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.
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.
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.
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.