It was hard enough cutting it to length, now...
June 8, 2010 4:56 AM   Subscribe

I need to cut a concave hemicircular "trench" in the side of a ~1" thick piece of maple (i.e., along the 1" side, with the direction of the grain). What's the best way of doing this? The only power tool I have is a cordless drill; I'm willing to purchase any (relatively inexpensive) hand tools I might need, but don't have space for any new power tools.
posted by backseatpilot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The right tool for the job is a router, and for that size, you'd want it in a router table. That is, however, a large power tool.

The handtool way (I'd argue the wrong way in this case) is using gouges and hammers, but getting it even is going to be very tough.
posted by JMOZ at 5:14 AM on June 8, 2010

Could you rent a router from your local large hardware store?
posted by transient at 5:20 AM on June 8, 2010

So you want to make a sort of mortise? Not for fitting a tenon, but like a scooped out area like the "pull" on some drawer fronts? Or will this "trench" go the entire length of the piece (again like some drawer fronts)?

If so, my first thought would be a router table and a round nose bit. That would seem the simplest way. router. I can think of a (crazy) way to maybe do it with a table saw, but I'd be loathe to even attempt it. But, again, new power tool.

So, perhaps a hand tool like this beading tool. If it had the right profile, it could work. Or, maybe, really carefully using a gouge and a round nose chisel?
posted by Fortran at 5:28 AM on June 8, 2010

If you live near a good tool store, you could use a spokeshave to flute it. I did that on some chair legs I made when I couldn't figure out how to use a router on a tapered and round surface.

Similarly, you can get special blades for planes that cut shapes - or you can buy the blade and make your own plane.

I actually rigged one up with a cut piece of broom handle and a rounded gouge that I keep super sharp. It worked great, but I had to saw off the gouge's handle.
posted by Tchad at 5:30 AM on June 8, 2010

The handtool way (I'd argue the wrong way in this case) is using gouges and hammers

The handtool way would be using a molding plane.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:34 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you prefer to go the hand tool route, there are some specific beading tools that can be used for this. (You would want to use a fence.) You can also make (or have made) a blade that creates exactly the profile you are after.
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:35 AM on June 8, 2010

For this you want a router, for sure. If you can make yourself a jig you might not need the router table part, but decent enough (not "great", mind you, but "decent enough") routers aren't terribly expensive, and aren't much bigger than an electric drill.

I strongly advise you to make room for a plunge router and an entry-level box of router bits; you're way better off buying and using the right tools for work like this than trying to jimmy something together using whatever random crap you have to hand, particularly when you're trying to make something good out of a nice piece of wood.
posted by mhoye at 5:41 AM on June 8, 2010

There are small router tables available. Mine is about 18" x 14" and would cope with a job like this with no difficulty. I keep it on a shelf in my shed. But really, the investment involved in buying a router and a table probably isn't justified for a one-off task.

I'd probably just knock together a quick jig for something like this. You only really need to mount the router upside-down in a piece of thick ply and screw on a batten to act as a guide you can run the maple along. But unless you're confident in doing something like this (and using a router safely) you could quickly get into 'this is how I lost my fingers' territory.

Maybe you could just call a few local tradespeople and see if someone is willing to do the job for you - it'll take them five minutes.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:43 AM on June 8, 2010

Nthing the notion that a router is the right tool for the job.

Maybe you could rent one, or borrow one, or find a place where carpenters are working and show up with a six-pack or twenty bucks or something.
posted by box at 5:43 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

The professional way to do this is with a shaper (the industrial version of a router table).

The modern homeowner / small shop way is with a router.

The old-fashioned way is to use a molding plane if the cut goes the full length of the piece, or to carve it out with a gouge if the cut is only part of the length of the piece.
posted by jon1270 at 5:56 AM on June 8, 2010

Harbor Freight is your go-to for tools you may only need once, although if you think you're going to do any woodworking in the future, a router is going to be an essential part of that, so you might want to consider getting a nicer one.
posted by electroboy at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2010

Yep, if you need to go the full length, a round molding plane will work. I think you're in a good area of the states to ask around and find one like this in an antique shop for about $10.

You'd need to sharpen it, though.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2010

A router table and a core box or round nose bit would be the right answer. If you lived near me I'd say "come on over", as it would take about a minute to do.

