How to Curve a Brace by Hand

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Murray Timber Framing LLC

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Seattle, Washington

 

Curved braces change the feel of a frame, as shown by the two drawings below. Straight braces give a utilitarian or barn like feel to a building where as curved braces give a more pleasing, refined feeling. The eye tends to easily follow the sweep of the curve upward into the frame. Notice the braces are often only slightly curved and only on one side. It is surprising how much difference this slight change makes to the over all effect of a frame.

The question is: How do you lay out and cut a curved brace with hand tools?
The quick, easy way to curve a brace is to use a band saw, but what do you do if a band saw is not available?
Curves can also be cut with a chain saw, but that is another topic.

These braces are 4X8 with the arch reducing them to 4X6 in the middle.

These straight braces are 4X6.

A distance is measured in from both ends of the brace (usually 3" to 6"). At the mid line a distance is laid out perpendicular to the brace (usually 1.5" to 2"). A flexible stick is used to create a pleasing curve joining the three points which is drawn on both sides. If the resulting curve does not look right, adjust the lay out and redraw. Surprisingly, lay out dimensions for very large braces and small braces are quite similar (it is generally not necessary, or desirable, to reduce the brace width by more then 2" to create the desired effect).

A circular saw is used to cut down almost to the line at several places along the curve to make wood removal easier. Don't forget to reduce the depth of cut on the saw as you work outward:).

A good place to cut brace curves is on a timber (timbers are stiff and heavy enough to keep from moving). It saves time and effort if time is taken to set the work at a comfortable height. Clamp a block to the work platform as a stop to keep the brace from moving. Using a chisel with the bevel down, work down the grain to the bottom of the curve then...

...turn the brace around and work down the grain again. The waste wood between the saw cuts will (should...hopefully) break off easily.

Be careful (go slow and easy) where the grain flattens out at the bottom of the curve as the wood tends to split.

After the curve is roughed out it is cleaned up with a draw knife (or curved spoke shave). Use the draw knife with the bevel down. The block is used as a stop to draw against.

Working down the grain, first work carefully to the line on one edge...

...then to the line on the other edge.

Finally, connect the two edges by holding the draw knife level and removing the hump of wood that remains between them.

A finished curved brace. A smooth, pleasing curve is the desired result but this does not mean that it has to be exact. Leaving tool marks on the finished surface is not offensive and gives a hand made look (which, after all, it is:).

 

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