SHAKER SEWING TABLE
A handy shop-made router jig eases several process steps.
SHOP OWNER: Jim Shaver
LOCATION: Oakville, Ontario, CANADA
One of my favorite styles of furniture is Shaker. There are examples all around us claming to be of Shaker origin and inspiration but after a trip in 2006 to Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Kentucky I was struck by the bug to make something authentic.
I have this passion for cherry and using it in my work, the Shaker furniture I have seen usually is constructed with simple plain woods, cherry being a perfect fit. Functionality is key in the Shaker world, much like the seasonal storage units shown here, balanced with that purpose also is a pleasing design.
One Shaker design I have long enjoyed looking at is the centre drawer design of the spindle sewing table. While at Pleasant Hill I looked for examples there and saw one that inspired me. The design is simple enough, with an economy of wood and solid joinery it is about execution and getting the simple details right. The joinery used was sliding dovetails for the legs, half blind for the drawers, and through dovetails in the yoke assembly. There was mortise and tenon for the yoke uprights and a round tenon and mortise to attach the spindle to the yoke.
One of the process steps I had long pondered was how to make the sliding dovetails in the spindle for the legs. Using a Fine Woodworking article by Robert Treanor, I followed his measurements for a table of similar design.
I also remembered seeing another Fine Woodworking article by Mario Rodrigues on making a table with legs that were attached in a similar way. Mario used a dedicated box to locate the spindle and orient the legs for the router passes. While I was not about to build his box, I followed his routing thought process and used that in my application.
I decided to build a box that I could attach to my lathe, secured with a nut and bolt to the ways. The nut, purchased at Lee Valley, is made to fit like a T-nut between the open space in the ways, making a secure fit once it is tightened down.
To make the dovetails, I wanted to use a router with an edge guide. So I constructed a box out of 17.5 MM Baltic birch, making a secure fit over my General 160 and high enough that it sat just above the maximum height of my turned spindle.
I then oriented the spindle so that a wedge could be tapped into the securing yoke tenon, across the grain of the cherry. I also used this orientation to position the front leg of the tripod base. It’s handy to have a lathe with an indexing wheel.
I used three router bits to cut the dovetails. I first used a straight bit to cut a ¾” wide flat for each leg.
Next, a ¼” spiral bit to waste out the bulk of the wood for the dovetail, then finally a 14 degree ½” wide dovetail bit.
Once the dovetails were cut, I then used the same router bit in my router table to cut the corresponding dovetail on the end of each leg. I scored the wood so as to eliminate tear out on the legs, but as luck would have it one tore out. Sawdust and epoxy to the rescue, I filled in the voids with the epoxy/sawdust patch. Here’s hoping the cherry darkens down quickly in that spot! Well now I had a pile of parts, I wonder how it will turn out?
Assembly was very straightforward. I assembled the yoke first, then the legs into the base of the spindle.
Once that was dry, I made accurate drawer measurements and built the drawer. The drawer construction was simple, just a box with no cover. I used half blind dovetails to attach the four beech sides to the drawer faces. The drawer is a pull-through design, hence the drawer also requires a hanger feature attached to the top of the drawer sides. I turned my own drawer pulls and attached them with a through hole and split the tenon with a wedge.
I also made a solid wood drawer bottom with some other quarter-sawn beech; I just like the contrast of the cherry with beech.
The top was a simple edge glue up that I hand planed down to a final finish. I routed the edges with a ¾” radius bit for a look that lightens the appearance on the edge.
Once it was all glued up and the drawer was fitted to the table, it was ready for finish. The table was finished with three coats of hand applied natural Danish oil, followed by a waxed topcoat.
The table has a beautiful balance of joinery, design, and functionality; all blood lines of the Shaker Tradition. Sometimes we don’t know where our inspiration will come from to build a project. All I know is that when it happens to me it also brings back a passion for a memory of a special time and place.
This project was a learning experience; one that allowed me to solve construction problems with jigs, repair some construction damage, improve my hand tool skills, and remember the special feelings given back by a design style I truly enjoy.
. . . Jim Shaver