Router Masterclass Dovecot

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Here's a project to grace your back garden and hopefully entice those rare visitors, doves, or at the very least, some pigeons. Ever since the Roman Empire, wealthy people have encouraged doves to settle in dovecotes for their eggs, flesh and dung, not to mention the status value of the presence of these beautiful birds that are a symbol of peace and harmony. Some dovecotes were as big as small houses but to enhance your garden, this one is a more typical, down-to-earth example at a size you can afford without a mortgage! It is built of exterior or marine ply with a felted roof and a bird-friendly finish to protect it from the elements. The whole exterior lifts off to give it a spring clean. This project uses template on template as the technique for transferring each type of shape to the overall template, thus meaning you don't have to create lots of original shapes, so avoiding hard work and creeping inaccuracies.

The Jig

1. Accurate laying out is essential, use the drawing over the page for all dimensions. I couldn't find any information about recommended sizes for dovecotes, but the ones shown are suitable. Draw out all positional information on a sheet of 6 or 9mm MDF and then a one-off freehand paper drawing of one of the arch shaped openings.

2. Carefully cut out the paper shape and draw around it on a smallish piece of 6mm ply or MDF. If you run around the shape with your hand in the middle, the pencil cannot run under paper, thus the inner edge of the drawn shape will be a smooth accurate curve. If you flip the paper over and use the same curve again, it must exactly mimic the first shape.

3. Use a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut close to the line, starting with an entrance and exit cut at the point, for which this Makita jigsaw proved perfect. Cutting this way allows the blade to escape, but without any risk of the template flexing when the router runs around the shape. Smooth the arch shape with a woodfile.

4. The spade shape along the bottom edge of the dovecote also starts with a single template. Draw 50mm spaced lines onto a board then, centred on the cross lines, mark a 30mm diameter circle. Now fold the paper arch in half and lay it on the lines as shown and draw around it. Flip it over and draw the other side of the spade template, you will note that it creates a demi-spade shape at each side and not a whole spade. Allow a run-in shape so that the cutter will follow the curves smoothly. Drill the circle out with a 28mm spade bit and bandsaw the curves, then smooth back to the pencil lines with a woodfile.

5. Place the arch template on the previously drawn positional lines on your large template. Pin it in place and use a top bearing-guided cutter on your router, set down and pre-plunged so the bearing will run along your template. A trimmer like the Makita used here is perfect. Move the router to the centre of the arch template ensuring the cutter is clear of the work, rest the base on one edge, switch on and tilt the router slowly to upright so the cutter plunges through the base. Ensure your work is held off the bench so you don't rout your bench! Now move the router to the edge of the template and run around clockwise. Do a complete circuit and the waste should drop away, switch off and lift out the waste piece. Repeat this operation for each arch.

6. Now do the same thing with the spade template. Make sure you place it correctly so you end up with a demi-spade at each end and complete spade shapes in between. Note, the template must have enough space for a half inch diameter top bearing guided cutter to pass through the narrow neck into the circle at the top of the template. Start at one end and work along, machining each shape. This time, starting with a plunge cut is not required, of course. It is very gratifying to see each spade appear as it is accurately formed.

7. Repeat the spade operation on the intended end jig. By using two small templates we have created two larger full area templates. From these you can make not just one dovecote but as many as you wish, of course.

The cutters

8. We used router cutters from the extensive Makita range, a top bearing-guided cutter, bottom-guided template cutter, point and bearing guided bevel cutter.

Making it

9. This dovecote consists of two essential parts. The main carcass and roof are fixed together and must be able to lift off the back which is a separate structure and fixed to the wall. Start by cutting the front and ends to width but leave overlength and square. Set up a V-groove cutter in the router table but remove the fence, as it won't allow for the correct distance for all the grooves. Instead clamp a batten in place as a fence at 100mm in for the first groove. Do a test cut on a spare piece first and when you are satisfied the cut depth is correct, machine the first groove.

10. Turn the board around and do a repeat cut at the same distance. You can now do this with all the boards. The V-grooves on the carcass ends are complete but the front will need more grooves as it is wider. Reset the batten at 200mm and repeat this exercise on the front board. You have now created a tongue and groove effect on all these boards apart from their edges. These take one half of the groove so keep the cutter height set but move the batten across so the cutter will create a recess in the batten half its diameter. Now machine the edges so they match the V-grooves. The front meeting corners are mitred together so these edges also need machining with the V-groove cutter.

11. Next pin the template on the front board, remove the template and jigsaw the arch shapes starting through a drilled hole and cut about 3mm in from the lines. Do the same with the spade shapes. Repeat this procedure with the ends, so all these components are ready to machine.

12. Next pin the template on the front board, remove the template and jigsaw the arch shapes starting through a drilled hole and cut about 3mm in from the lines. Do the same with the spade shapes. Repeat this procedure with the ends, so all these components are ready to machine

13. Now repeat the operation this time machining the spade shapes. Work carefully around the shape particularly the small circular cutouts. Run around a second time to ensure the shape exactly follows the template.

14. Machine the bevel on the meeting ends of the two roof sections. This is done on the router table using a bevel cutter and batten on the table to get the required angle. Do not let the cutter remove the entire edge as it will cause the edge to be tapered or uneven as it gets machined.

15. Now pin the sides to the front of the dovecote and the roof to the sides using exterior glue along the long meeting edges. Make sure they are perpendicular to the front. Pin and glue battens inside the corners to increase their strength. Leave to set after removing any surplus glue.

16. Each ledge for the dove openings is a semi-circle and is bandsawn out to shape then sanded. After that a small radius is run around the curved edges. Once machined, these are biscuit jointed to the front of the dovecote flush with the bottom of each arch. NB, it makes sense to cut the biscuits onto a long piece of ply and then cutting out the shapes afterwards.

17. The bottom floor position is marked around the inside of the dovecote. It has to fit around the front corner reinforcement battens and allow for the removable back panel which is required for cleaning the dovecote out periodically. The top floor sits on small battens. We planed up with Makita's bench top planer, and which can be pulled out using a fingerpull.

18. The dovecote is now fully assembled ready for sanding and applying a full gloss paint system.