When I began building furniture, I was, as are many new-to-woodworking furniture makers, into Shaker pieces. I enjoyed the simplistic designs and straight lines the Shakers put into each piece. If you sent me into the shop to build anything I wanted, it would be a Shaker project.
One of my first furniture books was John Kassay’s “The Book of Shaker Furniture” (University of Massachusetts Press). I thumbed through that book for countless hours trying to find a project to build. Not that there were not enough choices, I was working to whittle down the number of pieces until I arrived at “the one.”
On one of those searches, I found a three-drawer sewing table that became the last project standing at the end – it was the one. I’ve since built that design many times. While snooping around an antique Shaker furniture auction recently, I discovered a similar two-drawer version. The two-drawer sewing table presents a cleaner line, and is more table-like. Plus, it fits into many more areas in today’s homes.
As is most often the case, work on a table-like project begins with the legs. The tools we use to work on projects sometimes guide our building processes. Because I’m going to plunge-rout the mortises for this project, I’ll leave the legs square until after I get all the mortises cut. Tapering afterward allows more support for my router as I work. Plus, after the mortises are plowed, it’s easy to determine just which faces of the legs need to be tapered.
Mill and size the legs for your sewing table. Whenever you’re building a piece that has tapered legs (any legs for that matter), it’s important to consider the grain. It’s better to select lumber with which you can chose and use rift-sawn material – a grain pattern that runs vertically up an down the legs on all four of its faces.
If rift-sawn grain is not available, make sure that your front legs are matching. If you end up with a flat-grain face and a quarter-sawn face on your two front legs, the differences tend to be amplified, and that’s the first thing noticed on your project.
Because these legs are 1-1/2” square, you have opportunities to manipulate the lumber and pull out material that has a rift-sawn grain. (For more information on this technique, click here.)
Select the position of the four table legs then lay out the mortise locations. The sides and back are split mortises. After leaving a 1/2” shoulder at the top and bottom, the remaining area, if fully mortised, would weaken the legs considerably. Splitting the mortise into two slots with a bridge of wood between adds strength.
Front mortises are a bit more creative. The top and bottom front rails are also mortised, as are the sides and back; the lengths of the two mortises, however, are much shorter. I marked 1/4” shoulders on the bottom rail and the lower edge of the top rail. Because the top edge of the top rail is near the leg’s end, I increased the shoulder to 3/8” to make it less likely to break out as you work. If the small area does break during construction, it’s not a problem. That area is not seen in the finished project.
To access the rest of this content, you must register for a 360 Free Membership or login to your premium membership account.