Larissa's Hand Mirror Making Process for Woodcraft Magazine Article
All of the photos below can be enlarged by clicking on them
Stage One: After I choose a piece of wood, I generally mill it to be around 7/8" thick. Then, I choose where I am going to cut the mirror insert and trace around the circumference of a mirror onto the wood. The mirrors in the photo are 6" diameter. Then, I use a template cut into a piece of 1/4" MDF. The template has three circles. Because of the size of the base of our plunge router, I can't cut the entire mirror recess at once without the base of the router falling into the hole. To solve the problem, I've made a template with three holes, each increasing slightly in size, to eliminate this risk. The router is loaded with a 1/2" plunge bit and a 3/4" OD guide bushing.
Stage Two: After I cut the mirror recess with the router, I use french curves to sketch out rough shapes with chalk. After I've decided on a general shape, I mark it in pencil and cut it at the band saw. Then, I use sanding drums to smooth the edges and curves. The back side, I have drawn out the limit of the bevel I will put around the outside on the back face. Makers can sand down the bevel before routing or after- I tend to accidentally run into my lettering if I do it afterwards so I like to sand down the bevel ahead of time.
I use the belt sander to make quick work of sanding the bevel. In some instances I'll use a hand plane or a random orbit sander but usually I take to the stationary belt sander. I also leave the handle flat until after I rout the lettering so the mirror can be clamped to the table easily.
Stage Three: Anyone making a project like this can use any computer program that allows for text editing to design the monogram. I use Photo Shop because there is a wide variety of font styles and I can manipulate size and shaping more easily. To start off, I type the words in a rough format of how I want it to look and fine tune the style and font when it's projected. The key here is having something to project the text onto the mirror itself. I stand the mirror up straight and level in a vice and project the words onto it. This way, I can change the fonts, arrange the shaping of the words, adjust the size, etc and see how it looks directly on the piece it will be cut into.
When choosing a font, it's important to remember that you will be free-hand routing this so choose lettering that isn't to detailed or has too many fine lines. My first few projects were made with very basic, bold, non-serifed letters. In this project, I wanted it to be as personal as possible so I actually used my own handwriting and scanned it into the computer. Once I am pleased with the look of the words, I trace them onto the mirror. I have found that if you are using a darker wood, like walnut, it's easiest to use a white pencil because it's important to be able to see every line clearly. * I always make sure to trace the words onto a scrap piece of wood to practice with.
Stage Four: I use a v-cutting but in the plunge router to cut the letters. Because there are different angled v-cutters, I use my practice piece to gauge which angle and depth make the letters in the chosen font style look best and most pronounced. I tried a 60-degree and 90-degree bit in the photo above. The 60-degree bit had a flat on the bottom which created clearer-to-read letters but I couldn't change the weight in the lines of the letters. Although the difference was subtle, I opted for the 90-degree bit so I could plunge to different depths to create different line weights. (In the photo above, the top two lines were done with the 60-degree and the bottom two with the 90-degree)
When I decide on the bit, I take to the actual mirror. I have a few spare pieces milled to the same thickness so that I can clamp them down around the mirror as additional surface area for the router base if need be. Then, I light the surface as much as possible so I can see the traced lettering clearly through the router base. I don't set a certain depth. I plunge the router as much as necessary to cut all the space between my traced lines and allow it to lift up gradually (for a shallower cut) as the lines thin. It takes a lot of practice to get a feel for this free-hand technique which is why I always warm up with a practice piece with lots of practice letters.
Stage Five: When the letters are cut with the router, I go back through with an assortment of chisels to clean up any sharp corners in the lettering and/or clean out any lingering stray fibers. I use a cordless drill to create a hole through the bottom of the handle to string a leather loop for hanging. Then, I work on shaping the handle. I use a combination of a spoke shave, a rasp, and the stationary belt sander to round the handle. When it's rounded and feels comfortable to hold, I sand the entire mirror 120-grit, 180-grit, and 220 grit with the random orbit sander. I break the edges around the inside of the mirror recess and round all the edges to be smooth.
Finishing: As is the Lohr Woodworking way, I use boiled linseed oil to bring out the color and grain patterns. After the oil dries for 5-7 days, I tape out a small section of the mirror recess to prevent it from getting coated with finish so the adhesive sticks to the wood and then I finish the mirror with a spray lacquer. I spray it with two coats of semi-gloss lacquer, sand it down with 400-grit sand paper or 0000 steel wool, and spray one final coat. When I have made mirrors in the past with darker wood, like walnut, I have used paint to enhance the lettering. Between the first and second layers of finish, I carefully paint inside the letters. With a coat of clear finish between the wood and the paint, it makes it easier to fix any painting mistakes that may occur.
Last Touches: The last stage is gluing the mirror into place. I use mirror adhesive and place a half-dollar size dollop in the unfinished area in the center of the mirror recess. Then, I place the mirror in and push it down into place. I put glue only in the center of the mirror/recess because any more than that will cause the mirror itself to warp as the wood moves. I'll tie a leather strap through the hole previously drilled through the handle and it's all done!