Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shaker Side Tables: Subtle Lines Make All the Difference

The three pedestals are turned to their various dimensions, and dovetailed mortices have been cut to accept the legs.  As you can see from the photo above, the Two-Drawered Shaker Stand (left), the Round Stand (center), and the Single Drawered Shaker Stand (right) stand different heights as each has a unique drawer configuration.

And now a word of praise for 4/4 common cherry.

I always feel a bit shabby sautering into Hearne Hardwoods, eyeing of some choice 12/4, medium figured board that is wider than nine inches (and thus sets off all kinds of monetary multipliers), and then selecting five somewhat ratty common boards at $2.25/bf. . .  But that feeling passes quickly.  I happen to have some leftover 12/4 from a previous project, so what I need is leg material.  My method of cutting and templating legs suits itself well to short pieces of interesting stock.

I start by cutting an angle of about 40 degrees on the stock from which to reference the template.  The template is cut the full size of the leg, including the 1/2" dovetail tenon.  This angle allows me to line up the back of the tenon with the angled cut and naturally aligns the long grain of the stock along the long dimension of the leg.  Failure to do this would put too many short grain fibers across the leg and it might fail.  I then trace the outline, cut another angle, and repeat.  These pieces go to the bandsaw for a rough outline cut.

Each piece can now go to the router table for tenoning.  I know that the area where the tenon will be cut is dead straight (it was the angled cut from which I referenced the template) and that (with my setup) the tenon needs to be 1/2" tall.  Using the same dovetail bit that I used on the lathe, I set it up on the router table, and take some test cuts. When the test cut fits, I run the real thing and have a dry fit.

Even in this rough state I can tell that the fit will be snug.  I'm ready to switch out the bit and start using the templates.

Routing with a spiral bearing bit and a template is what makes you love hand tools.  Everything about it is noisy, dusty and dangerous.  If you are not worried about breaking the bit, you are always on the lookout for unexpected, catastrophic failure.  And, -- like a motorcycle accident -- there are no fender-benders, just carnage.  So, why do I do it?  Because it works.

My templates all have a thin strip of wood that matches the space where the new dovetail tenons are located.  By sliding these into place I can line up the template on the right spot everytime.  Using double-sided carpet tape I affix the template to the leg.

I also like to make my templates in such a way that you can affix them on ether side.  This  allows me to read the grain and decide which way gives me the least chance of failure.

It would be irresponsible of me to try to give a fool-proof method of routing with a template.  (By that I mean, do it at your own risk!)  All I can say is that you want to be cutting "downhill", with the grain, as much as you can, and never try to take off too much at a time.

This first picture shows some clear sailing.  Moving the work right to left, and with the grain running downhill, you don't encounter much resistance until you start up the the hill at the end of the leg (on the far right).  Just don't start the cut on the edge of the far left, as that would be entering end grain.

The beginning of this cut might give you some problems the arrow shows where you will be cutting uphill into the grain.  You could put the template on the other side (thus reversing your direction of attack) but I wouldn't do this mid-stream.  You could also cut the portion on the right and then "climb-cut" your way (moving the work from left to right along that uphill portion.  Do this at your own risk!  The work will want to fly out of your hand to the right.  I actually took very thin passes, moving the work in the correct direction and got away with it.  In any case, do not let the cutter make contact with the end grain on the left. . .

Entering on end grain is instant disaster.  The work will snap, your hand might fly into the cutter, and you must start again.  Ahhh, the joys of the router.  Just be safe and careful.

Once all of the template routing is done you will be left with plenty of hand tool clean-up to remove any burn marks and finish the places that were too risky to complete with the router.

Next . . . I'll taper the cyma curved legs and shape the cabriole legs for final fitting.


  1. "If you are not worried about breaking the bit, you are always on the lookout for unexpected, catastrophic failure" - so true with this kind of routing. I had a project not too long ago where I did something similar. I felt uneasy while doing the cutting. But everything worked out.

  2. It's funny, I was just looking at a flush trim bit that had bearings on both the top and bottom. With that you could keep the template attached and raise or lower the bit in the table and flip the work so that the template is either on top or on the bottom. Then you could attack curves from both sides. I've also found that all templates should be cut about 1" longer on the ends so that I can rout a slightly longer piece and then trim it to size -- avoiding the dreaded end-grain explosion.