Completed basket

I made no exception when I recently used compound angles to build a basket with its ends and sides leaning outward that had its top edges wider than the bottom edges. This more challenging form of angled joinery adds visual interest as well as demonstrates your skill – even more so when done by hand. And the good news is that you don’t have to be an expert in hand tools to master the technique.

So, what is the trick? The answer lies in using a simple shop-made angled block as a guide for bevelling tasks. I will use the simple fruit basket, composed of the front and back sides and two ends, to illustrate the technique.

Left: Marking the bevel. Right: Gauging progress.

An Angled Block Does the Trick

For a compound angled butt joint, we apply the same angle of slant to the top edge, bottom edge and the two ends of each workpiece. For consistent results when doing those angled cuts by hand, the solution is to guide the cuts with an angled block.

Left: A bevel or slant angle between 10° and 15° is about right.

Right: The straight line marked on the side of the block helps gauge your progress.

Left: The planed piece. Right: Stacked bevelled workpieces.

You could cut the angled block on the table saw, but it’s easy to make it by hand. First, choose the desired angle of slant (10° – 12.5°, for example) and draw the angle line on both ends of a 2 × 4 block, about 14” long. Then run a line on the face connecting the two, which serves as a depth line. Set the plane for heavier cuts and plane the bevel in passes, checking against the depth line for progress. Dial it back for finer shavings when you get close to the depth line. Once done and checked for accuracy, mark the angle on the block.

Left: Plane with the grain and stop when the depth line is reached.

Right: Bevelling by hand builds your handplaning skill.

Left: Clamping the workpiece flush with the top of the angled block. Right: Registering the plane’s edge against the angled block.

Bevel the Top and Bottom Edges of the Sides

To prevent blunders, mark out the bevel in its proper orientation on all the edges of the ends and sides. To cut the bevel on the top edge of the sides, clamp the workpiece and the angled block together in the vise. Rest the edge of the plane on the angled block so that its blade cuts on only the workpiece, and start planing off the high spots on the edge.

Left: Clamp the workpiece (high spots on the far side) flush with the top of the angled block.

Right: Register the plane’s edge against the angled block.

Left: Planing using a spacer block added to the set-up. Right: Checking the precision of the bevel.

If you’re concerned about cutting into the angled block itself, add a spacer between the angled block and the work. With the first edge bevelled, flip the side piece end to end, and plane the bottom bevel in the same manner. Repeat the same procedures for the other side piece.

Left: A spacer block can be added to the set-up to prevent cutting into the jig.

Right: The bevel precision is comparable to, if not better than, that achieved using a table saw.

Left: Planing a chamfer on the exit end. Right: Shaving the end grain.

Bevel the Top and Bottom Edges of the Ends

Because the top and bottom edges on the ends are end-grain, put a chamfer on the far end first to avoid blow-out. Alternatively, you can plane from both ends toward the middle. After bevelling the bottom edge, work on the top edge with the angled block. Finish the second end piece in the same way.

Left: Plane a chamfer on the exit end to avoid blow-out.

Right: Skew the plane slightly for a lower cutting angle when shaving the end grain.

Left: Using a sliding bevel to scribe the angled line. Right: Cross-cutting long stock.

Trim the Workpiece Ends at an Angle

As the basket splays outward on four sides, the workpieces (ends and sides) also need to be trimmed at the angle of slant on their two ends. The first step is to lay out the angle line on all the pieces with a marking knife.

Left: Scribe the angled line with the sliding bevel set to the same degree of slant.

Right: The split/detachable bench hook design is handy for cross-cutting long stock.

Left: Planing to clean up saw marks. Right: Chiselling a knife wall.

Use a chisel to cut a shallow channel, or “knife wall”, along the scribed line on the waste side to create a saw guide to help the sawing. For the best look, gang the sawn pieces in pairs and plane off the saw marks. Lastly, use the same technique to saw and plane the end pieces to shape.

Left: Clean up the saw marks by planing toward the middle from both ends.

Right: Chisel a knife wall as a saw guide for sawing the ends to the desired shape.

Left: Clamping. Right: Applying glue to the bottom piece.

Bevel the Basket Bottom

Dry assemble the basket with tape to work out the size for the bottom. Or, wait and find the bottom dimension after the basket joinery and dry assembly are completed. The bottom is bevelled on all sides in the same way using the plane and the angled block.

Left: Use the angled cutoff pieces with double-faced tape as clamping blocks.

Drill Holes for the Dowel Joinery and Handles

The dowel joinery is used here. After drilling the holes for the butt joints, bore a couple of spaced holes on the end pieces for the rope handles before sending it to the finishing room.

Glue Up the Basket

Glue up the sides and ends first, then the bottom. To allow for wood movement, apply glue only to the middle section of the bottom piece on the ends.

If you happen to come across a fellow woodworker who fears or struggles with compound angles, now you know how you can help him or her – single-handedly!

Right: If built in a dry season, the bottom is cut slightly narrower to allow for expansion.

Text and photos by Charles Mak

Charles Mak, now in retirement, is an enthusiastic hobby woodworker, teacher, writer and tipster. He formerly worked part-time at his local Lee Valley Tools store.

Further Reading

Mak, Charles. "Split Bench Hook." Furniture & Cabinetmaking. Issue 226. Winter 2014.

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