Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shaker Side Tables: By Turning, Turning (I hope) It Turns Out Right

A long walk with the wife and dogs, a hot cup of tea, Pipeline streamed from BBC Radio Scotland, and an afternoon at the lathe -- pretty close to perfection.  The three shaker tables require three different pedestal profiles but all share the use of sliding dovetails to affix the legs.  This joinery is brilliant, efficient, and the bulk of it can be done while the pedestal is still mounted in the lathe.

As you can see from the profile of the Single Drawer Sewing Stand pedestal, the legs will attach to the slightly narrow portion of the base.  As there will be three legs, they will be aligned at 120 degree intervals around the base.  In this case the sliding dovetails will be 3 1/2" long.  I'm assuming that, if you are building along for the first time, that you are working from a set of plans -- they are readily available on the internet.

Shaker furniture maker, Robert Treanor, has a nice article in Taunton's In the Shaker Style, that demonstrates how you can attach a jig to your lathe that suspends a plunge router above your pedestal and allows you to cut the dovetailed mortices.  A couple of photos of my version reveal its simplicity.

The box attaches to the bed of the lathe, and by adjusting the fence on your router you can align the bit to meet the pedestal at the dead top center.  The clamped stop block registers the correct travel of the router and must be adjusted for each of the three steps in this process.  If your lathe has an indexing system, now is the time to use it.  I know that on my Laguna I must turn four holes to get 120 degrees.  I mark these places (in pencil) on the headstock to save time registering each pass.

Step One: Create flat faces on the pedestal
Using a 1" straight/hole drilling bit, I take a light pass over the place each leg will be attached.  As I will use 3/4" stock for the legs, I need a 3/4" wide flat spot. 

Step Two: Rout out the bulk of the waste with a 3/8" spiral bit
With my set up, I rout to a depth of 1/2".  A quick way to set the correct depth is to set the router atop the jig, release the plunge mechanism and drop the bit down to touch the pedestal on the flat spot.  Now, adjust the depth stop mechanism -- with a 1/2" setup block between the stop.  Now when you fully plunge the router it will be 1/2" below the surface.   When you begin routing, hog out the material in a number of passes until the router is fully plunged.

Step Three:  Cut the final dovetail with a dovetail bit
I use Lee Valley bit "16J1755(5/8" by 14 degrees)  When plunged 1/2", the neck of this bit just just reaches the 3/8" width of the spiral bit.  As it is important to have the dovetail's depth match that of the spiral bit, I make a mark on a board and install  the dovetail bit to this depth.

I double check the depth when a place the router on top of the jig, and make the final pass.  Remember, you will make only one pass, at the final 1/2" depth, for each dovetail mortice.  This is possible because you have removed the bulk of the waste with the spiral bit.  The result will look like this:

Next, I'll work on the other profiles, template rout the legs, and cut the dovetail tenons to match these mortices.  Oh, and shoot me any questions if any of this doesn't make sense


  1. Looking good. Can't wait to see them completed.

  2. thanks for your sharing , your article very nice I like