Shaker Dining Tray

This simple dining tray design caught my eye as it would allow me to gain some practice introducing curves into my pieces and to put to work my refurbished Stanley 51 spokeshave and recently purchased Gramercy rasp. The design is from an article published in Woodworking Magazine (Spring 2006) that appears to have been adapted from Ejner Handberg’s “Shop Drawings for Shaker Furniture & Woodenware Vol. 1” (Berkshire House). The piece was to be a gift to my mother who introduced me to Shaker designs early in my childhood. One of my first memories of a family vacation was as a four-year-old traveling from Illinois to the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Kentucky (interestingly not too far from where I now live).

The piece was constructed using 1/2” yellow-poplar and headless cut brads. I glued up the boards for the handle and bottom, planed them to size once dry, and set to work building the tray’s frame. I laid out the curve in the handle using a French curve, roughed it in with a coping saw, and then finished it with my spokeshave, modeller’s rasp, and some sandpaper. I was satisfied with the end product but it sure showed me I needed some more practice tuning, setting-up and using my spokeshave. After laying out the handle hole, I cut in the curve parts using ¾ auger bit. I did as much of the rest of the shaping with chisel and then switched finally to a rasp then sandpaper. The frame is nailed butt joints and bottom and handle are nailed from underneath. I recently refurbished a Stanley 60 1/2 block plane and was glad to have it when trimming the butt joints smooth. With such a narrow piece even my smoothing plane (Stanley No. 4) can be a bit awkward.

Complete ready for painting

Once together I again planed the surfaces with my smoothing plane in preparation for painting with barn red milk paint. Following the instructions in the Anarchist’s Design Book (Lost Art Press), I wiped the piece with a damp cloth, let it dry, and sanded using 220 grit paper. Next I mixed the powered milk paint in a 1:2 ratio with warm water. Two coats of paint were applied sanding between coats with a 320 grit sanding sponge. I followed the paint with

two coats of Danish oil to bring out a bit of richness from the paint. Without a top coat, this milk paint was a bit chalky and dull. After each coat of oil was cured, I rubbed (“sanded”) with a brown paper bag. I was at first discouraged by the milk paint color but when complete this process turned out well.

Shaker dining tray finished with barn red milk paint
A collection of my pieces at their new home.



A ponderosa boarded box

The recent release of the Anarchist’s Design Book (Chris Schwarz, Lost Art Press) has reinforced my interest in “boarded” pieces that have a simple design and are constructed using rabbet and cut nail joinery. While waiting for my router plane to arrive so I may finish my side table project, I decided to build a small box using the techniques described in Schwarz’s book.

The piece started with a 1×12 purchased at the home center. I selected it so I could build the box out of pieces where the growth rings were perpendicular to the face such as wood that has been quarter-sawn or rived. Such straight grain pieces have good workability and are quite stable. A colleague who is wood science faculty member identified the board as ponderosa pine.

As the project began

My first step in building was to layout the pieces I needed for the box and complete the appropriate rip and crosscuts. Once done I had the rough pieces for the box with a nice selection of grain patterns. I then planed one true face and shot the reference edge on all the pieces.

For the top, bottom, front, and back of the box, I needed to dimension the boards to 1/2” thick so the piece had a better look. Having the reference face and edge along with the ends cut and planed appropriately, I set out to resaw the boards to the proper thickness. I clamped the boards in my twin screw vise and sawed the pieces with my 5 ½ ppi Disston D-23. It is my rip saw with the least set and has a rake of 8 degrees and 5 degrees fleam. I generally followed the methods outlined in Peter Follansbee’s blog post about re-sawing. I did a fair job sawing and with not too much planing the pieces were ready for assembly.

The rabbet joints were made by first sawing the shoulders and then roughing out the waste with a chisel. I used my recently arrived router plane to true the joints. Never using such a plane before in my work I was very impressed with how easily the joints were trued.

I assembled the box at the bench by holding the pieces with either a holdfast and/or a handscrew clamp. I used 4d finish cut nails for the carcass and 4d headless brads for the bottom. Chamfers on the lid and bottom were 3/8” wide by 1/4” tall. They were completed with a block plane cutting the ones on the end grain first. Added the hinges and finished with two coats of Danish oil rubbed with brown paper bag after each coat. I feel the parallel grain pattern of the ponderosa pine makes the piece.

The “boarded” box