Getting to work

Changing seasons
Old Chatham, NY, near the original Shaker Museum site

Fall always brings with it a certain sense of urgency, a need to get things in order before the snows begin. I put a coat of oil on the painted firewood box I finished before our final trip to Hancock for the season. No picture of it yet, but maybe I’ll take one tomorrow. Going to the Hancock Shaker Village to look at the furniture and interiors there has been better than reading a hundred books on the subject.

It’s the little things that matter— I made the firewood box (supposedly based on a Pleasant Hill Kentucky Shaker piece) from an article from Popular Woodworking. I noticed that when I compared it to the measured drawings I had of the original, the stock is thicker in the magazine plan (3/4 instead of 5/8). I know it was a concession based on easily available hardware store lumber. If I would have thought about it more, I would have followed the old measurements. I have a planer, it would have taken a few moments to take the boards down that 1/8 inch thinner. Now that I’ve seen the versions at Hancock, I really question both sources. The boxes at Hancock are smaller, not just in thickness but in the top compartment as well. I didn’t measure to check exactly how much, because I’d already pretty much completed the thing before I started looking closely.

There’s also a “flight of shelves” drawing I’ve been looking at in another Shaker book; the versions at Hancock (there are several) are all different, both in size and in construction details. I measured them, and it’s not just a matter of minor differences; it’s a big difference. Most of the Shaker pieces that interest me were never built for manufacture; they’re site specific for a given purpose. Plans are really only for general principles, I think, and cannot provide the real magic that radiates from their household products and furnishings. That takes more work. If I’d never gone over to Hancock, I don’t think I really would have understood that part.