Shaker Sofa Table

A class project featuring milk-painted poplar with cherry.

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

    I thought I would share with you my latest project, a cherry and poplar sofa table in the Shaker style. While I'm not sure if Shakers actually made sofa tables, I have seen examples of library tables in this style. Therefore, I tried to maintain a consistency with my design and its origins. This table is my course project that I built (spring 2002) at Sheridan Collage's Oakville campus. The course was about table making and design, and our instructor was Rob Diemert.
    I constructed the table mostly from poplar, including all structural elements. I turned the legs myself from a design that I found consistent with Shaker designs between 1840 and 1870. The drawers feature through dovetail joints, each hand-cut and fitted with a " solid maple drawer bottom. The poplar drawer guides and kickers attached to the front and rear aprons using mortise and tenon joints.
Shaker Sofa Table

    Inspired by other woodworkers' use of painted poplar with cherry, I used a milk paint finish on the poplar. The milk paint is from a Canadian source, Homestead Paints, and the colour is Niagara Green. The milk paint process was simple; first, I raised the grain on the poplar by wiping a wet sponge on the surfaces and sanding with a 3M pad. I then applied the first coat of milk paint and gave it two hours to dry, even though it felt dry in 30 minutes. I sanded it lightly with a 3M pad, wiped it clean, applied a second coat, and let it dry overnight. I then applied a wipe-on coat of boiled linseed oil and let it set for two days. The BLO gave the paint an even tone and set the colour. Next, over the course of a few days, I applied two wipe-on poly/mix coats. I finished by rubbing down the topcoats with 0000 steel wool and wax.
Shaker Sofa Table

    The tabletop and the drawer fronts are cherry; the drawer fronts are from a single piece of curly cherry. I turned the drawer pulls from curly soft maple. I attached the drawer fronts with glue, to the fitted poplar drawers.
    The finish for the cherry was very simple; two applications of boiled linseed oil rubbed out, followed by two coats of a homemade poly wipe and then rubbed out with 0000 steel wool and wax. The top attaches to the base using ash buttons.
Shaker Sofa Table

    All in all, this was another project, which was about doing things I had never done before; milk paint, hand-cut dovetailed drawers, hand planing the drawers for a nice fit, using table buttons, working with poplar as a primary wood, and drawer runners and kickers.
    I found several sources of information most helpful in the completion of this project. Two books I found very useful were The Design book from Taunton Press, and Shaker Legacy by Chris Becksvoort. I also credit the excellent guidance I received from Sheridan College's Rob Diemert.

. . . Jim Shaver



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