Loose Tenons Need Clean Mortises

Plunge-routing on a fixture (ike this shopmade one (above) produces crisp, uniform mortises for the loose tenons.

OFFSET TENONS CREATE A DEEP SET-BACK. For the gallery of spindles on narrow stock, the author offset the tenons, leaving out one shoulder (left).

With all but the shelf and sptndle joints cut, I dry-assembled the table. At this point. I measured between the stretchers to rind the length of the shelf. This dimension could In-calculated. bur because even a slight misplacement of a mortise or variation in the thickness of the stretcher could throw even-thing off I find it better to measure the length once everything else has been done.

I cut the shelf to size in the same way that I cut the top It is attached to the stretchers with loose tenons, but only the center tenon is glued. The outer tenons, ait narrow by - in. ,ind left loose, give the shelf room to move with changes in humidity while supporting it firmlv.

The spindles are too sm.il! lor loose tenons, so I tenoned their ends ind cur mat-


mg square mortises in the stretchers and aprons. As I played around with the placement of the spindles. I decided that a .-in. set-back horn the outside edge of the stretchers and aprons gave it the feeling I wanted. Its surprising what a difference in. can make in places like this. If you pull the spindles up to the edge of the rails, you create a flat surface; if you push them in a bit. suddenly the spindles impart a feeling of structure and strength. Given the thickness of the stock I had. this decision meant cutting tenons with no shoulder on the outside face, as shown in the photo at right above. I could haw used thicker material for the aprons and stretchers, but none was readily available. So to get the |ob done and to keep my expenses down. I worked with what I had. I cut the tenons with a dado set on the radial-arm saw.

I chopped mortises for the spindles on the drill press with a -in. mortising chisel, I wanted the mortises to be - in. by - in., so I made a i-in. spacer block, which I placed in front of a stop block on the fence. Once the stop block was clamped down at the right spot, I could make a mortise in two quick chops, one with the spacer block and one without. The sides of the mortises required a little cleanup with a chisel, but the ends, which arc severed end grain and provide no glue surface, I left rough.


With all the other parts milled and joints cur, I turned to the corbels. These curved supports, borrowed from architecture, arc one of the elements that distinguish Craftsman furniture. In this case, they're nor structurally significant, bur like the deep set-back of rhe spindles, they lend the piece a sense of weight and solidity. Because I'd left our other decorative details. I wanted to get these right.

I started by making a template. I drew what I felt was .1 pleasing shape lor the corbels on a Jt-in. piece of plywood and cut it out wtrh a jigsaw. To fair the curve and rid it of s.iwmarks. I used a technique I learned from a friend with boatbuilding experience.

I folded sandpaper around a -m.-thick sliver of wood, as shown in rhe top phoro below. The sliver conforms to the curve, riding over low spots and cutting the high spots. If the initial cut is reasonably true, this quickly produces a perfectly fair curve. Then I used the piece of plywood as a template to shape the corbels. I first |ig-sawed the corbels a bit too large and then nailed the template to them with a couple of brads placed in the edge that would be let into the leg. By running the template against a flush-trimming bit in the router table see the photo below right . I quickly produced identical copies.

The corbels fit into the leg with a stopped dado, which I cut on the tablesaw ustng a stacked dado blade. I set the fence to position the dado tn the center of the leg and clamped a stop block to the fence so that the cur would stop exactly where the corbels end. When the leg hit the stop block. I turned the saw off. waited for the blade to stop and removed the leg. It is quite easy to finish the stopped dado with a chisel.


The corbels were the last parts I made. When they were finished, my favorite moment had arrived—the rime for dry-assembly. If all the joints are just right, dry-assembly is a joy to do as everything snaps together and holds tightly without clamps. In this case, I could lift the whole assembly by one leg without anything coming apart. This little act gave me a thrill and impressed my client, who happened to have stopped by my shop at just that moment.

Before final assembly, I block-sanded everything and eased all the edges. Some sanding will always be needed after glue-up. but u is easier to do the bulk of it beforehand when all the pieces lie flat and all their faces are easy to reach.

I did the assembly in stages, first gluing up each end and later linking them together. I started the glue-up by fitting one set of spindles into their stretcher and apron mortises. As soon as these joints were pulled tight. I glued the apron and stretcher to the legs- It's important to square this subassembly by measuring the diagonals with a tape. .And 1 made sure the legs ended up in the same plane by sighting across them. By gluing all this in one operation, I prevented the possibility* of having a skewed spindle assembly that would not fit neatly into the legs.

When the glue dried. I glued the two side aprons and the shelf berwven the end frames. I did this on a flat surface, checking the diagonals again to make sure the table ended up square and making certain all four legs were solidlv on the surface. Sometimes a clamp or two must be skewed a bit to achieve this and to ensure the table will not n>ck later on.

I attached the top with cleats sere wed solidly to the apron. To accommodate seasonal movement of the top, I drilled oversized holes up through the cleats and pulled the top tight with pan-head screws fitted with washers.

SHAPING CORBELS. The author takes down the high spots on the corbel template's jigsawn curve with sandpaper backed by a flexible stick (lop).

CORBEL COPIES. A plywood template on the router table (bottom) is used to flush-trim the corbels.

The Finishing Touch

For the finish. I applied three coats of Antique Mm wax. I nibbed in the final coat with fine steel wool and immediately wiped it off. leaving a beautifully smooth finish that, with occasional reoilme. will only get more beautiful with time.

This table was my first effort in the Craftsman style. I had originally suggested this sty le to my client because I felt that it would fir tin Ji cor and because it stands up so well to heavy' use. But while building the rable, I came to appreciate the honesty* with which design and construction arc related in Craftsman work. There is no unnecessary ornamentation—sound structural components make the design.


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