Yellow-Poplar Shaker Side Table

After building the five-board bench, I wanted to explore some more furniture. I settled on a Shaker side table and I found some good plans by Christian Becksvoort (a renowned Shaker furniture builder) in Fine Woodworking (#210). I planned to build the tapered leg version, but without a drawer.

It started with a trip to a local sawmill in August. It was to be my first furniture project where I started with rough sawn lumber. I wanted to buy some easily workable wood that was not costly. I bought 4/4 yellow-poplar for the top and aprons along with 8/4 yellow-poplar for the legs. I can home from the mill and set forth to rough dimension the pieces.

Ripping Table Legs
Ripping 8/4 material for leg stock

Given that my free time (and woodworking time is limited), it took me most of the fall to surface and final dimension the pieces needed for the table. The 8/4 material for the legs had difficult grain, unfortunately, and it created some considerable effort to get four legs dimensioned to 1 3/8” square. It did however provide opportunity for me to work on my plane iron sharpening skills.

For the top, I flattened one face and shot an edge on the two boards. Making sure the edges fit well together and were very slightly hollow along the length (i,e., a slight “sprung joint”), I glued up the board for the top. Once the Old Brown Glue was dried, I used my marking gauge to set the board thickness and surface the rough face. I believe that the board I used for the top was also not dried very well (moisture content above 11%) and it cupped and twisted quite a bit after this initial surface planing. It probably did not help that it was flat sawn and had grown rings from near the pith in it (further complicating the drying and stability). As all my pieces have been learning endeavours, this top allowed me much practice with the use of winding sticks and appropriate planing techniques to deal with twist.

Side Bar on Straight Edges and Winding Sticks: Based upon recommendations on the web referencing Chris Schwarz and Bill Anderson, I bought a length of aluminium angle as a long straight edge for the dimensioning of the top and legs. I first bought a piece of angle that was 1/16” thick and 1 ¼” wide on each side. I found this material to be too flexible to serve as a consistent straight edge. In other words, different hand pressure would make it flex across the length of a board making it look straight/flat when it was likely not. So I bought a second aluminium angle that was 1/8” thick by 1”. This seemed to be more functional as a straight edge. I turned the 1/16” angle into winding sticks by cutting the 4′ length in half and adding blue painters tape on the top ends of one half to serve as a color contrast useful in sighting boards when they have “winding”. The thinner aluminium angle seemed to be okay for this purpose.

I followed the well-written detail in Robert Wearing’s The Essential Woodworker as a reference for laying-out and cutting the joints along with assembly of the table. It is a great reference and with the text and photos it was a straight forward process to complete the joinery. Leg mortises and mortises for the shrinkage buttons that attach the top were chopped with a 5/16” chisel. The haunch slots in the legs were completed by defining the vertical shoulder with a dovetail saw and paring the waste with a chisel. Legs were tapered by first removing the bulk of the waste with a rip saw and then finishing with my jack and jointer planes. The only word of caution with this approach is tear-out on the backside of the legs associated with the ripping. It would probably be better practice to use only a plane or to offset further from the taper line when sawing the rough taper. Once all the pieces were finished I did a round of final smoothing with my Stanley #4.

Legs were attached using drawboring. I relied on several sources for the drawboring methods including Peter Follansbee’s blog as well as the blog named A Riving Home. Holes on the two face sides of the legs were at least an 1” from the mortise end walls and were carefully aligned so pegs from opposite faces would not intersect. I used a 1/16” offset toward the shoulder on the tenon for the drawbore hole. Pegs were made by splitting straight grained red oak and shaped with a large chisel to taper over then entire length of the peg.  The large end of the pegs were shaped to be slightly larger than 1/4″. Given the width of the legs (1 3/8”) and thickness of the aprons (7/8”) I had to remove some material on the inside of the aprons so the pegs could pass through the drawbore holes. This was done with a gouge. I did not use drawbore pins but did clamp the joint during assembly. After trepidation about splitting the piece with the drawboring, all pegs were driven, the joints were tight, and no splitting occurred. A relief, it was assembled!

Assembled table base highlighting joinery

Next I sawed off the horns from the legs, levelled the legs, and attached the top using the shrinkage buttons and #8 brass screws. The bevel on the bottom of the top was planed before assembly and was 1” wide and 1/8” tall. I debated about milk paint as a finish, but I wanted to preserve the contrast between the poplar and oak pegs so I opted for two coats of Danish oil sanded between coats with a brown paper bag. The piece will cure for a time and then I will finish it with paste wax.

Yellow-poplar Shaker side table