Home » shaker furniture
Category Archives: shaker furniture
I had little time to woodwork this past weekend, but as it were, I did manage to get a few things accomplished on my cupboard.
First thing I had to do was simple, and that was to saw off the protruding pieces of the top moulding. For that task, I turned to a tool that I rarely use, a Japanese Ryoba saw. I’m not such a fan of Japanese style tools. I have nothing against them, but I’ve failed to discover any of the mystical qualities that some woodworkers claim they have. That being said, my experience with Japanese woodworking tools is very limited, so I could be wrong. My Ryoba saw is a Marples, a cheap one, that was given to me as a gift. It’s definitely sharp, but I don’t find it any more accurate than a backsaw. In fact, I think it is less accurate. I do, however, like it for flush cutting because of its flexible blade and thin kerf. I’ll say this, if the Marples handle was better and more comfortable, as in made from wood rather than the licorice like plastic handle that it does have, I may just think more highly of the tool. In any event, the saw did a nice job and made a clean cut.
As I said, my time was very limited, but I wanted to at least get the door parts started, so I ripped the stiles to width and finish length, and then cut the rails to length, adding 2 inches to each to account for the tenons. For the rail widths I once again followed the measurements from the original cupboard: a 4 inch wide bottom rail, a 5 inch wide middle rail, and a 3 inch wide top. Before I put the table saw away I got out the dado stack and ripped a ¼ inch wide x ¼ inch deep groove down the center of each stile. I would have loved to also finish up the mortises, but I didn’t have the time. Even had I finished the mortises, I’m going to need to pick up the board to make the two panels before I go any farther, and I would actually like to make them first.
With next weekend being my wedding anniversary, as well as being the weekend before Christmas, I’m not sure how much more work I will get done. Thankfully I have a few days off after Christmas, and if I can managed to get the board for the panels between now and then, I should be able to finish the door construction in around 2 hours if I can maintain a good pace. I’m hoping that to get the construction finished by the last weekend of December, and the paint applied the weekend after the New Year. With that, I can start on my next project, which I’ve been mapping out in my spare time, and should be a simple but very useful piece of furniture that I probably should have made a long time ago.
Contrary to every instinct I have when it comes to woodworking and a national holiday, I did actually manage to get in a little work on my Enfield Cupboard on Thanksgiving morning. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do much. I only added the dados to the back of the case and then glued and clamped it up. Shockingly, the glue-up went easily, too easily in fact because it made me worry that I had nothing to worry about. Then something caught my eye that turned my psychosomatic fears into actual concern.
The face frame of the cupboard is simply two stiles and a rail held together by a mortise and tenon. The whole set-up seemed a bit flimsy to me, but that is the way the original was designed, and I am basically making this cupboard to the original specifications. But on Thanksgiving morning I noticed a bit of sag, and it looked to me that there was a crack causing the joint to fail. I picked up the frame, which was lying on top of my table saw bed, and it at first looked fine, then I noticed not one, but two splits, one at the top of each stile. I’m not exactly sure what caused the splits; I felt that I left plenty of space between the mortise and the top to keep the integrity of the board. Whatever the case, the splits were there, and though they were tiny, I knew it could be a potential problem. My first thought was to reinforce the joint with a pocket screw, but that could easily have turned a hairline split into a full-fledged crack, so I decided to glue a 3 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick backer along the whole top of the rail and across each joint. I set that back on top of the table saw bed to dry and called it a morning.
This morning when I went into the garage the first thing I did was check the face frame and happily everything looked great. The backer strengthened up the frame and everything was still square and true. The cupboard also glued-up nicely. I was worried about warp, mainly because of the sudden drop in temperature we had last week. Luckily, only the bottom shelf warped, and that was very slight so it didn’t hinder the glue-up process or affect the square of the cupboard. So my goal for the day was to get the back of the cupboard added, and then attach the face frame.
I started with the back. Originally, I was going to use three boards tongue and grooved to make up the back panel; the problem was that I only had two boards that would work. Instead, I used a piece of birch plywood I had picked up at Woodcraft a few months back. The tongue and groove boards were certainly more traditional and fitting with the project, but I like to think that the Shakers would have approved of my substitution with material that I had on hand. Besides, the back of the case will rarely be seen. At the least, I attached it with cut nails, no glue however. I then turned my attention to the face frame.
Well, the next step before attaching the face frame was installing some Sawtooth shelf supports that I picked up from Lee Valley. I hadn’t planned on using them in the cupboard, but I ordered three sets to use in my wife’s infamous pantry closet, and the leftover pieces were just enough to use in the cupboard, so I threw them in. As for the face frame, I laid the cupboard on its back, applied some hide glue, and attached the face frame with a handful of brad nails. The face frame had roughly 1/16 of an inch overhang on each side, which I did on purpose, and once it was dry I trimmed it off with my least favorite tool and a flush trim bit. After that operation was complete I decided to use a roundover profile on the arches of the case sides to soften them up, because to my eye they seemed a bit harsh. The last task of the day was sawing off the face frame overhang at the bottom with a carcass saw, and cleaning up the router marks left by the flush trim bit with a block plane.
Next weekend I will hopefully start, and finish, the top mouldings and profile. That would only leave constructing the door between me and a completed cupboard. For finish, I am thinking of painting the cupboard a blue/gray and leaving the interior bare. My wife mentioned leaving off the door and keeping the cupboard open, but I want to see what it looks like with a door before I make any final decision. Otherwise, this project is almost completed.
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.