I’ve Got Mail!

One of the wonderful things about the internet is that it has the ability to connect people from all over the world. Today, I received the following message from someone in New Zealand:

Hi Chris

I stumbled across your blog. Very interesting and an enjoyable read. I’m about to embark upon renovating rooms in my house to give a strong Victorian feel. So, lots of carved timber, ornate plaster and so forth. I’m also very interested in the possibilities of carving mdf and timber with a router. I’d be really interested to see anything you’ve done along those lines. I did see your butternut headboard which used the router, but not for fine detail.
Great work by the way, and I’ll keep reading.

Since I was unable to send a reply directly to the sender (who I shall keep anonymous), I will reply here.

First of all, I’m glad that you found it to be interesting and enjoyable. For me, my blog is just a space where I can empty my head. Sometimes that involves sharing my thoughts, other times it means what I’ve been working on. It is written all at once, in one shot. For articles published in print, I edit my articles as many as ten times to make it as clear and concise as possible. I don’t do that here, and I feel the effect is a more comfortable, informal writing style. Writing helps me realize things and really think about others. For example, just now, I realized why blog entries are much easier to read (for me) than how-to articles. Blogs can be fun and interesting to read because space is not an issue. Magazines have limited space available, so they tend to get rid of everything that isn’t necessary and all too often, that means no conversational prose.

Okay, moving right along… In response to the comment about carving with a router, I would offer the following advice: practice a lot on scrap, first. When I used the router to remove the bulk of the waste on the relief panel of the headboard, I had to work very carefully to follow the layout lines closely without crossing them. I aimed to stay 1/8" away – I’d carve to the line later with hand tools. To work carefully, I had to work slowly as well. This resulted in lots of burning. For a final surface, this would be acceptable, but since I would be removing this later, I was fine with this. Depending on the complexity of the design, it may be possible to rout the carving very rapidly without causing any burning. Note that the burning can also be hidden with paint, as is typically done with free-hand routed signs. Personally, the router would not be my choice for doing fine detail. It works well for wasting away masses of material, but I would use something more agile to do the detailed work such as a rotary tool or carving gouges.

Do yourself a huge favour and get a spiral router bit. They do not have near as much lateral "push" as staright fluted bits. That is, they are easier to control free-hand. An up-spiral will cause a bit of tear-out or fuzziness on the top surface, but have no tendency to push the router off the workpiece like a down-spiral bit would. However, if you are working horizontally with the router on top of the work, the weight of the router should be enough to counteract the force of the down-spiral bit. I speak here from logic, not experience. If you will be doing a lot of work, invest in a carbide bit which will stay sharp a lot longer than a high-speed steel (HSS) one. This is especially true regarding MDF which is very hard on cutters due to the high resin content.

If you use MDF, you’re likely going to apply an opaque finish. With solid woods, you can use a clear finish. Of course, you could use a clear finish over MDF if that is the look you are after. If it will be viewed from 20′, it may not make a difference whether you use MDF or solid wood. MDF and solid wood are two very different materials, and your choice will depend on your application and budget, among other considerations. MDF routs quite cleanly without the worry of tearout and splintering associated with solid woods. However MDF does not stand up to moisture very well so is not a very good choice for outdoor use. Generally, MDF is a fair bit cheaper than solid wood. It comes in various thicknesses which are consistent and accurate. MDF is also paint ready, though the edges are more porous than the face, so an addional layer of finish may be required.

So, thanks for writing. Feedback is always nice to receive. It’s nice to know that my writing is interesting and informative and constructive criticism is also just as useful. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know that people are reading and coming back to see what’s new.

I would be delighted if you left a comment!

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