Jim's Shaker Side Table

Shaker Inspiration
Shows what can happen when we "stretch our skills".

SHOP OWNER: Jim Shaver
LOCATION: Oakville, Ontario, CANADA

    Some of you may remember that last May (2002), I was fortunate enough to take a weeklong woodworking course at Sheridan College, here in Oakville, with Chris Becksvoort. During the class, Chris inspired many of us to stretch our skills and try things that were new to us. This I did and my Shaker side table is the result.
    At the end of the weeklong class, I had built the basics of a Shaker side table. I used a sketched drawing of a table from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine. I adjusted the sizing and proportions to suit my needs and to optimize the boards that I had on hand. The table is a combination of applied skills from a dovetailed top rail, to mortise and tenons for the sides and back as well as double mortise and tenons for the mid and lower rails.
    The table is essentially all made from solid hardwoods. I used cherry for the turned legs, casework, and internal wood. Flame birch for the top, curly soft maple for the drawer bottoms, and book matched crotch cherry for the drawer fronts. Proportion and function is a key element in shaker design, I tried to keep a balance in the design elements and still give it a pleasing look. The top is 28x20 inches and it stands 26 inches tall, the drawers are 20 inches wide and both drawers are 2 inches tall.
Jim's Shaker Side Table

    These drawers represent my first-ever attempt at hand-cut half blind dovetails. They're not great but not bad either! I did not want the routed half blind dovetail look, even though I do own a Leigh jig. In my mind, this piece would not have been as classic looking. I assembled the rear of both drawers with hand-cut through dovetails. The drawer sides, being hard maple, were surprisingly easy to cut and chisel out for the dovetails.
    The drawer bottoms are from soft curly maple and I hand planed a bevel to fit into the bottom of the drawers. The fit was simple and the feel of these drawers is positive weight in your hands. The finished drawers were hand planed to get a tight custom fit into the drawer runners and kickers. A little bit of bee's wax from Lee Schierer and they glide wonderfully.
    I turned the drawer pulls from some cherry and left the tenons long for the through walnut wedges, which seems to be the more traditional method used to attach them. Turning drawer pulls is fun. Turning matched pulls is only difficult once the first one is done! Then cloning it requires a bit of measuring and patience. It took me three tries to get this pair.
    The legs were turned from 8/4 square cherry stock, and as I was a little eager to turn the shaker shape, I didn't think to measure the length of the square stock below the apron. It should have been less with more length to the spindle leg. Oh well, live and learn! Turned legs are more traditional to the Eastlake Shaker design. I didn't feel that the tapered leg of most shaker tables was going to fit into my design concept. Besides, the look and proportion of the spindle turning was more appealing to me.
Jim's Shaker Side Table

    The casework came totally from a single 4/4 cherry board that included some crotch cherry at one end. I saved this to re-saw and book match the drawer fronts. To get a full thickness for the drawer fronts, I glued the crotch cherry to some regular cherry stock.
    I had considered waiting to attach the crotch cherry until after I had cut the dovetails, and then glue it on. However, the crotch veneer was too thick to give the proper dovetail depth and proportion to the dovetails, so I hand-cut the half blind into the crotch after gluing up the drawer fronts. I did find the crotch cherry to be brittle compared to the cherry I glued it to. Twice it suffered a breakout in the face requiring careful reassembly of the shattered pieces with epoxy. It's tough to see, but it was a big job to reconstruct all the pieces.
    One other detail in the casework, are the square walnut pins used to peg the tenons. They really add to the detail and authenticity of the Shaker design.
Jim's Shaker Side Table

    The top is a very special piece of flame birch. I have never seen a figured board like this one before; it just stops you cold when you see it. I was able to make up a nice sized tabletop from it, but the tear-out with hand tools forced me to go to the stroke sander to get a near final finish. I was able to hand-scrape it and the figure, even without a finish, was stunning. I chamfered the underside of the top with hand planes using pencil lines to line out the angle and depth of the chamfer. I wanted it to not only look good, but also feel hand made, and I think it does just that.
    I have to say that this project represents the highest amount of hand tool work I have used yet. Included were a wide variety of hand planes, chisel and saw work, and lots of hand scraping. This project also represents the first set of turned legs I ever made. Since this project, I also made a Shaker sofa table that you might remember. It had turned poplar legs that I think had better proportion.
    The finish on this project is simple; a coat of boiled linseed oil on all surfaces. The casework and drawers were then rubbed out and a coat of wax applied. The top received six coats of a wipe-on mix of poly, boiled linseed oil, and thinner with a 3:2 ratio of boiled linseed oil to poly and about 30% thinner. The final step was to rub out and buff with 0000 steel wool and wax.
    I received a lot of great instruction during this project. Not only from Chris Becksvoort but also Rob Diemert at Sheridan College who was very helpful in working out some of the design and construction basics with me.
    This table represents many woodworking firsts for me and one of the projects I am most pleased with and proud of. I feel a new confidence that my woodworking skills are continuing to move in a direction that gives me great satisfaction and pride in what I have been able to achieve.

. . . Jim Shaver



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