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

Building a Gift for My Mother: A Little Free Library

My third significant project was building a little free library for my mother. A Little Free Library is a small structure where anyone can stop by and borrow a book and bring back another book to share. Typically they are mounted on posts similar to mailboxes. The site can be used to register a location and the website provides a map and details from those put up worldwide.

John and His Little Free Library

I sketched out the design to make sure that it would hold large size books and so I could utilize 1x12s as my widest piece. When I built this in the summer of 2014, I did not own clamps greater than 12” and had not yet glued up any wide panels. The design was loosely patterned after the appearance of an Amish shed. I cannot take credit for the post construction. My brother-in-law built the post for the library out of cypress and set it in the concrete footing. He is a timber framer and did an outstanding job on the post.

The construction of the main carcase of the little free library was simple, 1×12 yellow-poplar nailed with exterior finish nails (like cut nails these needed pilot holes to). I covered the nail heads with exterior putty and painted the library with two coats of exterior latex. I used cedar siding for the roofing materials and used brass nails to fasten them.

The door provide me some real skill building. It was constructed using mortise and tenon joinery with a rabbeted back which holds the plexiglass panel. The plexiglass is held into the rabbet with square dowels nailed into the door frame with brass nails. This was my first my first project with a mortise and tenon. I chopped the mortise with a 1/4” mortise chisel and cut the tenons with a Japanese ryoba saw. The rabbets were also a first for me and since I own no joinery planes I cut them with a chisel. The layout of this door followed the descriptions presented in Chapter 3 of The Essential Woodworker (Lost Art Press) by Robert Wearing. This is an outstanding book on hand tool woodworking and I really could not have produced the quality of the door I did without this reference. The project also included my first attempt at a mortise hinge installation. Thanks to Robert Wearing’s instruction I was able to hang the door successfully.

Little Free Library Mortise and Tenon Door

The Start of My Woodworking Journey

My hand tool woodworking journey started 18 months ago with the collection of tools and books pictured.


Some tools were purchased and some were acquired from family members. I received the plane from my grandfather probably more than 20 years ago. One of my first tasks was restoring it back to service and I learned much from this process. He won the Stanley Handyman No. 5 as a Christmas door prize in the late 1940’s (1949 I believe). The Stanley drills were a gift from my father-in-law. The books, The Essential Woodworker and The Joiner and Cabinet Maker, are from Lost Art Press and are outstanding for learning hand tool woodworking. I have read them each in their entirety, twice.

I have had an interest in carpentry and woodworking my whole life. I have been fascinated with Roy Underhill’s show and his woodworking approach since the early 1980’s when I would watch it on my family’s black and white television. I made a point to watch when I could and hope the TV static over the antenna was not too bad that day.

Before acquiring the pictured items I had done little more than use a cordless drill, hammer nails and assemble pre-made furniture together with as screw driver and hex wrench. I cannot really point to one thing that started me down this woodworking path. Though in the fall of 2013 I had an odd urge to “have some project” or “make something”. I pondered a couple of activities to address this, but one day while I was on the computer I got the notion to search for “traditional woodworking”. This one action started my journey and the last 18 months have been filled with studying woodworking books, following woodworkers blogs, hunting for and restoring tools, and building a number of projects from small simple boxes to a 17th century joiners workbench. The forthcoming additions to this blog will outline my path so far, what I have learned, the items I have made with hand tools, and the joy that I have gained.