Stickley Tabouret - Part 5 (Final)

The tabouret in its final resting place, patiently awaiting the first of many Dr Peppers that will rest upon its surface.

Finishing the tabouret was straightforward.  I applied three coats of a wiping varnish to the piece, sanding lightly between coats.  After the final coat dried, I took a piece of 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper and dragged it lightly across the surface once in each direction.  I didn’t apply any pressure to the sandpaper when I did this, I just let the paper do the work.  This process gave me a smooth final finish by gently knocking down any dust nibs that may have formed in the topcoat.

Two screws aligned with the grain are enough to hold the top in place.

I attached the top to the base with two countersunk #8 screws in the top stretcher that runs with the grain.  My original plan was to include two additional screws countersunk in slots in the stretcher running across the grain; the slots would allow for wood movement.  In the end, however, I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort.  In a table this small, the only reason to include the two additional screws would be an attempt hold the top flat.  But, since the base of the table is so lightweight, if the top wanted to cup it would most likely wrack the base out of square, causing the whole table to wobble like a drunken sailor.  Therefore, I stuck with just the two screws.  This method allows the top to expand and contract freely and if it were to cup (which I don’t believe it will), the base would remain square.


Stickley Tabouret - Part 4

Final edge profile of the top.

Gluing up the base of the tabouret required some advance planning.  It may look simple, but there are 10 joints to worry about here.  To reduce the complexity, I decided to glue up the half-lap joints first.  Once that was done, the rest of the assembly only required two clamps since the dovetails on the top stretchers are self-clamping.  Looking closely at the Stickley catalog page from 1909, I can see that the mortise-and-tenon joints were pinned, or possibly drawbored, but I didn’t bother. This is a light duty table and the mortise-and-tenon joints alone are more than strong enough.

Gluing up the base.

Rough 4/4 figured cherry board.

While the glue on the base was drying, I turned my attention to the top.  I’ve had a beautiful figured 4/4 cherry board sitting on my lumber rack for years waiting for the right project to come along.  The board itself was about 8” wide, but it had a strip of sapwood on one side that limited the usable width in places.  I cut three lengths, milled them flat and square, and glued them into a single blank that measured approximately 20” x 20”.  I’ll admit that I went overboard on the clamps and cauls during the glue-up, but I wanted to maintain as much thickness as possible, so I tried to avoid the need for excessive post-glue-up flattening.  With patience, and some trial-and-error, I was able to get a nice grain match on the glue joints.

Three pieces were crosscut from the rough board...

...and were milled and glued up into a 20" x 20" blank.

I was shooting for a circular top with a diameter around 18”.  Working on the underside of the blank, I tapped in a finish nail, tied a string around it, and traced out a circle slightly larger than my final dimension.  I cut this out at the bandsaw, which left me with a vaguely circle-ish block of wood with a diameter around 18 1/4”.  Next, I used a scrap piece of plywood to cobble together a circle jig for my router.  One of the most challenging aspects of cutting a circle is securing the workpiece in such a way that it’s elevated off the bench with the entire 360 degree circumference unimpeded by clamps or other holding devices.  I solved this problem by using some double-stick tape to secure a few scrap blocks to my bench, and then double-stick taping the workpiece to the blocks. I cut a “perfect” circle using the jig and a straight bit, and then added a wide chamfer all along the bottom edge using a bearing-guided bit. 

A circle-ish object emerges from the bandsaw.

Cleaning up the edge of the circle after using the router circle jig.

While the resulting circle had a perfectly consistent diameter, the edge quality wasn’t pretty.  There was some burning, some divots, a few areas of tearout, and a whole lot of roughness.  I cleaned this mess up using a spokeshave, a card scraper, and some sandpaper.  The spokeshave worked well, but I proceeded with caution.  Since I was working on the circumference of a circle, the grain direction changed often.  The tool itself would warn me when this happened by giving some chatter or a rough finish, and then I would change directions and continue on.  In some cases, I couldn’t get a clean cut regardless of my direction or angle of attack, and that’s when the card scraper came in handy.  I used the sandpaper to blend all the surfaces together.

