COVE CUTTING
Woodcraft Magazine|October - November 2021
Dramatic curves from your table saw
Ken Burton

Wide, sweeping coves such as those found in crown molding and raised panels are a hallmark of good woodworking. But how do you achieve them without a large-scale molding machine? On the table saw, of course.

Cutting coves on a machine used primarily for ripping, crosscutting, and joinery is unorthodox. But if done correctly, it’s a safe and efficient method. Essentially, you run a workpiece along a fence and diagonally over the blade in a series of shallow passes, to take advantage of the blade’s curvature.

Adjusting the height of the blade and the feed angle of the piece varies the depth and width. While the resulting cut requires a lot of sanding to remove the saw marks, the technique offers more versatility than stock profiles on cutters you’d use in a router or shaper.

While there is no magic in setting up to cut coves, a parallelogram jig simplifies the process. In this article, I’ll demonstrate how to set up and cut coves—and half covers—first using typical layout tools, then with the jig.

Cove terminology and layout

A cove cut is defined by its width and depth. With wide, shallow coves, the curve is close to being a true arc, but with narrow, deep coves, the shape is more elliptical. The other key dimension is the offset, or distance from the edge of the board to the edge of the cove.

In the drawings below, the offsets on either side are equal, but they don’t have to be. And if your cove design goes right to the edge of the stock, start with a pieces wide enough to leave a minimum of 1/8 offsets to provide a bearing surface. These small offsets can be trimmed away later if desired. While you don’t need to draw out the curve, it can help you visualize what the cove will look like if you make a sketch on the end of your stock.

Sneak peek. After marking the offset and depth, preview your cove by sketching a line to connect the layout marks.

Blades for Coving

For best results, cut coves with clean and sharp full-thickness 40-tooth ATB or 50-tooth combination blades. Adding a stiffener (or two) can reduce vibration. Thin kerf blades don’t stand up well to excessive sideways pressure. If you do a lot of coving, consider investing in a designated coving blade. Several manufacturers offer these chunky 7 (+/-) diameter blades with rounded carbide teeth that leave a much smoother surface than a regular saw blade. Be aware that the smaller diameter does somewhat limit the size of the coves you can make, and (as of this writing) the blades are not compatible with SawStop’s brake technology.

Dedicated to coving. While it may appear to be more of an overgrown shaper cutter, this blade from CMT is designed to cut coves on the table saw.

Rough cut. The profile to the right was cut with a 40-tooth ATB blade, the one to the left was cut with a coving blade. Both require sanding, but the marks from the ATB blade are significantly rougher.

The basic set up

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