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I saw this garden bench plan set from Rockler and wanted to try my hand at doing a bench like this for our front porch. Being mostly a protected area I figure with the proper finish it should hold up well under our Virginia weather conditions. The house faces north so it will have no direct sun exposure as well.

I haven't figure out what wood I'll use just yet and so far I've narrowed my choices down to availability of the wood itself by thickness. The arms and legs are 2-1/4" thick which will require either 10/4 wood or a glued up set equal to that thickness. My local wood yard has a fair selection of woods but not many in those thicknesses.

The plans came with a set of cardboard templates to be used to trace out the shapes on 1/4" material, in my case MDF, so I proceeded with that and then took them to the band saw having set it up for a 1/8" blade and the guide bushing. I cut close to the line trying not to cut to the line but usually was maybe 1/16-1/8" off the line.

After that I took the pieces to my Triton TSPS450 Oscillating Spindle Sander, kinda wish I had gotten the TSPST450 model but oh well, to sand down to the lines. At this point I realized that MDF when sanded like this will curl at the edge like a paper shaving and obstruct the lines. So I realized I needed to clean off the edges as I proceeded or risk going over the lines. This worked great on the curved parts as you could pivot the piece as you sanded but the straighter pieces were a bit more of a challenge trying to get to the line as the thickness of the waste, from the edge to the line, varied.

In some places I found myself trying to sand with more pressure, futher from the line, while moving the piece side to side. This resulted in a few pieces having a rolling feel when you ran your fingers back and forth to inspect. I used the smallest sander size due to the tight curves transition to straight edge but not sure that was the best way to proceed. The last sanding pass was to smooth any dips by making even passes lightly over the entire area. The dips are barley noticeable and can be sanded out on the final wood pieces.

So in the end I have a few questions. Is MDF the better choice for making these templates? What about my procedure could have been changed to make this easier? How do you choose which sanding drum diameter is best to use and which grit? I'm not unhappy with the results but maybe could have improved on the process. Had I gotten the Triton TSPST unit with the belt sander ability it may have been a bit easier when doing the straight parts of the templates but then again I guess I could have used the sanding disk on my Shopsmith for the straight parts but didn't think of that until afterwards of course. I never got around to see what plans I could find to build a stand for my old Sears belt sander, maybe I need to look into that as well.
 

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Theo
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Dunno how I missed this. I do not use MDF for anything. If I was given some, I am sure I could find a use for it, but not about to buy any. What you call templates, I call masters. I'm sure you read this before, but I'll post it anyway for newbies, they might like it. I lay out my pattern on 1/2" plywood. Then cut closely to the line, then I sand right down to the line. Once I get a perfect piece, I glue that to another piece of 1/2" plywood, that has been rough cut to the pattern, then rout it, using the finished half as a guide. I do not use double stick tape, rubber cement, etc., to hold the piece to be routed to the master, I nail them together, so drill pilot hole around the parameter of the master. Tack them together, rout, viola a perfect clone of the master. Repeat with all parts. I like the 1" thick master, as it gives you a really good hold, unlike 1/4". Works for me.
 

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It makes good disks that can be charged with buff compounds for polishing metal work.

I picked up [free] pieces just for that.

Of course, it's GREAT template material too (as this thread indicates).


Dunno how I missed this. I do not use MDF for anything. If I was given some, I am sure I could find a use for it, but not about to buy any. What you call templates, I call masters. I'm sure you read this before, but I'll post it anyway for newbies, they might like it. I lay out my pattern on 1/2" plywood. Then cut closely to the line, then I sand right down to the line. Once I get a perfect piece, I glue that to another piece of 1/2" plywood, that has been rough cut to the pattern, then rout it, using the finished half as a guide. I do not use double stick tape, rubber cement, etc., to hold the piece to be routed to the master, I nail them together, so drill pilot hole around the parameter of the master. Tack them together, rout, viola a perfect clone of the master. Repeat with all parts. I like the 1" thick master, as it gives you a really good hold, unlike 1/4". Works for me.
 

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If you were going to make them from plywood about the only one I would trust would be baltic birch. Others often have voids which you'd have to patch. MDF is pretty good because it is easy to sand and has uniform density so it doesn't change as you move back and forth. The last little bit I would hand sand, probably using something hard and flat with the sandpaper wrapped around it. I use the biggest drums I can as they are less likely to dig in and use around 80-100 grit. If you plan on using them a few times you may want to harden the edges with super glue or wipe on a thin coat of regular wood glue. Some of the pros I've read use plastics for jigs that will get used a lot.
 

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I use either 1/4 or 1/2 inch MDF, whatever I have available. I prefer the 1/2 inch since I feel it's more forgiving. When sanding it takes a bit more time due to it's thickness so I'm less likely to cut into the layout line. I always hand sand the last little bit. This helps to remove any waviness from the edge which I invariably have.

When my first grandchild turned 1 year old I made a 2 step step stool with the profile of a rubber duck. I used 1/2 inch MDF for the 6 template pieces. The first one was my prototype which I still have. I really made for one for each house hold of which there are 4. I decided to do the same when my first great niece was born. In the fall I will be making another, and probably my last one, for another great niece. So, so far I've made 6 with one to go. I'm still using the original set of 1/2 inch MDF templates and they're still in very good condition.

If I were going into any kind of volume production, I'd either use Baltic Birch or Acrylic. However, I find that I can cut and sand MDF much faster than other materials and it's easy to patch if I nick it. If I totally screw it up it's cheap enough that I don't feel bad about tossing it and starting again. The down side, and this is a big one, is the dust. MDF saw dust gets all over the place without good dust collection, and sometimes with. I always wear an N95 mask and goggles when working with MDF and immediately clean up the shop when I'm through with it.
 

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If you were going to make them from plywood about the only one I would trust would be baltic birch. Others often have voids which you'd have to patch.
I don't buy the cheapest plywood out there, nor the most expensive. I'm somewhere in the middle, of a quality with no voids, make sure of that before I buy. So far, have had no issues, and I've been doing it this way for at least 25 years. As long as the edges sand well, no problem. Oh yes, if I want a reverse image, I just flip the master, tack it down, and rout. Remember - I am telling how "I" do it, not that you should do it that way.
 
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