Maple is not going to be big fun to work with hand tools unless you already have a shaved patch on the back of your left wrist from sharpening hand tools.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:00 AM on June 8, 2010

Also, if the trough could have a flat bottom, instead of a curved bottom, then an adjustable plough plane like the Record 043 or 044 will work great (and the blades are easy to sharpen)

I have an old Record copy of the Stanley 45 and it's great for ploughing and beading if the wood has fairly straight grain. I love it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:05 AM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: The cut needs to go the full length of a curved profile, and the diameter of the cutout is about 3/4". Essentially, it needs to be a guide for a piece of metal tubing - I'm trying to make a low-cost tube bender.

Does Home Depot rent routers?
posted by backseatpilot at 7:05 AM on June 8, 2010

Along a curved profile, you say? In that case, you'll want to use a flute cutter bit on your router. and cut from the side. I think some Home Depots do rent routers, but I would urge caution; routers are dangerous if you're not careful. Perhaps you can find a friend with tools or a woodworking shop that will help? In your area, Rockler is a good place to ask for help.
posted by JMOZ at 7:22 AM on June 8, 2010

I don't think HD rents routers / router tables. At least not that I've seen; their rental department is geared more towards power washers, jackhammers, that sort of thing. Some more specialized rental shops might have one though.

You might check around on Craigslist and see if there is anyone offering woodworking services (I'd look for anyone selling custom cabinets, furniture or anything else that would require a shop) and see if they'd mind doing it for you. It's only the work of a few minutes so it probably wouldn't cost that much.

However, if the purpose of this whole endeavor is to build a tubing bender ... have you considered something involving a conduit bender? They are cheap ($30-40); maybe that would save you the need for the routed wood part. You can get ones designed for up to 1" rigid conduit (look for iron not aluminum heads) which is about the most I suspect you'd be able to do by hand in any event. The cheap Al ones are fine for lighter stuff, depending on what you ultimately want to bend.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:23 AM on June 8, 2010

Renting a router is half the battle, you would need the correct bit as well. Something like this, though with that bit you'd need a table or at the very least a decent jig.

A cove bit would work without a table; you could do two passes, one on either side, to get a half round. I'm not sure if they make half round bits like that.

I have a router, but I don't have the right bit, otherwise I'd just say come on over.

Why not use a wheel for the tube bender? Find something the right size and remove the tube.

Can you just rent a tube bender? Or it this something you'd need long term?
posted by bondcliff at 7:28 AM on June 8, 2010

Yeah, JMOZ has the right bit. With the right size flute cutter and a router you'd be fine without a table.
posted by bondcliff at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2010

Isn't there a setup where a dremel tool can be used as a router? Like a router-table attachment for a dremel? I'm not sure if it'd accomodate a big enough bit for your purposes, but I think dremel has router-style bits - obviously they have quite a variety - and if you find yourself needing to buy a new tool, a dremel is both smaller and more multipurpose than a router...
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 7:33 AM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: Renting a tube bender might be best. I'm trying to put a rake in a set of bicycle fork blades (background). I've been trying to keep the tooling costs low because otherwise things are going to quickly spiral out of control. Seven bucks for a piece of maple beats a hundred bucks for the size bender I'd need, but if I can rent one I can justify that.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:44 AM on June 8, 2010

There is a setup where a dremel tool can be used as a router, but not for anything of this scale. 3/4" diameter cut in maple? Not with a dremel tool.

Buy the conduit bender. The craptacular ones are about $30, which is probably what it would cost to rent one. United Rentals, in the Boston area (your profile lists Cambridge), rents the pro variety - I have no affiliation with United Rentals other than knowing they exist.
posted by plinth at 7:48 AM on June 8, 2010

Clamp a piece of wood to the area you want the cove to be in. Make sure it is tight, and that the end you will eventually drill in is flush.

Grab your hand drill and drill on the seam where the two pieces of wood meet, making sure you have the right sized bit of course for the depth you want.

if the bit doesn't go deep enough, with careful marking you can turn the piece over and drill in from the opposite side.

If still not deep enough, get a longer bit.
posted by Max Power at 7:51 AM on June 8, 2010

Oh it's curved? never mind.
posted by Max Power at 7:52 AM on June 8, 2010

I can't find them right now, but there are collective workshops in the area where you can rent time on power tools. Maybe your google power is better than mine and you can find one of em.
posted by nat at 8:03 AM on June 8, 2010

Seven bucks for a piece of maple beats a hundred bucks for the size bender I'd need

Definitely rent or buy the right tool for the job. Your improvised wooden tool will not work the way you hope, and you'll only have wasted the $7.
posted by jon1270 at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2010

To answer the stated question: I would find a shop/person to help. Find your local woodworking club to find someone to help. A curved profile is going to be a bit tougher with a router (because you'd be working on edge probably). You might have to find a shaper so you can use it on the flat.

