How to make this style corbel?

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Forum topic by intjonmiller posted 06-16-2016 08:56 PM 1129 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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20 posts in 1971 days

06-16-2016 08:56 PM

My sister-in-law asked me to help her make a shelf for their new TV components setup. To match other things in their home, including things I’ve made for them, they want to use knotty alder. But the price (online only) for knotty alder corbels of the size she wants is prohibitive. So I need to figure out how to make them.

This is the style they like, which they found by actually looking at it in person in Home Depot:

Would you start with solid wood (well, laminated for that thickness as I’ve never seen larger than 12/4 alder at either of my suppliers) and carve/route away the excess, or would you add the details as separately milled moldings? I’m open to either approach, but I think I favor the separately milled approach.

In the latter case, how important (both for style and stability) is grain direction? Those details would be much easier to manage with the grain running perpendicular to the main body.

Open to other suggestions as well. This is well outside my expertise, but I’m interested in it as a learning experience. For reference I have a table saw, table-mounted router with INCRA router fence, decent set of router bits, RAS, handheld routers with fixed and plunge bases, and a basic set of planes and chisels (no other carving tools). My brother has a 14” bandsaw I can use, but he only has one blade (I forget the width, but not usable for tight curves, just broad ones). Accomplishing this without buying more tools would be ideal. :)

I also have a brother-in-law with a 2.5 axis Biesse CNC (3-axis capable, but he doesn’t have the CAM software for that). In theory that could be used, but we’ve never used it for anything but sheet goods. Seems impractical to make that work for this project.


4 replies so far

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3165 posts in 2406 days

#1 posted 06-16-2016 10:03 PM

Jon, it looks like it is made from 5 separate pieces. You should be able to make these by making the necessary jigs if you have the appropriate router bits. The center part will probably require some chisel work and/or a lot of sanding. If I were to attempt this, I would try it with poplar first. Then I would have a sense of whether or not to buy the alder. Basswood at $50 might become a very attractive option. FWIW

-- Art

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2528 posts in 1536 days

#2 posted 06-16-2016 10:47 PM

These days, these were probably made with some sort of CNC milling machine. I could envision gluing up 2×6 or even 1×6 boards to get the width you want and cutting the profiles on the bandsaw. Though it might not look like a single piece of wood with knotty alder, depending upon how many knots and where they are. The bandsaw will leave ridges that will have to filed and sanded smooth. Getting the recessed panel look in your example could be a little challenging though you could perhaps cut some custom curved strips on the bandsaw to apply to the sides and face. Those molding joints would be tough to get perfect so you might not be happy with the little gaps that are likely to show. If you can find another method for embellishing the face at least besides the recessed panel look or just stick with a profile you can cut on a bandsaw, it might be easier to pull off.

The molding at the top and bottom can be attached after you have the main shape done. You might be able to make your own on the router table depending upon what profile you use and how large it is. There are lots of tutorials on the web for cutting your own moldings.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Kelly's profile


2092 posts in 3093 days

#3 posted 06-17-2016 01:35 AM

There are several ways to make this. If it were me, I’d take the easy way out and add two pieces shaped with a router for the top and bottom.

As to the middle, a quick run on the band saw and you’re mostly there.

Next, cut the shape for the sides out of a piece of Masonite. Leave a little over, to attach blocks to, so when you drop the template over the corbel, it won’t shift. Now just follow the template with a guide.

The face is a bit harder. You can do the template thing using the band saw to cut a piece that drops on the front. Again, it would be cut out for a template guide and have blocks on the back to keep it from wandering. For this, use a trim router, with its smaller base, but you may want a longer base to allow you to get the center without dropping into the template.

The last won’t get all of it, but it’ll get most of it. From there, a little hand work with chisels and rasps and you’ve made do with what you have.


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20 posts in 1971 days

#4 posted 06-17-2016 04:41 PM

I have LOTS of alder. I make retail displays for a local hardware manufacturer (doorknobs, deadbolts, entry sets, bathroom stuff, etc.) out of alder, so I probably have at least a hundred board feet of scraps I can play with. And from one of my personal projects I have about 15 board feet of 12/4 clear/premium alder. I was at the supplier yesterday and they no longer stock even 12/4 in any grade, but I picked up more than enough 8/4 than I need for the latest order, leaving me plenty to work with in the knotty stuff as well.

So the expense of the material isn’t really an issue. It’s actually quite affordable, at $0.84/bf for the 4/4 standard frame grade, which is as knotty as you can get, or $1.42/bf for the premium frame, which has filled knots and no voids. It’s a beautiful wood (often hard to tell apart from cherry if you aren’t touching or smelling it and it hasn’t been finished yet), it stains very evenly, and it machines easily (the lower density means you would have to try to burn it, unlike cherry which burns if I so much as think about it from the other room).

That also means it’s easy to work with hand tools. It is a very popular option in the mountain west region for kitchen cabinetry, and many companies actually sell it as an upgrade from maple, even though it’s a fraction of the cost. It’s kind of funny, actually.

I made a breadboard end table out of it last fall. My first attempt at that, and it worked rather well. But none of the surfaces I fit by hand were visible when it was done. That’s not the case here, and my hand tool skills are average at best.

I think I’ll try milling it all separately first and glue it up and see what they think. I’m confident that, worst case scenario, I can sell a pair on the local classifieds even if I have to make another set for my sister-in-law. Just beat it up a little and call it “distressed” or “rustic” and people will be clamoring for it. :)

I’m also thinking that maybe instead of the recessed sections I can just add some details with a scratch stock. Maybe a pair of beads on each side of the face and one on each side. Something like that. Like I said, there’s plenty of scrap to play with.

Thanks for helping me think through this one!

- Jon

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