Build an Arched-Top Wall Mirror with Curved Drawers

Heirloom Project: This cherry and birdseye maple wall mirror will look great in a front entrance or hallway. It may appear to be a challenging project, but the construction is quite manageable when you break it down into smaller steps.  

Arched-Top Wall Mirror

Build an Arched-Top Wall Mirror with Curved Drawers



Photos by David Bedrosian; Illustration by Len Churchill

INFO:DIFFICULTY – 4/5
LENGTH/TIME – 3/5
COST – 3/5

SPECIAL TECHNIQUES – 
WORKING WITH CURVED PARTS
I was able to mill the mirror frame pieces from a single board of 4/4 cherry. I chose two straight-grained sections for the stiles and a section with cathedral grain for the bottom rail. For the most uniform look, a single long section of lumber should be crosscut in half to form the arch, so the grain flows between the two boards. Mill all the boards to the same thickness, aiming for between 3/4" and 7/8" thick. Cut the stiles to the finished dimensions, but leave the bottom rail a little long for now. The 1/2" and 1/4" stock required for the drawer box can be milled from a piece of 6/4 cherry. Leave the pieces slightly thicker than needed, and let them stabilize while you build the mirror frame.

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Start at the top

The two boards forming the arch are joined at an angle of about 147°, so set your mitre gauge to half that angle, and crosscut one end of each board. The angle does not have to be exact as long as the outline of the arch fits within the boards when they’re joined together. The joint involves mostly end-grain, so it is strengthened with a 1/8" thick spline. I used maple for the spline to add contrast with the cherry and to tie in with the birdseye maple drawer fronts. Do a dry fit to be sure the clamps pull the joint together tightly and that it stays flat on the bench, then glue the parts together.
 

Make the arch templates

Use a router trammel to make separate 12" × 26"-wide MDF templates for the inside and outside curves of the top arch. Make the curved edges longer than needed, so the router bearing registers on the template before it starts cutting the workpiece.
 
The inside curve template is used first. Temporarily clamp the arch to this template, being sure the curve fits inside the two boards and the unglued ends overhang by about the same amount. Trace the inner curve onto the arch, then check that you have the 2-1/2" width required for the entire arch. Adjust the position of the arch as needed and glue two 6"-long stop blocks, each with toggle clamps, onto the template to register the arch in this position.
 
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Clamp the Arch – Clamping blocks are glued to the top edge of the boards to provide clamping pressure that is perpendicular to the joint. These blocks are cut away after the clamps are removed.
 
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Inner and Outer Templates for the Arch – MDF templates are used to rout the inner and outer curves on the arch. The inner template has a radius of 15-3/4", while the outer template has a radius 2-1/2" larger.
 

Cut the baseline of the arch

Before cutting the inside curve, lay out the cutline that defines the two straight bottom edges of the arch. These edges will be glued to the top of the stiles using the same spline setup as before. Marking the cutline can be a bit of a juggling act, since the centre joint in the arch needs to remain vertical while the position of the horizontal cutline must be adjusted to get the 17" inside width of the mirror frame. To aid with the marking, I made a simple right angle jig using CA glue to butt a 6"-long scrap to the middle of a 24"-long scrap. Label one edge of the 6" board as the reference edge, and mark 8-1/2" out on both sides. Slide the jig up and down on the arch until the 17" marks intersect with both sides of the previously traced curved pencil line, while ensuring that the reference edge is aligned with the glued joint. Clamp the jig in place and pencil in the cutline on both pieces of the arch.
 
A simple sled is required to hold the arch in place, as it rides against the table saw rip fence. You could use the inside curve template that you just completed, but I recommend making a separate sled, similar to a tapering jig, to hold the assembly while the jig runs against the rip fence. This will prevent cutting the extra leading and trailing curved edges from the original template. With the rip fence set about 7" from the blade, rip a scrap of 24"-long MDF to give a reference edge. Align this reference edge with the cutline on the arch and glue stop blocks to the MDF to reference the location of the arch. Add toggle clamps and run the assembly through the table saw. Use the same slotting setup on the router table to mill the slots to join the arch to the top of the stiles.