The top, ready for finish.

Once I was satisfied with the quality of the edge, I cleaned up both sides of the top with a smoothing plane.  I pulled the router out one more time to add a gentle round over to the top edge, and I blended everything together with 220 grit sandpaper.  In the end, I’m happy with the way the top came out and I can’t wait to see how it looks with some finish on it, which will be the topic of the final post in this series.


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.


Stickley Tabouret - Part 2

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.

Mortise-and-tenon joints are done.  Notice that the shoulders are cut on the upper stretchers, as well.

They fit!

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.)

Make sure that your saw cuts on the tails are square to the face of the stretcher.

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 dovetail is a strong mechanical joint to attach the upper stretchers to the legs.

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.

Mortise-and-tenon and dovetail joints have been cut and fitted.


Stickley Tabouret - Part 1

The Stickley tabouret (also known as a “side table” to those of us who don’t wear fancy pants) has been in production for over one hundred years.  The picture above is a page from their 1909 catalog, where the Stickley 603 was available for the low low price of $3.75.  Allowing for inflation, that’s somewhere around $95 in 2015 dollars, which is still a fantastic bargain for a well-made piece of solid wood furniture.  Stickley still sells the 603 today, but I’m guessing they charge more than $95.  Maybe not; I didn’t ask.

I need a small side table to place between two reading chairs and I think this design is a great fit.  The 603 tabouret is 20 inches tall with a top diameter of 18 inches.  The 18 inch diameter top is the perfect size to fit between my two recliners, but 20 inches is a little low.  The Stickley 604 tea table has the same basic design, but stands 26 inches tall with a top diameter of 20 inches.  Judging from the catalog picture, the stretchers on the tea table have also been lengthened slightly to widen the stance of the taller table.  For my purposes, however, the tea table is too big.  The 20 inch diameter top is too wide, and the 26 inch height would put the table top too far above the armrests of my chairs.  I want the tabletop to sit just below the armrests to avoid whacking the edge of the table with my elbows.  After exhaustive research, I determined that a height of 23 inches is optimal for me to retrieve my glass of Dr Pepper comfortably, while minimizing the ever-present chance that I’ll spill it all over the place.  So, my tabouret will have an 18 inch diameter top and a height of 23 inches.  I guess my version of this table could be called a Stickley 603-1/2.

I was able to get most of the parts for the base out of this single 8/4 cherry offcut

Rough blanks for four legs, two upper stretchers, and two lower stretchers.

One of the things I love about the tabouret is how little material you need to build it.  I was able to get all four legs and the two top stretchers out of an 8/4 offcut of cherry that was taking up space on my lumber rack.  A few minutes of digging in my scrap bin yielded an additional piece just large enough to produce the two bottom stretchers.  I was even able to get all four legs with rift-sawn grain.  If you look at the end grain of a leg blank, a “rift sawn” grain pattern means that the growth rings run from corner-to-corner (i.e. diagonally).  This yields straight grain on all four sides of the leg.  If your rough stock is thick enough, you can carve your leg blanks out of it in any orientation necessary to achieve a rift sawn grain pattern.  In my case here, however, I had enough diagonal growth rings on both edges of the board to just rip the leg blanks straight out. I briefly toyed with the idea of widening the stance of my table slightly, but in the end, I opted to keep the stretchers the same length as the Stickley 603.  My rough stock just isn’t long enough to allow me to increase the size of the stretchers.  Sometimes you have to let your material dictate the size of your finished piece and, honestly, I don’t think increasing the height by 3 inches will impact the stability of the table in any significant way.

All the parts for the table base are rough milled and left to rest for several days before milling to final size.

I prefer to complete my milling in two steps: rough milling and finish milling.  I ripped the oversized leg and stretcher blanks out on the bandsaw and rough milled the parts to the point where they were flat, square, and slightly oversized in all dimensions.  Milling rough stock releases tension in the boards, which will often cause the blanks to warp or cup slightly, so I usually give them about a week to move around, and then I mill them flat and square to their final dimensions.  Next steps are finish milling and joinery.  Stay tuned!