Stickley Tabouret - Part 3

Before I tackled the half-lap joints, I needed to address the curve on the bottom stretchers.  The image in the Stickley catalog shows a graceful curve on both ends of the bottom stretchers, resulting in a corbel shape.  There’s a couple of different approaches that one could take to layout and cut these curves.  If I were building large batches of tabourets, I would create a template out of 1/4” MDF, rough cut the curve on both stretchers, and flush trim them with a router.  I’m only building one tabouret, however, so I decided to skip the template step and just layout the curves directly on my workpiece.

The Stickley 603’s design is all about symmetry: identical legs stand across from one another and identical stretchers are half-lapped together exactly in the center of the base.  Therefore, it’s important that all four curves on the bottom stretchers preserve this symmetry.  I started by drawing a 1/2” square grid on both ends of one of the workpieces.  On the right side of the workpiece, I used a french curve to find a pleasing arc and traced it onto my grid.  I noted the key intersection points of the curve and plotted those onto the grid on the right side of the workpiece.  Once those were in place, all I needed to do was connect the dots using my french curve and I was left with two symmetrical curves.  I then double-stick taped the two stretchers together and headed over to the bandsaw.

No template needed.  Draw the curves directly on the workpiece.

Curves are rough cut at the bandsaw.

Of all the phases of a woodworking project, I find none more terrifying than shaping a workpiece on which I’ve already cut, fitted, and perfected joinery.  So, as usual, my heart jumped into my throat as I made that first tentative cut on the bandsaw, but, like that first scratch on a new car, once that was over with I stopped worrying and just got on with it.  Smoothing the curve was quick work with a spokeshave, a card scraper, and some sandpaper.  After I carefully pried the workpieces apart and removed the tape, I had two identically shaped lower stretchers.

So smooth...

A matched set.

Cutting half-lap joints is all about proper layout.  On this piece, layout is even more critical because if the joint is even slightly off-center, the base will be impossible to assemble.  Each leg was assigned a number: 1, 2, 3, and 4, and each dovetail and tenon was labeled with the number of the leg they were fitted to.  When laying out the joints, I needed to ensure that I half-lapped the top and bottom stretchers together in the same configuration or I would suffer great heartache. To cut the joints, I started by drawing the centerlines in both the X and Y axes on all four stretchers.  Using the centerlines and a combination square for alignment, I used the workpieces themselves to layout the joints.  When I cut half-laps, I totally understand what Michelangelo was getting at:  you just need to chop away the wood that doesn’t look like a half-lap joint.  I know it sounds stupid, but it really is that easy.  I used the bandsaw to cut the shoulders and remove the bulk of the waste, and my trusty router plane brought all the joints to a consistent depth.  Boom, done!  If you find that your joints are a little too tight, use a smoothing plane to slim down the stretcher, taking equal passes on each side.  Don’t muck around with trimming the shoulders of your mortises with a chisel… you’ll just create gaps in the joint.

Half laps are cut...

... and dry assembled.

In the next installment, I’ll glue up the base and get started on the top.  I have a curly cherry board with some beautiful grain that will make an excellent top for this piece.