By David J. Marks
Cove molding is a great way to dress up a cabinet.
The flare of the curves can be very distinctive and are really relatively easy to cut on the table saw once you understand the basic concept. Essentially, all you need to do is clamp a straight piece of wood to the table saw, oriented diagonally to the blade. This piece of wood will act as a fence. As you hold your stock against the diagonal fence and pass it over the table saw blade, the blade will cut into the stock, creating a cove shape. The shape of the cove is determined by the angle of the fence and the height of the blade. The first time I saw this being done; I could not understand how it was possible to make the necessary cuts. The key is that you will be making the cuts in lots of incremental passes. Your first pass will be with the blade set at approximately 1/16th of an inch high, and then you need to raise the blade another 1/16th of an inch for each additional pass until you reach the desired height.
The key to designing cove molding using this technique is to experiment with scrap wood or any inexpensive wood that you might have, until you come up with a shape that you like. Once you have the appropriate curve, mark a line on your table saw indicating the angle that your fence is clamped to. Also, make note of the height of your blade. With this information, you will be able to match the shape of your prototype when it comes time to build your project. What I love about this technique is that it is really versatile enabling you to create a wide variety of custom moldings without the expense of owning a shaper. After you have finished milling the cove, you will need to remove the saw marks. If you use a carbide ripping blade, the cut will be slightly rougher than a 40 tooth carbide combination blade, but either way, the marks can be easily removed with a sharp scraper. Most likely you will be using a gooseneck scraper, but there are other curve shapes available and you can always customize your own by grinding the shape you need. If you are not familiar with using a scraper, you can wrap some coarse sandpaper around a dowel or even a piece of PVC pipe, anything that matches the contour, and use that to sand the piece smooth. I like to work my way up, sanding the piece to 320 to smooth the wood and to bring out the clarity of the grain and figure.