joints in textbooks, and tried to incorporate them into a mirror. I revisited that old design this past January, when I worked out the details and built a new frame from cherry.
Cherry is a straight-grained hardwood and one of my favourites. It has a fine texture, it’s a breeze to work with and it darkens naturally over time.
Select two-inch-thick stock for the mirror stiles, the sides of the frame. This allows enough wood to rip the wedges-the chopsticks-from the same pieces of wood as the neighbouring stiles, for an ideal grain match. The wedge-shaped chopsticks' final thickness is about 1/4"; the stiles measure 15/16" x 1 1/4". You can make the rails from one-inch-thick rough stock, milled down to 13/16".
Plane the stiles and rails to finished dimensions, then cut to size. Use scraps to test various machine setups as you go. Machine the mortises in the stiles using a handheld router fitted with an upcut spiral bit and a fence. You can simply lay out the mortise locations on the stiles in pencil, then clamp the two stiles together on your bench and get to work.
Both rails have tenons on each end. Cut these with a straight bit in a table-mounted router. A backer board ensures a safe, square cut: it supports the back edge of the rails as they slide over the bit. The extra wood along the trailing edge of the cut also prevents tearout as the bit exits the rail. I attached a raised grip to make my backer board more comfortable.
Clean up the tenons using a file, chisel and sandpaper. Don't roundover the edges. Cut the routed grooves for the mirror now. A 1/8"-dia. bit leaves clearance for 3-mm glass.
Dry-fit the stiles and rails, then lay out the mortise locations for the chopstick wedges. Cut these through the tenons on the ends of the rails. Bore holes in the tenons using a drill-press, and use a backer board to keep the holes clean where the drill bit exits the wood. As you clean up the drilled holes, work slowly with your chisel from both ends of the mortises toward the middle. Give the lip of the mortises a slight chamfer so the wedges don't tear the wood as you tap them into place and tighten them.
To shape the chopsticks, start by cutting and planing wood to the thickness of the mortises you cut in the tenons earlier. Leave the wedges longer than necessary for now. Plane the required angle on the wedges by hand, tapering them from 1/2"-wide to about 1/4"-wide. To mark the layout lines for this angle, lay the wedges on each side of the rail tenons, and mark the ideal taper with a pencil. Make the wedges slightly too large so they pull the frame together fully when they're tapped home.
Dry-fit the wedges and mark their final length. They should be 1/4" shorter than the stiles at the top and bottom. Fashion a rounded arc on both ends of each wedge.
Disassemble the mirror parts and create a keyhole slot in the back for hanging. Chamfer all of the edges.
Finish by sanding all disassembled parts using 120- then 150- and finally 180-grit sandpaper. Remove dust, then wipe on a coat of oil-varnish blend composed of equal parts varathane, boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits. Strain them through a paint filter into a common container. Let the finish remain wet on the wood surface for at least five minutes, adding more liquid to any areas that dry out during that time. Wipe off all excess finish before it becomes tacky, and let the project sit overnight. Sand the surface lightly with 400-grit sandpaper, then apply a second coat of oil/varnish. Let the finish cure for 24 hours, then assemble the frame with the mirror in place. Hang it up, and there you are.
|Part||Material||Size (T x W x L*)||Qty.|
|Stiles||cherry||15/16" x 1 1/4" x 18"||2|
|Rails||cherry||13/16" x 2" x 10"||2|
|Chopsticks||cherry||1/4"-thick x 1/2"-wide x 17"||2|
|Mirror||cherry||3mm x 6 9/16" x 13" (custom cut)||1|
* Length indicates grain direction