French Curves for Woodworking – Home Decor Online Tips

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The gigantic French curves of Veritas. Notice how large they are relative to the Taylor Toolworks block plane.

In the world of computer-aided design (proto-CAD), drafters had to rely on a series of sinuous patterns when connecting two or more points via a graceful arc or curve. Where a simple arch, drawn with a compass, could not make the cut, the designer would have pulled out the sinuous shapes and tried to find one curve among the many that would allow an elegant sweep to connect point A to B.

French curves also have their obvious place in woodworking. From helping to scale the curves of the part on the drawing board to the full scale layout of the parts on the warehouse. Although some carpenters have large printers that can produce full-scale drawings that can be cut and transferred to wood, most of us still have to pull out a pencil, ruler, compass, and French curve pattern to do the work .

In recent years, two great French curved sets have made their debut on the market. These tools, one made by Lee Valley and the other by Crucible tools, an offshoot of Lost Art Press, proved to be a good fit for our curvy needs.

The Lee Valley French Plywood Curves they are colossal. In fact, I have never seen such formidable curves in my entire career as a designer. Their size is actually their big plus as you can rely on them to draw those Queen, Chippendale, and the rest of the classic canon curves right onto your mahogany or plywood backing. Take a curve and try to find an elegant sweet sweep to connect the design landmarks.

In the image above, you can see the Veritas set we purchased for our woodworking program. We use the colossus model to set curves on all kinds of projects, but the most requested is to draw an ellipse for the seats of our stools. Teaching the technique of drawing an ellipse with a string tied between the nails is fun and practical but when time is short I prefer to show students the curves and explain how to use them.

The Veritas set also includes a small set of curves to be used primarily for scale drawings.

First, we draw the long axis of the ellipse, then we intersect it with the short axis of the ellipse.

Then we look for an appropriate curve to draw the quadrant of the ellipse. When looking for the right curve, aim for a curvature that becomes tangent to the rectangle that frames the ellipse. In other words, each of the quadrants must flow smoothly as it connects to its neighbor.

Once you find a curve, be sure to demarcate it. Many use pencil tick marks at the start and end points of the curve, but I prefer to use masking tape that I fold over on the other side of the model. I do this to save myself the hassle of erasing the pencil lines later.

The duct tape technique is also very useful once the model is turned upside down to draw the mirror face. To make it clearer which of the edges of the duct tape marks the end of the curve, you can cut and affix small triangles of duct tape or simply use a marker and indicate the relevant edge of the duct tape.

After the four quadrants have been drawn, we peel off the masking tape and fold up the models for future use. My final tip: Lee Valley models are incomplete, so I would recommend finishing them with some sort of protective oil or paint.


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