Back To the Bench(es)

Part I of building the next Shaker Meetinghouse Bench, this time in Cherry. A good portion of the initial work went into planing/jointing/flattening the boards which had been sitting in a barn for several years.
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Employing a butterfly joint to stem a crack in one of the legs.

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All the pieces laid out prior to the joinery phase. This entire bench came from one plank.

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Using the dovetail plane to prep the legs which will be joined using a 12″ sliding dovetail joint.

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Almost identical.

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Not a bad fit, but still room for improvement. Should finish up nicely.

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Dawn in the workshop.

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Walnut Shaker Meetinghouse Bench

After making the smaller Cherry Shaker Style bench, I scaled up to make this Walnut version to sit at our dining room table. It will be about ¬†5′ long by 13″ wide by 19.5″ tall.

Here’s the rough lumber getting measured for the first cuts and jack-planing.These two boards will be joined to form a 13″ wide¬†bench top.
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After edge-jointing the pieces and some rough jack-planing the edge surfaces are placed together to ensure a completely flat fit, sans any gaps.

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A close up of the edges dry fit for accuracy.

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Planing down each piece of the bench top for flat and square prior to glue-up.

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And glue-up, complete with 3 sets of cauls to ensure flatness. The clamps aren’t too tight-just enough to push the glue out.

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And now for the two legs. The lumber for the bench top was kiln dried and from somewhere in the Midwest. The wood for the two legs and the four knee braces came from an urban tree in Davenport, IA, and has been drying in my garage for about two years. I did an initial planing of it about a year ago and there was some slight cupping. So now a second round of planing to level it out.

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After everything has been cut to size and rough planed, it undergoes a couple of days of sitting flat with some Osage Orange and White Oak for weight.

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Cutting the sliding dovetails on the legs to be joined to the bench top.

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And removing the mating space for the sliding dovetail joints on the bench top. Getting the matching angles just right takes some time and patience.

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The two legs and the top dry-fit to check for square. The piece is quite elegant without the knee-braces but given the size of the bench and the assumed weight of three adults, necessitates a bit more support.

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Sizing up the knee-braces.

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Dry-fitting the four knee-braces to the tops and legs.

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And everything dry-fit prior to glue-up. The knee-braces sit proud on purpose. They will be planed down with a low-angle block plane prior to applying the beeswax finish.

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Knee-brace end prior to trimming…

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…and trimmed flat with the bench-top.

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The bench is now ready for the wax finish.

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But first, a slight chamfer on the top of the bench.

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Gotta love those long curly-cues from chamfering.

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And the beeswax finish applied and drying.

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A Bench You Can Sit Upon

Finished up the Cherry and Walnut Shaker Bench this Labor Day Weekend. The corner braces are still proving to be the most difficult part, more so than the sliding dovetails. Here’s a few final photos.

The first two are prior to assembly and applying the finish respectively.

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Shaker Bench

In choosing to begin fresh with a more direct intent, I wanted to try my hand at a basic Shaker Meetinghouse Bench. Christian Becksvoort has a nice how-to in Fine Woodworking 231 that I used for my first try. Eventually I’ll use Cherry for the later benches, but for this first attempt I used a single piece of Poplar. The final dimensions ended being approximately 18″ x 9″ x 7″. The most difficult step was fitting the corner braces accurately.

I started with the legs, cutting out the arch with a fret saw and smoothing it out with a rasp and then successive grits of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. After that I cut out the two tenons that mate to the bench top.

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IMG_4468Next was clearing out the 1/8″ dado and then chopping the mortises in the bench top to receive the tenons.

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IMG_4484Moving along, the fit of the tenoned legs to the bench top was a bit tight and I ended up cracking the top but overall the fit wasn’t terrible and was a good reminder of why it’s a smart idea to build a mock-up first. It makes the mistakes that much easier to live with.

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Fitting the braces was next and was the most challenging part of the process. My first brace was pretty awful but the second (after forcing myself to slow down) came out much better.

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…and the second attempt…

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IMG_4541The the dry-fit and finally glue-up and planing/sanding down. I didn’t apply a finish and this ended up making a nice gift for a friend’s son.

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