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Smoothing Out Curved Parts
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There are two popular methods for using a template to smooth out the edges of curved parts: a flush-trim router bit, and a sanding drum equipped with a template guide. Both have their advantages. A flush-trim router bit is often the best answer. It's quick and final. You get right down to a smooth, planed edge in one quick pass.

A drawback can be that when you are cutting curved parts, you are invariably faced with either having to cut upwards into the grain on one or more sections of the curve, which can lead to tearout problems, or having to make a climb cut (moving the workpiece in the same direction as the rotation of the bit) - a practice that takes a little practice, and can be unsafe if done incorrectly. Still, a quality flush-trim bit and a moderate feed rate will quickly lead to the results you're after in "run of the mill" curve trimming situations.

For exceptionally thick stock, very steep curves, and wood that chips or tears easily, a drum sander outfitted with a template guide is the alternative of choice.  A "template guide" is simply a smooth edged disk attached to the bottom of the sanding drum that follows the edge of the template just like the pilot bearing of a router bit.  The sanding drum method eliminates the tearout and chipping problem and allows you to smooth out thicker stock safely and effectively.

Here's the good news: It's surprisingly affordable to have both methods at your disposal.  Rockler's unconditionally guaranteed Pattern Flush Trim Router Bits are all priced in the $15 - $30 range.  And, to cover the drum sanding issue, Rockler recently released it's own Sanding Drum Template Guides.  The Phenolic guides are made to fit sanding drums in Rockler's 25 Piece Drum Set and sell individually for less than $10. All in all, it's a small price to pay to be ready for just about any curve your projects can throw at you.

posted on September 29, 2006 by Rockler
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4 thoughts on “Smoothing Out Curved Parts”

  • What is the response to the microplane drums used in a drill press? Are they as good as the hype says they are?

  • Blog Editor

    <p><a href="http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=11201" rel="nofollow">Microplace Rotary Shapers</a> are another way to go - thanks for mentioning it. They also have a pattern follower kit that does the same thing as the template guide does for the drum sander.</p><p>We have only heard good things about the Microplane tools. There are a number of testimonials on the Mircoplane website that give them glowing reviews.</p> <p>As the names suggest, the Microplane planes, and the drum sander sands. The same difficulties that might be experienced with a router bit in flush trimming (see above) <i>might</i> be experienced with the Microplane - to a lesser degree - in some situations. On the other hand, in other situations - wood that planes easily and at an advantageous angle to the grain - the Microplane is likely to be faster and leave a smoother surface.</P><P>(Opinions on the Microplane? Please post a comment)</p>

  • Brenda

    I've been looking for a good way to get into those small places. Since I'm a relative beginner, I find I've had a lot of broken pieces when it comes to getting into tight places. I can see the advantage of using the right drum sander, as opposed to a router. I think the drum sander is a little more forgiving for beginners. One wrong move with a router and you very possible have to begin your project again.

  • Paul Lowe

    I just love my Drum Sander it's a breze to use and gets a run out on virtualy all my projects, certainly a piece of equipment you should seriously consider buying.

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