The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Humble Pie


In general, I like Shaker furniture. I like how it is constructed, and I like how it looks, and it is a style of furniture that works well in my house. Before I started constructing the Enfield Cupboard, I had only made two other pieces of true Shaker furniture, so my experience in building in the Shaker style is limited.

The Enfield cupboard on the surface seemed to be an attractive project that was relatively straightforward to build. I’ve so far spent about 12 hours on the construction and I can now say that this piece is not as easy to make as it looks on the surface. Firstly, there is case construction using dado/rabbet joinery. The face frame is constructed using mortise and tenon joinery. There are some decorative arches and curves. The mouldings are shop made and require miters, and the back of the case uses tongue and groove boards. Maybe the most critical part of the construction requires making an inset, paneled door. In other words, this cupboard is by no means “easy” to build. I had gone into this project with the mistaken notion that it would only require time to make. I underestimated the project, which I honestly never do, and I was wrong.

This cupboard probably falls into the “intermediate” level of construction for the reasons I described above. As there is nothing on this project that I can’t really handle, I consider myself an intermediate level woodworker. What would I consider “advanced”? I would call advanced  any project that would require all of the major forms of joinery: dovetail, mortise and tenon, dado. An advanced project  would have moving parts such as drawers and doors. An advanced project would also require some inlay work, as well as turning or carving, or both. An advanced project would also require the milling of parts to many different thicknesses. An advanced project will likely require several different finishing techniques. Most importantly, and advanced project needs to look like a piece of fine furniture.

My point is that this project is not an advanced project, but it is still a challenge, and it’s a bigger challenge than I thought it would be. I have to admit that this cupboard is going to take twice as long to build than I thought it would. That’s a big mistake on my part, and one I’ve always prided myself on not making. The humble Shakers and a humble piece of their furniture have managed to humble me. They’ve managed to accomplish what few people alive today can do. For that, I have to give them some credit.

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4 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    I’d say you’re doing just fine on the project – the last pictures you showed looked good. Better than I could do.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks! Its been fun so far but a bit more challenging than i expected. The most surprising thing is just the sheer amount of parts. There are more than 30 individual boards as well as the different joinery/ construction techniques involved. I went into this thinking it was a simple cupboard and i found out that its a fairly complex piece of furniture.
      Bill

  2. gman3555 says:

    I find most Shaker furniture to be like this. It looks simple. Nice clean lines. Very little ornamentation, if any. But, once you start really breaking them down to understand how to reproduce them, you start to find they very complex. The pieces are solid and stand the test of time for a reason. The Shaker craftsman didn’t skimp on technique. They had a masterful understanding of what worked best for each application and employed it. Building authentic Shaker reproductions will make you a better you a better woodworker.

    Besides, a nice thick slice of humble pie is good for us once in a while.

    Greg

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve always liked the Shaker style in part because I don’t like overly ornate furniture. Like you said, most Shaker stuff is built like a tank, which is probably why there are still many surviving examples. For me, the best feature of Shaker furniture is the fact that though it is stoutly constructed, it still manages to look graceful, which is something that A&C style furniture can struggle with sometimes.

      I could never understand the “prejudice” towards Shaker furniture that some woodworkers have. I suppose if you are a professional building Shaker reproductions every week it could get old quickly, but so could just about any style. But there is nothing easy or simple about this supposedly simple furniture.

      For me, it’s been a challenge, but a good one. I’m looking forward to making more Shaker furniture now. I think this cupboard was a good way to get the ball rolling.
      Thanks.
      Bill

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