Hand Mirror Making was a tedious hit or miss method before I stumbled upon a new approach. The old way of making hand mirrors was to cut out the shape of the mirror on the bandsaw, then use a template and a router to cut the insert for the mirror. Then lettering or other design was carved on the back and the surrounding area was routed. The toughest part of the process involved cutting the insert for the mirror. This was a hit or miss endeavor, because of the difficulty in controlling the depth of the cut. Another issue was the control of the cutting of the circle.
If the router cuts through the template, the workpiece and the template is ruined. However, one benefit of cutting out the mirror shaped initially, is that instead of discarding the leftovers, they can be used to build a jig for holding the workpiece while routing the insert. Because the mirror was cutout from these pieces, it make a perfect fit.
After ruining several good pieces of stock and Plexiglas templates, I decided to try another approach. I saw a picture of a pin router being sold by one of the popular woodworking stores. So, I decide to make one. The pin router was the type that cut the design from underneath. This means that a template of the design had to be on the topside. I did not like this approach, because it was a blind way of cutting patterns. However the biggest problem was that the router that allowed the bit to move up and cut too deeply into the workpiece. I will probably use this pin router for other work after I make some modifications, including different bits, but not for cutting the mirror inserts.
The Router Circle Jig in Shop Notes magazine Vol. 14 Issue 83 was one of the best jigs I’ve seen. It allows insert to be cut with ease. Both styles of mirrors (through-cut holes or one-side holes) can be built with this jig. My jig uses an old Makita plunge router, which was used in a router table and the springs were removed. This router turned out to be perfect for the jig, because it allows for easier height adjustment. I added some posts to make turning the router easier. The size of the circle can be adjusted to the exact size needed for the mirror, as well as the exact depth. There is one caveat. The workpiece must be aligned in the holder to ensure that the back and front cuts are coplanar or you can ruin your workpiece. I designed the holder so that the workpiece is always centered and coplanar with the router.
The approach to making the mirror is reversed. First the inserts are cut on the workpiece. Then the shape of the hand mirror is sketched on the workpiece. The design of the back can be carved on the workbench. The bandsaw is then used to cut out the mirror shape. The edges to the mirror can now be rounded with a round over bit. This approach provides more flexibility over the final shape of the mirror. It also allows more mirrors blanks to be made ahead of time.