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Mark the Baseline of the Arch – Using a simple right angle jig, Bedrosian marks the bottom of the arch so the width after cutting the curve will be 17".
 
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Cut and Slot the Bottom of the Arch – Once the bottom edges of the upper rail assembly have been cut, they are slotted for splines that secure the arch to the stiles.
 

Rout the arch and assemble the frame

At this point, you’re ready to machine the inner curve on the arch. Band saw close to the line, and then use the template and a template bit to rout to the line. To avoid tearout, you can rout one half of the arch going downhill and then flip the workpiece over and rout the other half so it’s also being machined downhill. Once routed, measure the inside width at the bottom of the arch, and cut the bottom rail and another scrap piece to this exact length (approximately 17"). The scrap piece will be used as a spacer when gluing the mirror frame.
 
I glued the mirror frame together in two steps starting with the bottom rail and the stiles. Place the spacer board near the top of the stiles to keep them parallel. The use of dominos or dowels to join the bottom rail and stiles helps ensure the lower portion of the frame is perfectly aligned. Once dry, glue the top arch to the stiles, ensuring the inside edge of each stile is aligned with the start of the curve. The splines will be trimmed later.


Rout the top curve using the template. Start by marking the 2-1/2" arch width near both ends and at the centre. Align the template with these marks and trace a line for the entire curve. After checking that the top arch will be a consistent 2-1/2" wide, attach stop blocks and toggle clamps to the template. Band saw close to the line, and finish the edge on the router table with a pattern bit. You can now cut away the ‘ears’ that are sticking out at the top of the frame.
 
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Glue the Arch to the Stiles – Bedrosian uses a spacer block between the two vertical stiles to ensure they’re parallel and square to the rail. Angled clamping blocks are required so the clamps do not slip as the arch is pulled tight to the top of the stiles.
 

Rabbet to Accept the Mirror

The depth of the rabbet should leave about 5/16" of the frame showing, which will remove the spline material. Cut a backer board from a piece of 1/4" Masonite to match the opening inside the frame; use this to get a piece of 5-mm-thick mirror cut to fit.
 

Make the drawer box templates

Next, create the templates for the drawer box. The top and bottom use a template with a 32-1/2" radius cut with a router trammel. To set the centre line for the trammel, mark a perpendicular line half way along the long edge of the template and extend this line back to the pivot point. Rout the curve, which will be centered on this line. Glue stop blocks 11-7/32" on either side of the centre line and 4-3/4" back from the top of the curve to reference the workpiece. Cut the top and bottom pieces to finished length and use the template to lay out and rout the front curve.
 
The two 1/2-”-thick outside dividers use stopped sliding dovetails, while the two 1/4"-thick inside dividers use stopped dados. Both joints are cut using a bushing guided router that rides in different slots in the 1/4" plywood template. The alignment of the drawer box depends on the accuracy of this template, so take your time here. The width of the slots should precisely match the bushing.
 
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Rout the Outside Curve - Once the frame is assembled, the top of the arch is routed flush with the template.
 

Dovetails and dados for the dividers

The 1/4"-deep dovetails are routed first. Choose a dovetail bit that is narrower than 1/2" at the tip. The angle of the dovetail bit is not important. Position the workpiece against the stops in the template, and clamp the assembly to your bench to rout the dovetails. Rout the dados using a 3/16" spiral bit. Ensure the dados and dovetails are the same depth.
 
Cut all of the dividers to 3-3/4" long, but leave them a few inches wider than required; they will be cut to size after the joinery is complete. To prevent tearout when routing, use a marking gauge to scribe a line around the top and bottom of each divider. Be sure the marking gauge is set to the same depth as the dovetails and dados routed in the top and bottom.
 
