Templates are one of the Holy Grails of woodworking. If you desire repeatability and consistency, templates (along with jigs in other applications) are the best way to go. They’re easy to make, reduce what (without there existence) would be a lengthy, and possible complex process to a simpler, shorter process, and can be made from a variety of readily available, inexpensive materials. They’re also a great substitute for hand-skills and tools that have not yet been acquired.
In my work, templates are used for two purposes; the first I call a tracing-template, is for transferring or laying out patterns to stock. This purpose may or may not require the template to be temporarily attached to the stock. Guiding-templates are employed to guide the bearing of a flush-trim bit. This operation requires a more robust template that can withstand the stresses of multiple application and removals, while providing a healthy edge to register a flush-trim bearing.
In making Arts & Crafts furniture my templates are, for the most part, limited to some combination of sweeping curves, straight lines, and cloud-lifts. Remember when using templates any imperfection in the template will be transferred, consistently and 100% repeatable, to the final product. Finally, as you design, cut out and use your templates keep registration, durability, and repeatability in mind.
Registration talks about what level of complexity is required to align your template and stock for mating. How you will register your template to the stock your shaping. Can you simply register your template and work piece along the surface of your workbench, or is something more complex required? This becomes more and more important as the quantity of identical pieces you want to make goes up.
Durability should be considered if planning to use the template often. Wear and tear accumulates each time you use the template. My templates are exposed to great stresses when I remove them. Though not often, it?s not unusual, when I?m in a hurry and not being careful, to snap a template in half as I pull it off. The primary determinate of durability is the material used to make the template. For a tracing-template, I?ll use a very inexpensive ¬ material. But when making guiding-templates, I want more thickness so the bit?s bearing has plenty of registration space. I prefer 5/16 to 3/8 hardboard for these tasks. The good news is these materials are usually inexpensively available at any home center!
Finally, repeatability is a matter of how exact you want each piece shaped with your template to be. The more critical this requirement is, the better your registration and durability needs to be. Read on to see an example of a cloud lift shaped guiding templates being made and used.
Start with the template blank
When making a template, I like the template material to be the same size as the material the pattern will be transferred to. This makes registering the template to the stock much easier. I’ll often cut out the template stock with the same tool settings, and at the same time, that I cut the material to final dimension. Next, I’ll use a sharpie to lay out a center line on the templates face and edges, and a pencil to do the same on the stock.
Adding Shape to the Template Blank
Laying out the templates shape is done by either transferring the design from a drawing, or actually creating the shape on the template itself. If transferring the shape from a full-size drawing you’ve already had a dry run at drawing the template shape; and you can use the same drawing tools to recreate the shape on the template material.
If your creating the shape on the template blank, Image 3, 5 & 6 illustrates how to layout a radius on the template. First I draw a series of layout lines. Line 1 and line 2 represent vertical and horizontal cross hairs of where you want the radius located. Line 3 intersects this point at 45 degrees and is used to align a radius template, which is than used to trace out the curve. An excellent reference on this procedure is Chapter 10: The Cloud Lift Detail of Darrell Peart’s Book Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop
Cutting out the Template
Next, I cut the shape on the bandsaw. Cutting as close to the line as you can without going over is important, but more important is to have a smooth cut with no sharp deviations. This will make for a much quicker, and easier, final smoothing of the shape.
Cleaning Up the Template Shape
The old adage you can only lay out dovetail tails as tight as your smallest chisel applies to templates as well. I use an oscillating sander to smooth my templates to their final size, the sleeve diameter limits the radius of my curves.
Now, Let’s talk about Using Templates
Registering the Template
In this step we’re transferring the template’s pattern to the stock in preparation for rough cutting on a bandsaw. The key to success is registering the template in a fashion that can be duplicated later in the Using Carpet tape step.
In the photo above I’m using the flat horizontal surface of the workbench and the vertical surface of my vise-block to register the template to the stock. I confirm my alignment by visually ensuring the center-line laid out on the template and stock match up.
Transferring Pattern to Stock
Using a pencil, transfer the pattern to the stock. In the next step, you’ll rough cut the pattern with the bandsaw, cutting as close as you can to the line, but leaving it visible. Finally in the Final Trimming the Stock step, you’ll flush trim to the re-attached template, which should, if the template is registered correctly, remove the pencil line.
Rough cutting out stock
As mentioned before, when I rough cut to the pattern line, I cut as close as I can to the line. As long as I don’t make the line completely disappear, I’m OK.
Reattach the template using Carpet tape
Next, I use carpet tape to attach the template to the stock. It is plenty strong to withstand the pressures exerted by a router or shaper with a flush trim bit. The critical step here is to register the template in the same way that you did in the Registering the Template step.
Final Trimming the Stock
Finally, I flush trim the stock using a flush-trim bit with a guide bearing riding against the template. Be aware of how the grain flows on your stock, and understand its tear-out potential. Finally, ensure the stock is fed in the correct manner.
Be respectful of end grain during this procedure. Due to the shape of the cloud lift patterns it is often present in the curves of this shape. To minimize the risk of tear out and having the stock ripped from your hands, ensure the appropriate feed technique is used.
Notice, the unconventional router table I use. It’s simply a 3 horsepower router held in my bench vise, with the help of a couple contouring blocks of wood. It has a larger, thicker, robust bottom plate that becomes the router table surface, for me it is more than adequate to register and control most cuts. This arrangement allows me to quickly set up and execute flush trim cutting operations.
Having said that, your undoubtedly aware Image 16 does not show a conventional router table/shaper and, what it does show provides its own unique safety challenges. If you feel at all uncomfortable performing flush trimming operations in this manner DO NOT DO IT. Instead use a traditional router table or shaper with appropriate safety accessories.
The last step for me is to drill a hole in the template, to facilitate storage on my shop walls, and to label it with the date and project information.