Furniture project part 3: A flexible shaft is not a sex toy.

So, we have a clean piece of sanded furniture that has a design traced on it. Now what?

Now is when the really tedious, fussy, messy part begins. Some people may call it fun. I don’t, because I truly dislike working with wood. This is the one part of the job that for me, is just a right pain in the ass.

I went around the piece and determined which circles, or parts of circles I wanted to recess. In those recessed spaces is going to be mosaic tile. Some of the circles will remain flush with the surface, and only get a different finish treatment. I know this sounds very confusing right now, so let’s just take one step at a time: some of the circles are going to be carved out to make room for tile. We can discuss the rest of it later.

I marked all the parts of the circles that I wanted to carve out with a big X.

But how are we going to carve all this material out?

If you have a plunge router, this becomes a lot easier and far, far less time consuming. Then again, if you have a plunge router you don’t need me to tell you how to do this project, either.

I do not have a plunge router. I don’t do enough woodworking to really need one. (Metal and ceramics tools? Those, I got.) But what I *do* have (I actually have two) are flexible shaft machines.

No, they aren’t sex toys.

Flexible shaft machines are usually thought of as tools for jewelers, and in fact that’s who uses them most often. However they’re invaluable for restorers as well, which is why I own two. (I used to have three, actually.) They are operated by use of a foot pedal, allowing you to control the speed at which the motor spins while being able to use both your hands. They are perfect for delicate fragile work (I should take photos of the box of micro drill bits I have. Most people have never seen bits that tiny before.) but also can do larger jobs as well.

For larger jobs and general household use, most people don’t bother with a flex shaft, since there’s a tool that will do many of the same jobs, just not as delicately or finely controlled.

A Dremel. While I find them to be more convenient than flex shafts, they aren’t nearly as controllable, and if your hands are small, they can be awkward to use.

I don’t own a Dremel, cool as they are. I also am having problems finding the chuck keys to my flex shaft machines, but fortunately, I can fix that for $4. But anyway, I busted out the flex shaft and some separating disks and got working.


I tapped a temporary nail into the wall and hung the machine up (I’ll fix it later.) , and got the machine going.

While you probably *could* remove all the material you’re looking to be rid of with a flex/dremel, That’s seriously a long time wasting electricity making noise. All I was interested in doing was defining the perimeter of the area that needed to be carved out. I carefully defined the area I wanted to remove with the tool and then set it aside. I then used a *sharp* 1/4″ chisel to carve out the hollow inside.

Why did I bother with the flexi? Because this would make it easier for the chisel to stop at the border of the area I wanted to carve. It minimized the possibility of going too far and ruining the shape of the circle.

Here’s an example of how it looked after I used the flexi to define the perimeter of an area:


So as you can see, all I’m doing is following the lines I drew, cutting into the surface of the case in order to define the shape of the area I am going to carve out. On the one side of the case I did today, that was three areas total. You could get this all done in one day if you pushed it, but it’s important to take your time and be patient. Also? Wear eye protection, always. Sometimes the disks shatter and fling themselves pointedly (pun intended) at very high velocities. Yeah it stings if you catch it in the arm, but you don’t want one of these little projectiles hitting you in the eye.

Once all the circles on this side of the case were completed, I began carving out the material that needed to go away. You have to be careful here not to go too far, or you’ll punch through to the other side and then there will be no base on which to lay your glue later. Use a sharp chisel(I need to find all my whetstones…) and take your time.

I wish I could say this were the fun part. It’s not. It sucks. But if you rush you’ll screw up. Here’s what the first circle looked like when it was finished:


You can see, there’s another circle to the right of that with a big X on it also. I began working on that one next. I just repeated the same process- define the perimeter with the flex shaft, and then carve out the middle with a sharp chisel:



Eventually, all three areas designated for removal were carved out. Now, I have the other side of the case, and the three door/drawer fronts that I removed earlier, and the top. I decided to do the sides first since those would be seen the least, in case of an error. So far, it’s okay. Any imperfections will be fixed up in the next few steps. I’ll keep updating this process as it goes on, but basically, it’s just the same thing over and over. I may reattach the drawer and door fronts for the sake of stability while I’m working on them, since it’s convenient, and remove them again before the next step.

So be on the lookout for more carved out circles, me trying to find the damned chuck key, and me wondering where the hell all my whetstones have fucked off to, so I can keep my chisels sharp.



  1. Woot! I figured out what/how you’d done it before you told us, just based on pics. I did think “flexible shaft” though meant Dremel, based on what J’s actually had around here. Nice to know I have some eye for what’s being done even if I’m not practiced at the actual work.

  2. It’s going to take me a couple of days to finish all the circles up. I can probably get two sections done tomorrow. It’s just tedious, knuckle busting shit. I really am not sure where my whetstones are. I’m really hoping Mike doesn’t have them right now.

  3. […] Furniture project part 3: A flexible shaft is not a sex toy. […]

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s