Shaker Side Tables in Cherry pt. 1

After finishing up looooong projects, I’m always looking for something relatively quick and satisfying. So, since my last two projects have been the roubo bench and a walnut blanket chest (post coming soon on that), I needed a break.  Not a break from woodworking, of course, but a break from thinking!

I had built a shaker side table last spring, based on Chris Becksvoort article in Fine Woodworking magazine, “Shaker Classic, 2 Ways” (FWW #210).  In fact, it was the first real piece of furniture I built. I had built a humidor before that, and a toolbox, but this was certainly the first thing that made my wife remark “hmmm.. maybe you aren’t terrible at this after all.”  Here’s a picture of how it turned out.

It came out ok, and didn’t take too long. So, I figured why not build a couple more? If I’m building one, I may as well build two coz I’ve got a decent stack of cherry sitting idly by.

Well, like usual I started taking pictures late in the process. But, you all don’t need to see a bunch of pictures of me milling up the stock anyways, right? The first night I milled the stock for the legs, the 2nd night I milled up the boards for the top, skirt, and shelf, and the 3rd night I glued everything up.  I didn’t have any 8/4 stock, so I had to glue up all the legs. I took a chance and clamped up four legs (8 pieces) at a time.

I think it will turn out fine. Here’s the tops and shelves (oh yeah, I decided to add a shelf to the tables) after glue-up.

So, I sort of lied when I said I had milled the skirts (front, back, side pieces). I milled up a single board, but didn’t cut it into it’s individual parts yet. 

First, I mark up the board where I’m going to cut, adding 1/8” to each length for the saw kerf. As I progress in my woodworking adventures, I’m getting much more confident about cutting to the line/correct length right away. It saves a lot of time in the end. Now, it will look nice if the grain runs continuously around the table, so I marked the pieces in order, and then coded them accordingly so I would know what went where (notice the article laying on the bench there? I told you I didn’t want to think. Read a paragraph, make the cuts).

Btw, after reading Jim Toplin’s new book, I decided to order some grease pencils because I saw him using them. They work great. I ordered a pack of black ones, but also a pack of white for using on walnut.

So, onto cutting. I really enjoy cutting with my panel saw. I got an old disston panel saw from Mark Harrell (of Bad Axe Toolworks fame), and it works fantastic. Well, it used to, at least. One night my batteries died on my sawzall, and I just started using my panel saw because, frankly, it was almost as fast cutting through 2x4s. Well, I was getting a little carried away, and I kinked the crap out of it. Take a look at the poor saw now.

See that wicked bend? And it’s hard to take a picture of it.. Trust me, it’s much worse in person. That being said, I can still cut a remarkably straight line with it. 

Anyways, let’s get to cutting. First drag out the sawbench.

Then wax up the saw, and get to cross-cutting. Hmmm… Can I really cut square with this mangled saw?  Yup.

I shoot all the ends anyways, so’ve I’ve got a nice clean area to mark and cut the tenons.

Well, now I’ve got all the boards almost ready to go. Next up is cutting tenons, and chopping mortises. I’ve told myself that I want to cut these all by hand for practice. Let’s see, that’s 8 cuts per tenon multiplied by 2 tenons per side multiplied by 3 sides multiplied by two tables… 96 saw cuts!! Man, I better be a first class sawyer by the end of this. I’m still waffling on the mortises.. I’ve only chopped a few mortises by hand, and I’ve done it poorly. I figure 12 per table, so that’s not too bad I guess.  We’ll see.

– Matt

Roubo Part 7. Let’s finish this up.

So, we left off with the bench pretty much being done.. Just needed to flatten the top, apply some finish, chamfer edges, stuff like that.

Actually, one of the first things I needed to do was put some 3/4” holes in the rear part of the bench for holdfasts or any other standard 3/4” bench accessory.  How do you drill a 3/4” hole in a 4” bench top?  Well, I seriously considered setting the benchtop on my drill press (I’ve got a monster of a drill press).  But, in the end, I figured a brace and a bit would do just fine.  The secret is to stop right when the screw tip pokes out the bottom of your hole, and then drill up from the bottom so there’s no blow-out.

Here’s one coming along nicely:

And another one:

And another:

And so on… Chris Schwarz was right though.  After you do a couple of these, you get a feel for what is perpendicular, and you don’t even really need the squares anymore.  It was quite a workout though, ash is some tough wood.

Next, I had to do some final tuning in a few places before I could call it a day and move on to chamfering, flattening, and finishing.  A ferret could make a home in this gap between the leg and benchtop…

Anyways, after some fine-tuning, some cleanup, I got onto the flattening.  I’m not gonna cover that subject here, it’s been done to death. It takes a little while, and you need to be careful not to introduce twist, but it’s not so bad. And when you’re almost done, and you start getting 9’ long, full width shavings, it’s pretty cool.  Also, if you happen to have a Lie-Nielsen No8? Absolute heaven.

Now, here is where I depart from the benchcrafted plans a little bit. I spent quite a bit of time debating whether or not I actually wanted a split-top or a solid top.  I ended up going with the split top because I think it would come in very handy for securing pieces like drawers after glue-up, to do final planing. I wasn’t very interested in the tool storage in the “gap-top” in the middle of the bench. I don’t have a dedicated wall or handy storage spot for most of my stuff, so I knew that almost my entire tool set would come to live in that gap-stop, which would be a real pain. 

So, I copied what I saw Jameel do on “steve’s roubo”, and built a nice tool rack for the back left part of the bench.  Here’s a couple pictures of that coming together.

Like I said, I don’t have a spot for most of my tools, so I made sure this rack would have space for my saws, most of my chisels, etc.. 

So, we’re pretty much done!!  Of course, there is much that was done that isn’t pictured. Chamfering, building the shelf underneath, making 18 bench dogs (Jameel said make a dog for every hole. I must obey.) But who cares, let’s get to the finished product right? I used BLO as a finish, and I’ll admit that I regretted it as soon as I wiped it on. I had gotten used to the very light color of the ash, and the BLO turned it just a little too yellow for my taste. I guess I could have used tung oil, or maybe even just paste wax.

Picture time!!

Sweet! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t a lot of work, because it was. It was probably about 3 months from start to finish, with two trips to the hospital for good measure.  Definitely worth it though. And if you haven’t had the chance to try out the Benchcrafted vises, well, you should. They are worth every penny. It is hard to describe the clamping power, but I guess all I can say is you can definitely believe the hype surrounding them.

Next up.. Finishing that blanket chest I’ve been working on.  

– Matt