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FLAG CASE JOINTS Spline miters reinforce and beautify these production items.

SHOP OWNER: Dale Lenz LOCATION: Oklahoma

Im a professional forester for the State of Oklahoma and a part-time woodworker since 1982. A lot of my work is with miters–picture frames, some small cabinet doors– and I always do a spline joint, usually on the outside of the miter.

Flag cases for families of U.S. Veterans are bread-and-butter items in my shop. The cases are triangular, to hold traditionally folded flags. I’ve been making them for several years, since my father died in 1993.

The trickiest part of making flag cases is the miter joints. To cut the frame moldings to finish size, I use a jig on a miter saw equipped with an 80-tooth Forrest blade with a stabilizer. It makes a decent cut. Prior to having a miter saw, I made these cuts on a tablesaw. I had to remove the throat plate and let the off-fall drop through the opening–no fun!

A flag case is almost an isoceles right triangle, like half a square cut diagonally; the bottom piece is longer than the sides. I believe the bottom miters are cut at something like 23 degrees and the top miter near 45 degrees. After I cut the bottom joints, I hold a long drafting square on the middle of the bottom piece and mark the angle on each upper piece. Using an adjustable bevel gage, I transfer the angle to the miter saw and bite my lower lip while making the first cut–I make several cases at a time and I’d hate to have the angles wrong. The joints come out nice, but they could be a hair nicer. I thought about getting a miter trimmer or possibly building a shooting board for a hand plane. Maybe some WoodCentral visitors could give me some advice.

I join the frame members with spline miters, using two splines per miter. The splines are 3/8-in. wide by approximately 3/4-in. to 7/8-in. deep. To make the perfectly flat-bottomed grooves for the splines, I first hog out the waste about 1/32 in. shy of my desired mortise’s thickness and depth with a tenoning jig that rides on my tablesaw fence. Then, I head over to the router table, which is set up on the right side extension wing of my tablesaw table. I clean up the mortises using a 3/8-in.-dia. Whiteside spiral router bit set up approximately 1/32 in. higher than the rough mortise from the saw, using the same tenoning jig.

I also make flag cases out of mahogany, persimmon and other woods. I buy all of my wood, usually green and season it myself, excluding the mahogany. The mahogany models sell quickly. I usually ask more than $200 for the cases, except for the mahogany ones; they bring a higher price. I cut the splines from contrasting woods–usually whatever I see first. I favor holly splines in the darker woods such as cherry and walnut; usually I use walnut splines in oak.

It takes me about 8-9 hours to make one case, based on making 3-5 at a time. I kept track of my time several runs ago and was surprised to find that from sanding and scraping to the end product took something like 40% of the total time.

My tablesaw is a 10-in. Walker-Turner with a 5.5 amps/220v motor–maybe 1 3/4 HP–and it’s reasonably tuned up. I’ve been thinking about purchasing a Forrest stacked dado set so I can do this process in one pass on the tablesaw and save some time. I hope I will get the same quality of cut with the dado set as with a spiral router bit. I’m very proud of the joints–and so are my customers–because my splines are perfect for all practical purposes, and I will not accept anything less!

. . . Dale Lenz

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