Williamsburg, Day 2: Mind-Blowing 3-Way Miter Joint
It is Day 2 at “Working Wood in the 18th Century,” the annual conference at Colonial Williamsburg co-sponsored by FWW. After singing the praises of the proper mindset, body awareness, and uncompromising tool setup and sharpness demanded by Japanese woodworking techniques, it was time for Andrew Hunter to put his money where his mouth was, and do some real woodworking.
He delivered and then some, showing how he breaks down a seemingly impossible three-way miter into a series of simple steps. He admitted to the hand-tool loving crowd that he does use power tools when they make sense. In this case he said plowed out precise cuts in the ends of the workpieces on the router table, leaving precise internal tenons behind. But there was plenty left to do for his chisels and rabbet plane.
He mixed in a few more deep thoughts as he went, pointing out why he spends so much time making sure his initial boards are straight and square, and how any problems there will cause problems with the next steps: careful layout and careful joinery cuts, etc. Continuing on his theme of being fully present and undistracted, he said simply, “Start with step one.”
By the way, he still uses the Marples chisels he started out with. He said he hasn’t seen the need to replace them, and hasn’t been able to afford more than a few Japanese chisels. But he plans to add more of those as he goes along. A guy who spent a year by himself trying to learn to plane a prefect board clearly is in no rush.
He also explained the upside of the miter joints seen throughout Chinese furniture:
1. They allow one curved piece to be joined to another cleanly, such as the shaped rails around a tabletop, without needing one piece to be coped to the other, which is tough to pull off cleanly. And the curved profile just seems to flow from one piece to the other.
2. Miter joints also allow grooves and rabbets to be plowed straight through. On Western frames, the grooves often must be stopped, which is more difficult.
This is a typical Chinese table, with a three-way miter connecting the legs and rails.
The laughter turned to rapt attention as Hunter began to demonstrate how he makes the joint. He starts on the router table with a straight bit, plunging the workpiece into the bit and resetting the fence until he has a workpiece that looks like this.
He picked up the process there, using a chisel to remove two of the tenons.
Then he sawed along his layout lines.
And used a Japanese rabbeting plane to bring those mitered edges right to the line.
After cutting down one of the tenons to make room for another tenon in the joint, this was the beautiful result.
He then described how he lays out the other parts of the joint, and drills out the waste.
And finally showed us the finished joint again, explaining how the shaping happens last. The beauty of the miter is that one pillowed piece can flow right into the next.
And here is the ingenious but complex joint that was used during the Ming dynasty. Jaws dropped and their was some wry laughter from the crowd when Andrew displayed this joint..