Thursday, February 26, 2009

Building a Shaker Table

Last weekend, I took a class in furniture making at Woodcraft. The project was to make a small Shaker-style table out of cherry. The instructor was my friend Jeff Fleisher, from whom I had taken a previous class.

We began with rough 4/4 (1 inch) cherry boards that had been run through the jointer one time to help them acclimate to the humidity at which we would be working. We started by deciding which sections of the boards to use and marking them up. Then we cut them to length before running them through the jointer to get one smooth side. After that, we ran our boards through the planer to smooth the second side and reduce the width to 3/4 inch. Finally, we cut our boards to proper width by ripping them on the table saw.

As soon as we could, we glued up three boards side by side to make the table top. We then set these aside to dry overnight.

Next we moved on to the legs. These were made from 8/4 (i.e., 2 inch) boards cut into 2X2 widths. We marked up the ends of the boards so the grain would run at a 45 degree angle so it would approximate being rift sawn. The reason for this is so the grain would run straight along the length of the leg and also to add strength. In some cases, this required us to cut the legs lengthwise on a band saw with the table angled in order to achieve the desired angle of the grain. Once we had one edge cut to the proper angle, we jointed that edge, then rip cut the other edges on the table saw until the legs were square.

The legs are tapered on the two inner edges to give the table a lighter appearance. To taper them, we used a jig that Jeff provided. The jig held the legs at an angle so we could run them through the table saw at the proper angle.

Once all the parts were cut to final dimensions, we moved on to joinery. The method used was mortise and tenon. We used a mortising machine to cut the mortises on two sides of each leg, then cut the tenons on the apron pieces using a dado blade in the table saw. This is only one of several methods of making tenons, but it was easy and worked quite well. I will adopt this method at home, now that I've done it. It makes me wish I hadn't recently purchased a tenoning jig; I'll have to find a way to sell it to get my money back. After cutting the mortises and tenons, we cleaned out rough areas in the mortises with a chisel and trimmed the tenons with Jeff's Veritas shoulder plane until they fit snugly together. Then we sanded the parts and glued the legs to the aprons, completing the table assembly.

Next we turned our attention to the table top. Any unevenness was smoothed off using a scraper. This worked well to get rid of glue squeezeout, but I found it really hard on my arthritic thumbs and I was unable to do as much of it as the project needed. I eventually finished the job at home using a random orbit sander. The final stages of construction were to cut the table top to 18 inches square on the table saw, then by standing it on end using a special tall fence, we cut 2 inch bevels on the bottom of the tabletop which has the effect of making the table appear lighter, a nice effect.

The final step was to sand the top and attach it to the frame, which was done using figure 8 hardware.

We did not have time to put a coat of finish on the table so this will be done at home. I'll use the recommended oil-based sealer, followed up with four to five coats of an oil-urethane top coat. I hope to have the finishing done within the next week.

This was a really nice project. The table is lovely. But more important to me is all the knowledge I gained about furniture construction. I learned a lot, some from doing things right, some from mistakes I won't have to make a second time. Now I feel I'm ready to start designing and building my own furniture. Thanks, Jeff.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Making a Mallet

I had been making jigs to use in woodworking and decided what I really wanted to do was to make something "real." I remembered a simple band saw project in Mark Duginske's Band Saw Book for a wooden mallet. Knowing that I will soon be using my chisels to clean out mortises and the like, I decided a mallet would be a good next project.

I started with some rough soft maple and walnut and jointed and planed them smooth. Then I cut the maple into three short pieces and glued them together in a stack. This became the stock for the head of the mallet. While this was drying, I cut the handle from a larger piece of walnut. I cut the tenon on the walnut on the band saw with no difficulty. Then I cut the handle to shape to fit my hand and ran the whole piece through the router table using a roundover bit to ease the edges.

When the glue had dried on the maple, I cut the stack to final shape on the band saw. Then, I made the mortise on the mortising machine. I cleaned out the mortise with a chisel until the handle tenon fit tightly into the mortise. Finally, I glued the two pieces together. And the project was done! I now have a sturdy and, I think, attractive mallet that should give me good service.

Could I have done anything differently? Definitely. My chisel was not sharp enough and I did a lot of unnecessary work paring out the mortise. I cut the thick stack of maple with a 3/8" band saw blade; a 1/2" blade made for resawing would have cut better, I think. And, I might have improved the looks by sandwiching some walnut in between the maple boards (or vise versa) to create a more patterned look. But, hey, it was all about getting practice with my machines and developing a sense of accomplishment. And that I got.