Mount the same dovetail bit in your router table, and use scraps to set the bit height until it splits the scribe line. Move on to setting the fence position, which may take a few tries. Be sure to rout both faces each time you make an adjustment. You want the dividers to slide freely in the dovetail slots, but with no play. Switch to a rabbeting bit for the thinner dividers, and follow the same setup procedure until the inner dividers fit in the dados. Without changing the height of the rabbeting bit, retract the fence to increase the depth of cut, and rout a notch about 1/2" deep at the front of each divider. This notch is required since the dividers extend past the front of the stopped dados and dovetails. Finally, reduce the depth of cut to about 1/8", and rout a rabbet on the back edge of the top and bottom of the drawer box for the back panel. Be careful to start and stop the rabbet so it does not extend past the dovetailed slots. You do not want to see the rabbet when looking at the drawer box from either side. Leave this router setup in place since you will need it later.
 
The front edge of the dividers should follow the curve of the drawer box. Since the dividers are narrow, a beveled edge will work to approximate this curve. Dry fit the dividers in either the top or the bottom of the drawer box, and use a bevel gauge to determine the angle for each divider. Use your table saw or a hand plane to cut this bevel.
 
Dry fit the four dividers in the top and bottom. Use a ruler to ensure each divider is set back the same 1/4" from the front curve, and carefully mark the back edges and cut the dividers to width. Head back to the router table with the same rabbeting bit setup and mill a rabbet in the outer dividers for the back panel.
 
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Dovetails and Dados – Rout the dovetails and dados using a router with a bushing that runs in the slots in the template. Stop blocks at the back of each slot prevent tearout. The template is upside down in this photo; it’s flipped and secured to the workpiece, then the bushing runs in the slots, allowing the bit to create the groove.
 

Complete the drawer box

The front and side edges of the drawer box are softened with a 49/64"-radius bullnose router bit. Getting a smooth cut on the front edge requires a curved fence and precise setup. Start by routing a 32-1/2"-radius curve on a piece of MDF. The top and bottom of the drawer box should fit tightly against this fence without any gaps. Drill a hole for the router bit near the middle of the curved edge, and attach the fence to your router table. Set the bit height so the profile is centered on the 1/2"- thick stock, then dial in the fence position using scraps with the same radius as the drawer box. Switch to a straight fence and repeat the setup to rout the sides.
 
I recommend pre-finishing the drawer box before it’s assembled. Be sure to mask off all of the joinery, including where the mirror frame will be attached. Assembly is straightforward, but you have to move quickly before the glue sets. Ensure the dividers are square to the base.
 

Prepare templates and wood for the drawers

To assist with making the drawers, cut 1/8"-thick Masonite templates that fit precisely within each drawer opening and have curved fronts to match the drawer box. Draw reference lines 1/4" in from each side to correspond to the drawer sides; the distance between these lines is used to measure the length of each drawer front. The middle drawer front is cut at 90°, but the outer drawer fronts have beveled ends that are measured from the MDF. In my case, the angle was 77°, but this angle does not have to be exact since the drawers will be cut to match the curve of the drawer box.
 
Machine some maple 1" thick for the drawer fronts, 1/4" thick for the drawer sides, and 3/8" thick for the drawer backs. Cut extra to allow for errors. Rip the pieces so they just fit inside the height of the drawer box. The drawers will be hand fit later. Cut each drawer front to the required length and bevel angle, then test the fit, remembering that the sides also need to be inserted in the drawer opening. As with the height, a snug fit is okay. Cut the sides about 1" longer than needed.

 

Curve the inside and outside of the drawers

The inside curve on each drawer front needs to be cut before the drawers are assembled. Position the Masonite template so it covers about 1/16" of the inside corners of the drawer front and trace the curve. Band saw close to the line then smooth the curve. Rout a 1/8"-wide by 1/8"-deep slot on the inside of the drawer front and on the sides to hold the drawer bottom. Glue and clamp the drawer sides to the drawer front, being sure all three pieces are sitting flat on your bench after you tighten the clamps. This is a weak joint that will be pinned later; be careful not to stress it.
 