To answer the subtext: I'm not sure even 1" maple is going to be good for this, although it depends on how thick the fork is. I would do one of the following:

* Borrow a tube bender
* Rent a tube bender
* Buy a tube bender
* Buy a used tube bender at a fair price, and resell

The last option is the one I'd prefer, as I would likely be able to have zero net expenditure when done. The less scrupulous might do something like buying Harbor Freight's bender, using it once, and returning. Their cheapest hydraulic one is $90 right now online.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:24 AM on June 8, 2010

There are also other designs for bending forks.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:25 AM on June 8, 2010

On second (third?) thought, you might improvise something with wood, but not the way you're initially imagining. The tubing bender needs to firmly confine the sides of the tubing so it can't collapse and kink, but it doesn't need to perfectly match the tube's ~3/8" radius. You could make a sandwich of three pieces of 3/4" plywood, with the desired curve cut on the middle one, glueing and screwing them all together.
posted by jon1270 at 8:27 AM on June 8, 2010

Can you make the curve by putting many upright pieces of thick dowel in wood, and curving around the pieces of dowel? I've seen tubing benders made this way, and with pretty smooth curves, and seems like it would be a lot easier.
posted by galadriel at 8:49 AM on June 8, 2010

Response by poster: I just realized someone left an old bicycle wheel in my basement - maybe I can strap the tube to it and try to bend it around the radius of the wheel?

This really went off-topic fast, but it's definitely getting more to the heart of the matter.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:58 AM on June 8, 2010

I was also going to suggest plywood, like jon1270.

You'd only need a cheap coping saw to make the cuts.
posted by orme at 9:04 AM on June 8, 2010

Agreed on tubing bender as easiest approach. And if you want to use the maple, a router will product the best results.

But, a few approaches to try if you want to do it with the tools you mention.

You could try drilling a series of holes along the trench you need and clean out the remnants with a gouge or chisel. If the radius is small, you could probably even clean out a lot of it with a hand saw.

Instead of cutting a trench, you could build up the outside. Maybe some flexible moulding screwed to the edges would essentially leave a groove left. With some half round, it could even be a mostly round groove. May be hard to get something flexible enough for that though.

Or just find three pieces to sandwich together that will leave the groove the right size.
posted by alikins at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2010

When I've had one-off jobs that required tools I don't have, I've had a lot of luck going to the local high-school or community college wood shop and making a small donation to get the job done. Some cities have woodworking co-ops that might be able to help, as well.

But this is the modern age - today I might be more inclined to use craigslist and trade a batch of homemade cookies for someone to do the labor.
posted by foobario at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2010

I'm assuming you're planning a frame-and-lug bike from the diagrams on your blog, with steel tubing.

Given that, have you considered heating it? Depending on the size of the piece, it might be beyond a torch; a charcoal fire properly aerated will be plenty hot enough though. (You can melt stainless steel into a molten puddle with charcoal and a shop vac; I have seen it done.) That would reduce the load on the bender and perhaps let you use one of the cheaper varieties. It also might let you make more severe bends before the tube collapses on itself.

Of course then you will have to consider the effect of the heating on the underlying metal, and decide how you want to let the metal cool, if you want to quench it, etc. But those are all tractable problems and might be interesting from the DIY perspective. As long as you know what kind of steel you are buying it should be fairly easy to research. (Actually even if you managed to cold-forge the part into the correct shape there may end up being pieces on the bike that you want to heat-treat anyway, in order to make them more or less plastic.)

All you will need to buy for the forge are some firebricks and perhaps some steel pipe for the air inlet. You'll also need some real hardwood charcoal (not briquettes) and a shop vac or other air-blowing device. Here is an article on how to do it, although there are many others. If sourcing hardwood charcoal is difficult, you can also run it on propane, although that is more difficult and doesn't get as hot as charcoal (IIRC).
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:15 PM on June 8, 2010

Found a workshop collective: Artisan's Asylum.
posted by nat at 9:28 PM on June 9, 2010

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