So the un-ending home improvement projects continue. This time, a custom closet for my oldest daughter to replace the old wire rack system that was in there. I'm making this primarily out of a sheet of 3/4" oak ply and since I just can't bring myself to cut sheet goods with my hand saws, this would be mainly a job for the table saw. BOOOOO!!! BUT, the face frame is out of solid 3/4" oak, so I thought I'd get some hand tool practice in and do all the joints with hand cut half-laps. YAY for hand tools!!! The half-lap joint is a pretty basic joint in which half the thickness of each piece of wood to be joined, generally at right angles to one another, is removed from the top of one piece and the bottom of another to make a joint that looks like a butt joint, but has more strength.
I built my boxes first out of the plywood and then made the face frame fit the assembled boxes. Nothing exciting here. Rip the plywood on the table saw. Cut the plywood to length on the table saw. Glue, screw, and nail everything together. YAWN! Now for some hand tool action. On to the face frame. First I ripped the rails (the horizontal pieces) and stiles (the vertical pieces) to their proper width and then cut all the pieces to length. When using a half lap joint, all the pieces are cut to the full length of the case piece, as opposed to if you were just using butt joints, in which case you would subtract the width of your stiles from the length of your rails.
I laid the stiles on the plywood boxes and then marked where the top of each rail would be, as dictated by where the shelves were. I put an X on the side of the mark where the waste would be removed and then took the rails and stiles to the bench. A bench hook is a great accessory to have for cutting these joints by the way. Generally on face frames, you want your stiles to look like one unbroken run and your rails to join into these, so the half thickness to be taken away from the stiles will be on the back side. I scribe across the back of the stile 90 degrees to the edge at each of my marks I made earlier using a striking knife. A knife is much better than a pencil in this case as it is more accurate and gives you an edge for your saw to ride on later. I then use the rails themselves to mark the width of the material I'll be removing from the stiles, making a small mark and then squaring up with a square and marking knife again. To mark the depth of the material to be removed, I set a marking gauge to exactly half the thickness of the material and mark this between the width of rail marks I made, always marking from the waste side. Next up is cutting the shoulders on these marks I just made but before I do, to make a cleaner cut, I chisel a shallow groove on the waste side of each line for my saw to register in. I saw down to my depth line on both sides and then chisel out the waste in between. I don't worry so much if I take a little too much material out of the middle as strength isn't really an issue here. To cut the half-lap on the rail all you do is mark the width of the style on the end of the rail, square across same as was done on the stile, mark the depth with the marking gauge on the end and sides of the rail, cut the little groove on the waste side for a cleaner shoulder cut, and then cut the shoulder to your depth mark. Put the rail in a vise and saw down the marking gauge lines to complete the half lap on this end of the rail. I saw on a diagonal part way down, then flip the board and finish sawing from the other side. I also find that it helps to cut a small notch in the corner of the rail to aid your tenon saw in starting the cut. Ok, repeat this process for all your intersecting rails and stiles, glue and nail from the backside and you have a nice half lapped face frame.
I feel like this description has been even more rambling than normal and for this I apologize. Hopefully the pictures will help clear things up a little. Two things I'd like to reiterate though are using a knife to mark a line is usually far superior than using a pencil, and a bench hook is one of your most valuable sawing accessories. Well, time to go. I'm sure there's something around here that needs painting or updating.
Oh, by the way, my daughter is very happy with her new closet arrangement. Much better than the old wire shelving. GO PATS!!!