Once the glue dries, slide each drawer in its opening and mark for the front face of the drawer. Band saw then smooth this curve. I resawed my own birdseye maple veneer. The trouble with using commercially available veneer is that any inconsistencies in the face of the drawer front will telegraph through the veneer. Thinner veneer may also show the joint between the drawer face and sides.
 
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Curved Fence Guides Workpiece – The top and bottom of the drawer box ride along a curved fence to apply a bullnose profile. Adjust the fence position so you see a very thin flat section at the tip of the profile. This will be sanded away before finishing.
 
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Mark Each Divider - The inner dividers are marked at the rabbet in the back of the top and bottom. The outer dividers extend to the back edge.
 

Add the bottom and back

Insert each drawer so it’s flush with the front of the dividers, and mark and cut the sides to length. Cut the bottom panel to width and curve it to fit inside the slot in the drawer front. Cut the back to length and glue each drawer together. Since the bottom is made from plywood, it can be glued on all four edges to add strength to the drawers. To further strengthen the drawers, I drilled and pinned the sides to the front and back using shop-made 1/8" dowels. The back holes are drilled at a 90° angle, but the front holes must be drilled at an angle to match the curvature of the drawer front.
 
Hand plane each drawer so it opens and closes smoothly. You should account for the relative humidity to determine how much gap is needed between the top of the drawer and the drawer box. For example, in the summer when the weather is humid, you can leave a fairly small gap, since the drawer will shrink in height in the drier winter.
 
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Cut and Slot the Inside of the Drawer Fronts – Bedrosian glues a simple right angle guide to the outside face of the drawer front so it stays upright as he cuts the curve. Once the face is smoothed, he uses a curved fence to rout a slot for the bottom panel.

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Glue the Veneer – Make a pair of curved clamping cauls for each drawer to provide uniform clamping pressure. Let the glue dry overnight before trimming the veneer flush.
 
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Curve the Drawer Front – Use the top of the drawer box to trace the front curve. Aim for a thickness of 1/2" after the veneer is applied.
 

Custom drawer pulls

I experimented with several drawer knobs and pulls before settling on the design shown here. You could opt for a store-bought pull instead of these custom pulls. Make each pull from a piece of 3/8"-thick cherry about 4" square. Rout the front curve using the template for the drawer box, and then switch back to the curved router fence previously used for the bullnose profile. Use a 1/4" roundover bit on the front edge of the pulls. Switch to a 3/4"-diameter core box bit and retract the fence by 3/8" to rout the grip portion of the pull. Use a flush trim bit to rout the inside curve. Cut each handle to 2-3/8" length, and flare the ends before the handles are glued and screwed in place.
 
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Custom Drawer Pulls – The pulls are left oversize to round over the front edge and to rout a shallow groove. After band sawing away most of the waste, the inside edge is routed flush with a template that matches the curved drawer front. The pull is only 5/8" wide, so hold it down with toggle clamps to keep your fingers away from the cutter.
 

Finishing it Up

With the hard work done, it’s time to glue the drawer box to the bottom of the mirror frame and to add a back panel. I used a pair of dominos to keep the frame centered on the drawer box, though dowels or biscuits would also work. Cut a 1/8"-thick plywood back panel to fit tightly inside the rabbeted drawer box. To allow air to enter and escape as the drawers are opened and closed, I suggest drilling a 1/2" hole through the back near the middle of each drawer opening. Fasten the completed mirror to the wall using an aluminum French cleat (Lee Valley #00F17.20) screwed to the back of the arch. For added stability, drive a pair of screws into the wall through the back of the drawer box. Finally, apply your favourite finish. In my case, I used several coats of amber shellac and followed up by wiping on polyurethane and wax, buffing to a satin finish with #0000 steel wool.

 










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