Nesting Crosses for Weddings

woodeditordave, posted on Mar 04, 2019

This pair of nesting crosses makes a great wedding gift, and is intended to be used in place of a unity candle or sand ceremony. Once the two crosses are joined (the bride and groom drive dowels into the ends of the cross arms), the only way to separate the two is to destroy the individuals. Kinda symbolic, huh?

It stands 1414 " tall and 1014 " wide.

Take the extra step to choose woods that have meaning to the couple. For example, I chose white oak for the outside cross because it's the state tree of Illinois, where the bride was born. The ash for the inside cross came from scraps leftover from the altar furniture that was built for the groom's church several years ago. (I knew the guy who was building the furniture and asked for all his offcuts and was waiting for just the right project for them.)

When the two crosses are joined, the couple can display the cross freestanding, on the stand used to display the"outside" cross during the ceremony, or hung on the wall by a sawtooth hanger.

Materials or Supplies

Materials or Supplies

1/2" x 1" white oak (for outside cross), about 4' long
1-1/4 x 1-1/4" ash (for inside cross) about 2' long
1/4" hardwood plywood
3/8" dowels, 2" long (two)
Stain and topcoat (I used spray lacquer)
Danish Oil finish

Start the outside cross at the head

Plane stock for your outside cross to 12 " thick and rip it to 1" wide. (I found some white oak with diagonal grain lines that I used to create a "radiating effect" from the center of the cross, so I machined almost as twice as much stock as the project requires to give me lots of grain selection and to recut any pieces I mistakenly cut too short.)

I built a simple clamping jig from two layers of 34 " particleboard ripped to 114 "--the desired width of the inside cross. That double-thick block was screwed to a base, and all jig parts were covered with clear plastic packing tape to keep the parts from sticking to the jig as they dried.

The head and arms are 4" long (from the heel of one miter to the toe of the other) and the body of the cross is 8" long heel to toe. I cut both side pieces shown here to identical length, then dry-clamped them into the jig as shown, using a machinist's square to ensure the toes of the miters were even. Then I measured and cut the end piece to fit in between the miters. I cut each end piece just a scosh long, then tested the fit and used a low-angle block plane and miter shooting board to trim it down for a perfect fit.

Apply glue to the miter joints and clamp as shown.

Repeat for the arms and body

After the glue dries, repeat the process for the arms and body of the cross, with the arms the same size as the head--4" from head to toe. The body of the cross is 8" from head to toe (so it protrudes 8" below the arms). Note the grain lines radiating out from the intersection of the cross.

Now, pull it all together

With all four lobes of the cross assembled separately, it's time to glue them all together to form the cross. I attached a couple more packing-tape-covered blocks to my jig, applied glue to the miter joints, and gently clamped them together as shown. The blocks keep the miter joints from slipping past one another.

Voila! A holey cross

After the glue dries, slip the cross off the form. Clean up any glue squeezout on the inside corners of the joint with a scraper, chisel, or dental pick. (I like these little mini-scrapers, part no. 1757, for tight spaces...)

Now, it's an inside job

The inside cross is made of solid stock joined in the middle with a half-lap joint. Start by ripping a 24"-long ash blank to  114 " wide, and plane it to 1316 " thick. Again, you may want to machine extra stock at the same time in case you cut the joint too loose. Check the fit of the blank in the recess in the outside cross and adjust if need be. Cut the crossbeam and upright to rough length.

Use your tablesaw and dado blade to machine a dado in the face of the crosspiece that perfectly matches the width of the upright. With the upright fit in the slot, mark the location of crosspiece on the upright and cut the mating dado in the back of the upright, as shown.

Assemble the inside cross

Keeping the crosspiece centered in the outside cross, mark the ends of the crosspiece and cut them to fit. Likewise for the upright. When you're satisfied with the fit, remove the crosspiece and upright and glue them together.

Fit the back

Using a router and bearing-guided rabbeting bit, rout a 14 rabbet 14 " deep inside the back of the outside cross. Cut a piece of 14 " hardwood veneered plywood to fit inside the rabbet. I raised my tablesaw blade high to keep the stopped cut as vertical as possible, then finished the cut with a handsaw.

Glue in the back

Use a belt or disc sander to carefully radius the corners of the plywood back to match the rabbet. Glue the back in place. (The triangular chunk of particleboard is a scrapwood caul to allow clamping pressure in the middle of the cross.)

Finish-sand both crosses

I sanded up to 220-grit on both.

Pick your finishes

I needed the bride and groom's input on this, since they were going to have to live with this symbol of their unity for the rest of their lives. So I used my leftover project stock and tested a number of finishes (including natural Danish Oil, Weathered Wood Accelerator, leftover custom stain from our kitchen cabinets, and more) that I already had on hand on both species. Ultimately, they decided on the kitchen cabinet stain for the outside cross and Danish oil for the inside cross.

Finish it up

Here's the final cross combo. I top-coated the outside cross with some rattle-can lacquer after staining.

Boring the pin holes

You want the dowels to fit firmly in the pin holes but not so firmly that the bride and groom need a 3-pound sledge on the altar. So, after you get your dowels, drill test holes in scrap and test the fit of the dowel in the hole. I chose a bit that allowed my to push the dowel partway in with firm pressure, but so that I could still pull it out with a pliers.

Be sure to do the math! You don't want the visible peg in the outside cross too off-center, but you also don't want to miss or just catch the edge of the inside cross. For my cross, I centered the hole 1932 " from the back edge of the outside cross, which was only 332 " off center.

When you drill the cross itself, clamp the crosses together before drilling, and bore just a little deeper than the dowel length--you don't want the dowel to stop before it's fully seated. I taped over the end of the workpiece to minimize tearout and protect the finished surface around the hole. I used a nylon stop collar on the bit to set the 2" drilling depth.

Sand a slight taper on one end of each dowel to make insertion easier, and dip the other end in matching stain to minimize its visibility in the final project.

Oh! Almost forgot the stands

About the time I finished, I realized I need to make some display stands for the crosses when they were on the altar during the wedding. This is some 12 " thick white oak I ripped to 314 " wide. I cut 3" off one end for the base, cut the next piece about 7" long, and the last piece about 4" long, which became the back brace. In each middle piece, I plowed a 18 " deep groove as wide as the outside cross upright in one, and as wide as the inside cross upright in the other. I then notched each base to fit into the groove.

Assemble the stands

Here's what they look like all glued together.

The final product

And here's how the crosses looked in their stands. Once they're assembled, the inside cross stand is done (I may save it for the next wedding), but I sent the outside cross stand with the couple so they could display it freestanding if they want.

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