I first glued up and cut the tops of these tables from a nice wide curly cherry board over a year ago. I cut them to rough size, flattened them, etc. and then started trying to figure out the tapered legs. The legs scared the heck out of me. They are only 1 1/8″ square tapering down to 5/8″ at the foot. It seemed nearly impossible to cut mortises on such a small leg, and to keep them straight and true. I threw up my hands when I got overzealous squaring up the stock I had, reducing it to 1 1/16″. I went in search of more leg stock, both for the first table and for a second one. I must have bought $150 worth of boards that weren’t quite right (or so I thought at the time). I wandered away to work on other projects, over the fear of those tiny legs.
At that time, I hadn’t even visited any Shaker sites, or looked at any of their furniture in person. I picked out these tables, mostly because I needed something that would match the bookstand I built for the guest room (my first bookstand), and they looked very simpatico with the Stickley #72 magazine stand that I finished a bit before starting to work on these. That stand was really a traumatic project, mostly because I tapered the legs before doing the joinery (big mistake). It marked the beginning of my transition into hand tool work. I screwed up at least 4 sets of legs on that one before I got it right, so I was really gun shy. That’s probably why I tabled these tables for so long.
When I resumed, I decided to go ahead and use the 1 1/16″ legs I’d already milled (they’re on the table on the left) and make another set the right size for the second table. After seeing many Shaker tables at Hancock Village, I figured out that minor differences in measurements really don’t matter. If you measure the real pieces there, you’ll find a lot of variation among pieces that look pretty much the same. I also got a lathe for Christmas, so this provided a good opportunity to make knobs, and of course no two of those look exactly the same either. It wasn’t really about “compromising” it was about just relaxing my fears about somehow getting it wrong. It’s about spirit, rather than machining to precise specifications— after all, it’s supposed to be woodworking, not wood-machining.
The other fearful part of this table was making the drawers. I have made many rabbeted drawers before with power tools, but this time I wanted to do hand-cut dovetails like the originals. I’ve done lots of dovetailing before, but not half-blind dovetails. I was worried about the tiny edges splitting out. It turned out to be okay, and though they’re not the best and did involve a few small patches to fill gaps, they do work and they are authentic. Overall, I’m pretty happy with them.
The top item was the first object I made on my new lathe that wasn’t a simple dowel. It was quite a learning experience, and I discovered just how hard it is to drill a centered hole in a round object without a large drill press. It’s crooked, which won’t affect it’s use, but still it bothers me. I also forgot to wire brush off the paint on the alignment tool and polish the ferrule that I made from a copper pipe fitting.
The second, lower version is much improved. To do it, I made a screw chuck so that I could use the lathe as a drill press giving me a nearly centered hole. I’ll probably redo the top one at a later date, because I figured out if I had a cone live center I could drill the hole before turning the handle and insure it being perfectly centered. It doesn’t take long to do this stuff, so it’s actually much easier to learn than furniture making. Successive iterations of a project take hours, not days and weeks.
I finally managed to steal enough time to complete my version of the Stickley #79 bookstand. It was a good learning experience and a really solid piece. The bottom shelf is just barely big enough for medium size art books; I’d like to build another bookcase simply for art books now; this one is just a trifle short on the second shelf for that. But what these book stand projects have really been about is exploring joinery.
I opted for pinned through mortises, which made it necessary to make some five inch maple dowels on my new lathe. It was my first turning, so to speak. I really hated trying to make dowels using a dowel plate. I’ve decided that I really don’t like the parts of woodworking that involve forcefully pounding on things. It’s loud and obnoxious.
I didn’t care much for the wedged tenons I used on a little shaker step stool a while back, but I think I’ll revisit those for my next book stand just because they seem to be a really popular contemporary choice. The pinned tenons were a little extreme due to the long dowels, but I had to give it a try at least once. They’d be fine for skirts and other shallower bits, but on shelves it seems like overkill. The center shelf and skirt pieces on this one are doweled with hidden dowels; I’m really comfortable with doing that.
I really enjoyed lining up the figure for the individual parts of this. I think it turned out quite well.
The gap in writing hasn’t really been a gap. Adopting wordpress, I find that I’m figuring out better “workflows” for getting things together. I’ve started writing several things now, but they aren’t ready for prime-time. I’ve also managed to talk myself into getting a new class of tool, something I’ve never used before: a lathe.
I blame it on the Shakers. They seemed to have a lathe in every shop, along with a scrollsaw. I’ve enjoyed my cheap grizzly scroll saw more than virtually any other power tool I own, and often wonder why this particular tool is in sort of a retiree ghetto. It seems to be mostly used by people who want to scroll out signs and eagles and flags and such. I have used mine mostly for bowls and occasionally through mortise joints and handles on the bookstands I’ve been building. It’s much easier and more precise than using a coping saw. Now, I think I want to figure out lathes– not because I want to make bowls or spindle based furniture, but rather because I want to make tool handles and dowels. Not all that exciting I suppose, but really useful.
Once I get all the parts together I’ll put up a picture I suppose. I’ve got the lathe and stand, but I’m waiting for wheels so I can move the thing before I can really put it together. I also now have to figure out a good arrangement for sharpening turning tools as well.
I’ve also been researching joinery on the Stickley #79 bookstand, and I need to write a post about that as well. I feel like I’m finding a lot more of interest from auction sites than woodworking magazines on some of these vintage pieces. I really wish there were more measured drawings of classic pieces and fewer “inspired by” articles where they push building things with pocket screws and biscuits. Not interested!
I think there are interesting things to say about tools and their histories, but I alway fight a battle between doing and writing. I do prefer doing, although writing is very seductive.
The temperature dropped down into the twenties today. I suppose I got the firewood box done just in time.
“In October of 1949, at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, I noticed the large windows between the paintings interested me more than the art exhibited. I made a drawing of the window and later in my studio I made what I considered my first object, Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris. From then on, painting, as I had known it was finished for me. The new works were to be painting/objects, unsigned, anonymous. Everywhere I looked, everything I saw became something to be made, and it had to be made exactly as it was, with nothing added. It was a new freedom: there was no longer the need to compose. The subject was there, alreadymade, and I could take from everything; it all belonged to me: a glass roof of a factory with its broken and patched planes, lines of a roadmap, the shape of a scarf on a woman’s head, a fragment of Le Corbusier’s Swiss Pavilion, a corner of a Braque painting, paper fragments in the street. It was all the same, anything goes. At that time I wrote: ‘Everything is beautiful but that which man tries intentionally to make beautiful.’ The work of an ordinary bricklayer is more valid than the artwork of all but a very few artists.”