Craftsman-Style Mirror

Use traditional details to create an instant heirloom that will improve the view in any room

This mirror might be just the thing to brighten up a hallway, bedroom, or bath. The design includes details I’ve admired in my favorite Craftsman-style furniture: traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery with proud, exposed pegs, graceful curves, shadow lines created by offset connections, and decorative inlay work. Building your own version is a good opportunity to work on your joinery and template-routing skills, and try out a router accessory designed for making decorative inlays.

Resist the temptation to buy a cheap, 1/8"-thick mirror for this project. Thin, bargain-priced mirrors are more prone to breakage and distortion. Since mirror thickness may vary, order yours ahead of time so that it’s in hand when you’re ready to rabbet the frame.

Good proportions, traditional joinery, and elegant inlay work

In keeping with the Arts and Crafts tradition, I made the parts for this project from clear, quartersawn white oak. The spade inlays are made from clear walnut. Making accurate templates and cutting offset tenons that fit correctly are the keys to success when making this project. The dimensions given here can be changed to fit your mirror to a particular space, but the joinery and installation details should remain the same.

Order of Work

  • Cut parts to finished size.
  • Mortise stiles, then cut offset tenons on rails to fit. 
  • Make the jig, then shape the bottom rail.
  • Make and install the inlay detail.
  • Create peg mortises in stiles.
  • Assemble the frame.
  • Rabbet back of frame for mirror. 
  • Apply finish, install mirror, and hang.

Make the parts for a sturdy frame

Start by milling stock for the stiles, rails, and cap, then cut your parts to final dimensions. Lay out and cut your mortises next. If you don’t have a mortiser like I do, you can mortise the stiles by plunge-routing, or by drilling out the waste and then paring with chisels.

Use some 5/8"-thick scrap stock to help you fine-tune the depth of your cheek cuts when making offset tenons on the table saw. As shown in the photo, the miter gauge guides the workpiece, while the rip fence acts as a stop to set tenon length. Make the top rail’s rear-facing, 1/4"-deep cheek cuts first, so that the back faces of the rails and stiles are flush. Then adjust dado height to creep up on the bottom rail’s 1/8"-deep cheek cut for a snug-fitting tenon. Once the tenon’s thickness is established, finish the joint by making shoulder cuts with the workpiece standing on edge against the miter gauge. 

Bandsaw the bottom rail’s profile to 1/8" outside your layout line, and then complete the curve using a template and top bearing, flush-trim bit as shown.

Centered mortises in stiles. Plunge the ends first, then remove the remaining material with a series of overlapping cuts. Register the front faces of both stiles against the fence to ensure uniform joinery.

Offset tenons in rails. Cut the rear-facing cheeks first, by making one pass with the rail end butted against the fence, and an overlapping pass to remove the remaining waste. Lower the blade and test the cutter height on scrap stock to make sure tenons will fit snugly. Then repeat the two-pass sequence to cut each front cheek. To complete each tenon, stand the rail on edge with the cutter raised to 1⁄4" or 1⁄2" (see drawing, facing page). 

Rout the bottom rail. Build the jig as shown in the drawing. When shaping the bottom rail, avoid chip out by routing one end just past half way, then flip the rail end for end and complete the curve. 

Make the spade template

The ½ × 3 × 35" template matches the width of the stiles, and provides some extra length for clamping. After completing the cutout, attach a stop block to the rear face so that the inlay starts about 6" from the stile’s top end. The template is used for routing the recess and the inlay, so take your time and get it right.

Start at the spade. After transferring the template pattern on to your template stock, bore the top lobes with a 1⁄2"-dia. Forstner bit. Complete the cutout with a jigsaw outfitted with a fresh finish-cutting (10-12-tpi) blade. Leave the pencil line.

Finish with a file. Use a mill file and a draw-filing technique to create smooth template surfaces. Keep the file parallel to the bench as you shave to the line. 

Create an inlay detail with a special bit kit

This inlay kit will make your router even more versatile. It’s designed to work with a template, so your first task is to make one, as shown at left. When it’s time to rout the recess and the inlay, don’t rush your cuts with the tiny bit. Routing the inlay is more difficult than routing the recess, because there’s no margin for error. If the bushing veers away from the template edge, your inlay will be ruined. To avoid hang-ups, try lubricating the base of your plunge router with a product like Bostik Glidecote (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 69). A few practice runs (with the bit retracted) can also also help. 

The most difficult times to control the router are when the bit enters and leaves the wood. I find that it’s easier to achieve a steady start when bushing is “trapped” against a corner or the top-most point of the spade. When you’ve worked your way around the template, raise the bit and turn off the router. It’s smart to prepare some extra inlay stock in case you need a second chance to rout a perfect pass.

TIP: When you buy an inlay set like the one shown here, it’s smart to order an extra 1/8" downcut bit, because this tiny cutter is more fragile than larger bits.

Slow and steady. Adjust cutting depth to 3⁄16". Run the bushing clockwise against the template to cut the perimeter of the recess, using a slow feed rate. Then vacuum out the chips and rout away the rest of the waste.

Practice first. With the bit retracted, make a few clockwise practice passes around the template, so you’ll be sure to keep the bushing in constant contact with the template. Rout the inlay in a single continuous pass. 

Tape, then resaw. Tape over the routed outline to prevent damage, and set the bandsaw fence for a 1⁄4"-thick cut. Run the taped side of the workpiece against the fence to cut each inlay free. 

Install the inlay. Hand-sand a small chamfer along the inlay’s back edges to ease the fit. Apply glue to the recess, then tap the inlay home with a rubber mallet. Use a clamp if you need extra pressure, but place waxed paper over the inlay before clamping a caul over its surface. After the glue dries, sand the surfaces flush with 120-grit sandpaper, then give the stiles and rails a final sanding with 150 grit. 

Assemble the frame, install the mirror, and reflect on a job well done

Four of the frame’s six pegs conceal screws that mount the mirror on the wall (see drawing, p. 24).

I used my hollow chisel mortiser to create the 3/8"-square, 1/4"-deep mortises, but you can drill out your mortises, and square them up with a chisel. Then drill 1/8"-dia. clearance holes for your four installation screws. Size the square pegs to fit your mortises, but cut them so that they stand slightly proud (about 3/16") of the stiles. To finish them off, round the exposed corners with fine sandpaper.

When rabbeting the back to accept the glass, adjust the depth of your rabbeting bit to equal the thickness of your mirror glass plus the thickness of your panel clips. I drill 1/16"-deep holes along the edges of the rabbet to recess my panel clips, so that the mirror frame will fit flat against the wall. Complete the frame by gluing on the cap. Biscuits aren’t necessary for strength here; they just keep the cap aligned during glueup.

Remove the mirror to finish the frame. To give my project the amber hue of antique oak, I applied “Candlelight” stain from General Finishes, and then topped it off with several sprayed-on coats of satin lacquer. Once the finish has dried, reinstall the mirror and mount it on the wall.

Basic assembly. Spread glue sparingly on rail tenons to minimize squeeze-out, then tap joints together with a rubber mallet and clamp them tight. 

Routed rabbets and recessed clips. Routing the full depth of the rabbet in a single pass risks chipping the wood. Avoid this by making several shallow passes instead. Square the corners of the rabbet with a chisel, then drill recesses with a Forstner bit so that your panel clips will sit flush with the back face of the frame.

Mirror hanging help. Since mirrors are heavy, it’s important to hang them correctly. Drive installation screws into studs or other solid framing if you can. When this isn’t possible, drive screws into heavy-duty drywall anchors. Self-drilling plastic anchors like the one shown are easy to install with a cordless drill and Phillips-head bit.

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