in the days before indoor plumbing, water benches, like dry sinks, were used for storage of buckets of water drawn from the well. Buckets were kept in the low er cupboard section w hile the upper drawers and shelf were handy for various small kitchen implements.
More functional than decorative, many water benches were rather crude home-built affairs, but one occasionally sees particularly well-designed and executed examples. These invariably command a high price on the antique market. The bench offered here—a very nice reproduction of a late eighteenth-century piece —is typical of one that might have been made by a rural cabinetmaker for a customer who had the means to "farm out" such work.
Though it is no longer needed for its original function, the water bench fits in well in the modern home. Use it in the dining room, kitchen, or anywhere an attractive storage unit is needed. Most utilitarian furniture was built of pine or poplar, and either painted or left unfinished. The present-day use of stain is an attempt to enhance the wood and simulate the coloring of old pine that has been exposed to years of sunlight and use.
Select flat, well-seasoned #2, 1" pine for this project. Begin construction with the sides, which are glued up from two or more boards, joined with dowel pins and glue. Locate the dowels so you w ill not be cutting into them when shaping the curves.
Run two dadoes across the inside face of each side, one for the bottom and one for the counter-top. Next, lay out and cut the stopped rabbets along the back edges of each side. Note that the upper rabbet, which holds the shaped upper back board, is 1W long and ends at the lower drawer frame.
Cut rabbets to hold the lower back flush with the back edges of the bench sides; then run a % x stopped rabbet up from the bottom of the rear foot to meet the lower back rabbet. A router will make an easy job of cutting these rabbets. If you lack power equipment, cut the wide rabbets by hand, and nail and glue a % x %" strip of quarter-round molding along the inner faces of the sides and set back from the edge. This strip provides a fastening surface for the recessed plywood panel. Next, run the short dadoes to hold the drawer support and top shelf.
It will be necessary to edge join boards to make the bottom and countertop. Note that the countertop is notched around the sides and the exposed edges are well shaped. A plate groove was cut on the original, and you may wish to duplicate this feature or add a small half-round molding for standing plates. The counter butts against the lower back, which is nailed to it. The bottom is given a Y* x '4" rabbet to hold the plywood back panel.
Cut the upper and lower back boards, drawer support, dividers, shelf and back panel and assemble the bench with finishing nails and glue. As you proceed check the assembly constantly with a framing square, and nail diagonal braces across the back if necessary to maintain squareness. Cut the parts for the front-door-frame as
sldgs, bactc 4 lower shelf RAefitTEO FOR
Back h sembly and glue and nail it in place. Counlersink all finishing nails.
Use wide boards or glued-up stock for the raised-panel doors. On the original the raised panels, which are V thick, were placed without glue in a groove formed by a molding nailed on the front and K x 1" strips glued to the door backs (Detail A, page 21). This method has the advantages of utilizing easily obtainable stock for the door panels and making use of a large and rather attractive quarter-round molding, which is mitered at the corners.
Detail B and the exploded view show a method that uses panel stock riding in grooves in the frame. There's not much room for a prominent molding here, but you can either add a small mitered molding or simply round the edge slightly. Commercially produced doors of this type have moldings that are shaped on the frame edges and coped at the corners. This is done by machine, with matched shapers; the work is rather tricky and time-consuming to do by hand.
Panel frames are mortised and tenoned, the haunched tenons pinned after the glue dries. Do
not glue the raised panel in place. It should be left free to expand and contract with changes in humidity. It's not a bad idea to stain the raised panels before gluing the doors together. Later shrinkage may leave a strip of unstained lip showing which will have to be touched up.
The small drawers are made of %" or 14" pine with Vt" lipped drawer fronts of %" stock. Drawer fronts are rabbeted to form a lip around all edges and to receive the sides. Fronts and sides are grooved for plywood bottoms. Fasten the drawer sides to the fronts with glue and V*" dowel pins or finishing nails.
The present trend in finishing pine furniture is to use a dark walnut stain, but the original bench has the very attractive dark honey tone of aged pine. Minwax Early American stain duplicates this fairly well if the pigmented stain is not laid on too heavily. Depending on the type of wood and the smoothness of the surface, we prefer to brush on the stain; let it sit for a few minutes, and then even it off by wiping with a cloth. In this way you can control the depth of tone around knots and accentuate them if they will add to the interest of the piece.
Before staining examine all surfaces for machining marks that you may have missed when sanding the various parts. Fill nail holes with wood putty and sand smooth, or wait until the finishing is done and fill the holes with a color-matched wax. When finish sanding pay particular attention to the rounding off of any sharp edges.
Stain is applied to all exterior surfaces and to
both sides of the doors. The inside of the cupboard and drawers may be left unstained but should be sealed. Many old cupboards and chests were painted a pale blue or green on the inside. There's a lot of area to finish, so you might choose to use one of the synthetic varnishes which does not require previous sealer coats of thinned shellac. Be sure to use one of the low-lus ter types, though, and sand or use steel wool on each coat, cleaning with a tack cloth before proceeding with additional coats. For more protection and a fine, soft glow, apply wax and buff with a soft cloth or lamb's-wool buffer. The addition of antique-finish black H hinges and well-turned wooden knobs completes the project.
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