This weekend I finished the most time-consuming part of my sliding French door project — cutting out and sanding the fretwork panels that will go over the glass. On Friday, I showed you my inspiration for these doors.
Evidently that building is somewhere in Las Vegas. Anyone recognize it?
Anyway, I took that design, scaled it down to fit my doors, and made the circles a little narrower and lighter looking, and this is what I ended up with.
I’m pretty excited about how they turned out! And compared to cutting out and sanding the panels, the rest of the process to finish up those doors should be a breeze. I still need to strip the doors, fill the door knob holes, do some other wood filling and caulking, and then prime and paint everything.
So here’s how I made the panels…
I started with a piece of 1/2-inch MDF. MDF comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets just like plywood does. I had a guy at Home Depot cut the sheet of MDF into two pieces that would fit into my French doors (i.e., the same size as the glass I ordered).
To create my design, I started by marking off a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the panel. I just used a piece of 1/2-inch trim that I purchased to go on these doors, and I lined it up with the edge of the panel and traced.
Then I drew the circles. I searched for the largest circular object I could find and ended up using the hand rail from the wheel of one of Matt’s old wheelchairs. It still wasn’t quite large enough, so I used a hole saw and cut a circle of wood to use along the edge of the hand rail. I put my pencil into the hole in the circle of wood, and ran it along the edge of the hand rail all the way around to add an extra couple of inches to the circle.
Now obviously, if you don’t have a large circular item, you can just make a pattern out of paper, plywood, MDF, or cardboard using the old nail/string/pencil method. Also, for this particular design, you really only need half of a circle. You can see above where I marked the halfway point with painters tape, and those are the marks that I lined up with the border I marked on the panel.
Once I got the circles drawn on one side of the panel, it looked like this…
And after I added the circles to the other side, it looked like this…
Now here’s the kicker. Those lines just gave me the basic design, but didn’t actually show me where to cut. In order to create my cut lines, I had to make a small pattern the width that I wanted my circle design (1.25 inches). I made my small pattern out of cardboard, and I marked the top and bottom center, and also the center point on the left and right sides. I also placed an arrow to indicate the top of the pattern.
And then using this pattern, I lined up the top and bottom center marks on the original lines I drew, and then placed small marks on the left and the right sides of the pattern right at the lines I drew marking the center of the sides.
And then I went back and connected the lines. These new lines gave me my cut lines.
And here’s how it looked with all of my cut lines drawn onto the panel.
And finally I was ready to cut out the design. I started by using my drill with a large bit on it (large enough to create a hole that the jigsaw blade would fit into), and I drilled pilot holes in all of the sections that needed to be cut out.
In order to cut designs like this with a jigsaw, I always use what I call a “detail blade.” This is just my word for it. If you go to the home improvement store and look for something labeled “detail blade” for a jigsaw, you won’t find it. But here’s what you need to look for. The regular blade is on the left, and the detail blade (curve blade) is on the right. You can see that the blade on the right is smaller, narrower, and has more teeth.
Here’s what you’ll look for on the package. In terms of the speed at which it cuts, it’ll be rated the slowest. You can see on the scale from tortoise to rabbit, it’s rated a 1 (the slowest). And in terms of the cleanliness/smoothness of the cut, it’s going to have a higher rating. It’ll also have more teeth per inch than regular wood blades, and somewhere on the package it will probably say “curved”, meaning that it’s small enough to cut curves and designs with it.
Now as far as cutting out a design with a jigsaw, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, you will not ever be able to cut out the whole piece in one direction, not even with a detail blade on your saw. (For that type of super detailed cutting, you would need a scroll saw.)
So I started at the pilot hole, and worked my way around the in a counter clockwise direction. From the hole, I got over to the cut line as soon as possible, and then I followed that line all the way to the corner. Then I backed up, curved around, got to the cut line as soon as possible, and cut all the way to the second corner.
I continued doing that — backing up, curving around, moving to the cut line, and cutting all the way to the next corner — until I had worked my way around the entire section, and then I removed the center piece.
Then I used my jigsaw in the other direction to make the cuts needed to clean up the corners.
The main piece of advice I can give regarding cutting out detailed decorative pieces with a jigsaw is to remember this. You control the saw. It doesn’t control you.
I know that sounds like very basic, common sense type of advice, right? And if you’re the one doing the watching while someone else is doing the cutting, it seems very clear. But if you’re anything like me, once you get that saw in your hand, and you press the button to turn it on, and that blade starts going 100 miles an hour, you’ll feel this natural compulsion to push the jigsaw forward as fast as it’ll go. And believe me, it will go super fast through MDF, regardless of the fact that the blade is labeled “slow”. And once you start going too fast, it’ll rattle you, you’ll get outside of your cut lines, and you’ll mess up your project. I speak from experience here.
So the main thing is that you just have to fight that natural urge to push the jigsaw forward quickly. You have to make yourself go slowly. Once you get the feel of it, and learn how to have full control over the speed at which the saw cuts, you’ll be able to cut out detailed designs.
Now do keep in mind that it’s still a jigsaw. Jigsaws don’t cut super detailed patterns (again, for really intricate designs, you would need a scroll saw), and they don’t cut perfectly. So once your design is cut out, you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time sanding the item to give it a finished look. I think each panel took me about an hour and a half just to sand. I did so using 150-grit sandpaper, and I sanded it by hand. Any kind of electric sander is way too powerful for something like this, so sanding by hand is the way to go.
I hope those pointers help! The main thing is that you have to practice. Just get out a scrap piece of MDF or plywood, draw a design on it, and give it a go. If you mess up, don’t get discouraged! Just try again. And again. It took me a while to get the hang of it, so I know you can too!
I’m really excited to get these doors finished! I think they just might turn out better than I expected.