Make a Monogrammed Mirror

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This article is from Issue 68 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Personalized gifts reflect your craftsmanship and creativity

During my first few months as an apprentice at the JD Lohr School of Woodworking, I was assigned the job of making a few unique hand mirrors for a local salon. Being new to the craft, it was an intimidating task, but a perfect project because it demanded imagination and a wide range of core machine- and hand-tool skills. When the mirrors proved a hit, I was inspired to make a few more as gifts. They were well received, and provided the perfect use for small boards of figured wood I had squirreled away.

As my woodworking chops developed, so did my ambitions. Inspired by classic, Victorian-style mirrors, I wanted to create more unique versions by adding personalized details. My love of the plunge router dovetailed nicely with this plan. I started using V-groove bits to cut initials and tidings into my mirrors to create gifts and keepsakes for holidays, weddings, and special occasions.

Making a mirror doesn’t take long, and it’s fun to play with handle shapes of various sorts. You’ll find the mirror itself to be a well-loved gift. Add someone’s initials to it, and you’ve just given them something they can’t get anywhere else, and that carries handmade memories of you.

Drilling on the fly. Use a fly-cutter to drill a hole in each of three 1⁄4"-thick panels to create router templates with diameters of 31⁄4", 5", and 61⁄4".

Play with the profile and rout the recess

Using a 7⁄8"-thick board, lay out the mirror profile and 61⁄16"-diameter mirror recess. Then template-rout the 1⁄4"-deep recess. My router base won’t span a 6" opening, so I use three successively larger templates in turn, attaching them to the workpiece with double-faced tape.

Rout the recess. Outfit a plunge router with a 1⁄2"-diameter plunge bit and a 3⁄4" OD template guide. Beginning with the smallest diameter template, rout out the innermost section of the mirror recess. Follow up with the two larger templates in turn to complete the work.

Buying mirror.

It’s important to buy good quality mirror and to get it before starting work on a piece, in case there is any significant size variation. I order 6"-diameter double-strength (3⁄32") mirror with eased edges. This thickness safely sits a bit below the surface in a 1⁄4"-deep recess. Beveled-edge mirror can add a nice touch, but remember that it slightly reduces the effective viewing area.

Sand the bevel. Apply consistent downward pressure at the perimeter of the mirror while rotating it slowly.
Smooth handling. Shape the handle using a spokeshave, rasp, file, and sandpaper.

Install the mirror and you’re done. Apply a 11⁄2"-dia. dollop of mirror adhesive in the center of the recess, and press the mirror in place.

Shape, finish, and install the mirror

Bandsaw the profile, then smooth the edges using drum sanders. Lay out a 1- to 11⁄2"-wide bevel on the back using a compass. If the mirror is to be monogrammed, make sure to allow enough room for the letters.

Shape the bevel on a stationary belt sander. Do this before routing any monogram to prevent intruding into the lettering area. Then clamp the head in a vise and shape the handle. I do the work with a spokeshave, rasp, and stationary belt sander.

(If monogramming, leave the handle flat until afterward to allow clamping the piece when routing.)

When you’re done with the shaping, sand everything through 220 grit, and apply finish.

Shine a light. Projecting your design onto the mirror body allows you to easily amend and size the lettering as needed so that you can trace it directly onto your workpiece. You’re going to want to practice your routing, so lay out the letters on scrap in addition to your mirror.

Monogramming a mirror

Freehand routing of letters might seem intimidating, but it’s just a matter of using the right bits and getting comfortable with the process. Stylized lettering is available in books, online (search for “monograms” for starters), and from other sources. I use Photoshop, which offers a wide variety of fonts and allows great manipulation of them. However, other programs are available. When choosing letters for routed monograms, I prefer lettering that isn’t too detailed and that doesn’t contain a lot of fine lines. I’ve tried various methods for transferring the letters to the wood. By far, the best is to use a projector hooked up to a computer to display the letters on the mirror back, which I clamp upright in a bench vise. An alternative is to use good old-fashioned carbon paper. Whatever method you use, make sure your lines are crisp and clear. (When marking dark woods, I use a white pencil.)

V-tool for the job. 60° and 90° V-groove router bits are great for lettering, producing nice shadows and definition. To create letters that vary in line weight, avoid bits that create a flat at the bottom of the cut.

Warm up on a practice board

Before cutting into your finished project, always warm up by working out your routing maneuvers on scrap, using the same type of wood as your mirror. It’s important to use a smooth-plunging router that does not lock by default, allowing you to plunge and raise the bit easily. Wax and buff the subbase to minimize travel friction. Set up bright task lighting in an adjustable fixture, or use onboard lighting. (I tape a “Mighty Bright” sewing machine light to my router.) Install a bit, and practice routing the letters. Don’t start routing your hand mirror until you’re comfortable with the process.

Step 1: Working near the end of a section, plunge to a depth that spans the full width of the letter. Then, with the router off, set the router’s depth-stop to that point.
Step 2: Rout any serifs first, beginning at the outermost point, and plunging to full depth while moving inward.
Step 3: Focusing on one discrete section of a letter at a time, rout an initial shallow groove, which is more easily controlled than a deep cut. This will be your guide groove. 
Step 4: Follow up the initial guide groove with a series of subsequently deeper passes until reaching full depth.

Rout the real thing, and then clean up

When you’re ready to monogram your hand mirror, prepare some support scrap. Either tape or clamp it and the mirror to the bench, or work on a nonskid pad to keep everything in place. When you’re done routing, clean up as necessary with a chisel.

Local support. When routing the letters, closely surround the mirror with scraps of the same thickness to keep the router from tipping.

Chisel cleanup. Use razor-sharp chisels to pare away any inconsistencies or clean up rough spots.

Tools & Supplies:

See Buyer’s Guide on Page 66.


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