Fall is here, and winter isn't far behind. The grills have been stored away, the kids and grandkids have gone back to school and those lazy afternoons spent shirtless on the deck with a bucket of cold ones are over. It's time to get in the shop and start on that list of projects the missus has been nagging you about. So, what's on your honey-do list? How about fixing up the house? Believe it or not, 85 percent of woodworkers will build kitchen cabinets at some point in their lives, and the other 75 percent will build cabinets for another room in the house. I know that doesn't add up, but let's not get caught up in the details.
Here at the Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal Shop, we've been in the planning stages of a massive cabinetry project for several months. I know, it shouldn't take several months to plan a project, but this is a really complex one. We're doing a laundry room and pantry area, and a large kitchen, all full of floor to ceiling cabinets. And we're making mitered cabinet doors, which are sort of like picture frames, in that they are made from wide mouldings. There are more than 50 of these cabinet doors, plus drawer fronts, plus all of the crown mouldings and baseboard mouldings. That's a lot of mouldings. Do you have any idea what it would cost to buy all of that moulding stock? You can't just walk into Home Depot and buy these, you'd have to go to a custom moulding service and have them make them for you on their big moulding machine. I forget what the price per foot came out to, but it was insane. They said there were some setup and tooling fees included, and I asked if they were charging me for just the custom cutters or if I was paying for their new moulding machine too, and they just laughed at me while I shredded their estimate.
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But it got me thinking, why don't I just get a moulding machine and cut out the middle man? Now, before you say that's crazy, think about it. There are a lot of woodworkers out there who own homes that needs a lot of trim and cabinetry work. Even off the shelf, solid wood mouldings at the home center cost a fortune. And what if you have to match existing mouldings in an old house. Sit down and do the math, then consider that you could buy a used moulding machine for a few hundred dollars, do the job, then sell it and get most, if not all your money back. Or, what's more than likely to happen, is you'll find all sorts of excuses to hold onto the machine after the project is done, once you see all the crazy stuff they will do. Heck, you could put an ad on Craigslist and hire the machine out when you're not using it.
Anyway, I'm not here to sell you a moulding machine. I'm just telling you why it made a lot of sense to get one here in our main shop with this massive project coming up. And I thought you'd like a look at what we're working on right now.
I've seen these doors all over the place, they're a really attractive alternative to the traditional stile and rail cabinet doors, which is why they are becoming more and more popular these days. We're going to do ours in maple, with white paint and a dark glaze.
I started with a profile in mind. This is where the machine started to pay off, because I've got a cutter guy. Yes, I have a guy for everything. Steffen at mywoodcutters.com will make moulding knives for almost any profile you can draw. Do you have any idea what it would cost to get a custom router bit made? I know a guy who did that. It cost him a truckload of cash because you can't just get one made, you have to buy a bunch. Moulding machine cutters are way easier to manufacture, even in single sets. So you can design any profile you want, send it to my cutter guy, or select one of the bazillion profiles they already have on their site, and they'll ship you a set of perfectly ground and sharpened knives for your machine. It's really an amazing thing.
So, I got a set of knives with the profile I wanted for my mitered cabinet doors. Now I need wood. This is another benefit to making my own mouldings, with my own machine. I don't have to use the crappy, finger-jointed pine they make the off the shelf mouldings from. I can shop around any of the hundreds of small mills and hardwood dealers out there for the best price on whatever species I want. I ended up waiting for a woodworking show about an hour and a half from me, where I picked up a bunch of hard maple for a couple bucks a board foot. The deals are out there, you just have to look for them. The best price you get on your wood, the faster the machine pays for itself.
The thing with hardwood, and softwood for that matter, is it comes in different grades. You don't want firewood quality stock for mouldings. You want clear, knot free boards with grain as straight as possible. That doesn't mean every board has to be knot or blemish free. I'll be using shorter pieces for cabinet doors, so I can cut around any flaws. I'll save the best, clearest stock for the long crown mouldings and baseboards.
I've already cut my stock to width, so I'm ready to set up the cut on the machine. I want to physically position my stock against one of the knives, centering it so the cut will fall in the right place. Then I lock a fence down on either side of the board. I use a square to make sure the fences guide the board straight through the cut.
I then lower the head, looking at the end of the board until the cutter looks like it will take a full bite. Then set the depth stop. Now I can raise the cutter up a bit, because while it may be possible to cut the profile in one pass, depending on the species of wood, I like to take lighter passes for a cleaner cut.
Before we start feeding stock in, let me talk a little more about grain direction. Moulding machine knives work the same way as a router bit, just on a larger scale. When a cutter contacts the wood, it takes a little scoop out. If the grain is running toward the cutter, it's far more likely to tear out, producing a rough cut that requires a lot of sanding. In a few minutes, I'll show you a fast way to sand your mouldings, but you definitely want to avoid feeding the wood against the grain. Don't just stick the board in the machine with the best-looking face up. Pay attention to grain direction, changing the orientation of the workpiece so the grain is running down towards the table, or back towards you as you feed the stock in.
The machine works just like a planer. In fact, it will even plane stock flat with a set of straight knives. So that's sort of a bonus if you don't have a dedicated planer in your shop already. The feed rollers pull the stock in, and you can adjust their speed to suit the material. A slower feed will cause the knives to take more cuts per inch, which can produce a smoother surface, but it may also lead to scorching on some woods. So you have to find that sweet spot.
Once I hit my depth stop, my moulding is fully cut. I can raise the cutter back up and run some more stock through, if I want. The depth stop will ensure all the mouldings come out the same. But to tell you the truth, if I'm cutting a bunch of moulding, I'll feed each piece through one after the other, then lower the head for a deeper cut, and feed them all through again. By the time I hit that depth stop, I'm done with all my mouldings. A side benefit to doing it like that is I can loosen the stop, and lower the cutter just a tiny bit more, to take the finest skim cut. Then I feed all my pieces through again to clean up any imperfections. That will reduce any sanding I might have to do later.
Speaking of sanding, there's another reason I like my cutter guy. He offers custom sanding blocks that are an exact, mirror image to the knife profile. It's the coolest thing. Whatever profile you cut, you can get a custom block to really speed up any sanding you might have to do. It is definitely worth getting one of these when you have your knives made.
To finish my cabinet door I have to cut a groove to hold the center panel, then I'll miter it, add splines for strength, and paint. We'll do another video about all that. For now, I just wanted to share some of the possibilities that come with the ability to get any shape or profile you want turned into a custom set of cutters. If you just take a minute and go to the mywoodcutters.com website and look at the selection they already have in stock, you'll see what I mean. The possibilities go way beyond making baseboards and crown mouldings. You can make dowels, drawer joints, glue joints, lock miters, picture frames, raised panels, wainscoting, cabinet doors, and with a little imagination, there's almost no limit.
I really don't care what moulding machine you get, whether it's new or used, whatever. Shop Fox is not a sponsor. I just wanted you guys to know why you are going to be seeing us use this machine in several future videos through the winter months, as we work on this big project.
You can follow our progress by subscribing to Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal, which is free over at stumpynubs.com. It's always full of great tips, tricks and tutorials designed to make you a better woodworker. See you next time!
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