You might be tempted to take your rough lumber straight down to its final dimensions in one shot. Don’t give in to the temptation. The rough plank that I used for this project had been sitting in my shop for years, but all of the blanks that I cut from it moved a bit. After rough milling, I let them sit for a week, and then re-flattened, re-squared, and brought them down to final dimensions.
The lower stretchers are joined to the legs via mortise-and-tenon joints. I started by cutting the mortises in the legs. Since I would be cutting my tenons to fit my mortises, it wasn’t overly important for each mortise to be dead-on identical in size, but it was critical that each mortise be perfectly centered on each leg. I ensured that each mortise was centered using careful layout, cut them on the router table, and squared up the mortises with a chisel.
For the tenons, my first step was to take all eight stretchers, both top and bottom, and cut the shoulders on each end using a miter gauge and a stop block on the taMble saw. The top stretchers are joined to the legs with a half-blind dovetail, and it’s critical that the shoulder of the dovetail joint be identical to that of the tenons in order for the piece to go together properly. With that task accomplished, I cut all four tenons on the lower stretchers using the dado stack. My table saw setup yielded tenons that fit their mortises right off the saw for three of the joints, but one tenon was a bit too big and needed some tweaking. I used my rabbeting block plane to adjust that tenon. Irregardless of whether you use hand tools or power tools, I can’t stress enough how important it is that you cut your tenons to fit their mortises right off the saw. Nothing good ever comes from messing with a square and centered tenon, and this situation was no different. Once I got the final tenon fitted, I dry assembled all four joints and noticed that I had introduced a slight twist to that fourth tenon during the fitting process. I was able to remove the twist with my trusty router plane, and a second dry assembly confirmed that all joints were square. (What? You don’t own a router plane? Seriously, go buy one now… they are insanely useful. I’ll wait.)
With all of my tenons fitted, I moved on to the dovetail joints on the top stretchers. In my experience, hand tools are truly the most efficient way to cut these joints. Feeling nervous about cutting these by hand? Don’t be. The beauty of these joints is that no one will ever see them; it doesn’t matter what they look like. I laid out my tails and cut to my lines. Consistency wasn’t critical here since the sockets at the tops of the legs will be cut to match each tail individually… I just needed to focus on keeping my cuts square to the face of each workpiece. I used a marking knife to transfer the layout to each leg, cut the walls of the sockets with a dovetail saw, and chopped the waste out with a chisel. The trick to getting a consistent depth to each dovetail socket is the router plane (you did buy one, didn’t you?). Boom, done!
The next step is to perform a Vulcan mind-meld on my two sub-assemblies to bring them together. That process involves two half-lap joints, but first I’ll need to make a short detour to shape the curves on the lower stretchers. I’ll cover both of these processes in the next post.