White Water Shaker Table


We set out to reproduce a simple side table from the White Water Shaker community. We failed.
By Christopher Schwarz
Pages: 38-41

From the June 2010 issue #183
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The first time I encountered this table in the White Water Shaker collection, it was locked in a storeroom with more than a dozen other pieces. To my eye, there was something unusual about it.

Was it the size? It’s 25″ high – a bit shorter than typical. Was it the single drawer surrounded by a solid apron? That’s atypical for Shakers. Or was it something else?

I put my fingers around the front knob and slid the drawer out. And that’s when the mysteries really began. The craftsmanship on the table’s base is impeccable. Tight joints. Neat pins. Clean tapers. And the maker chose excellent wood – the aprons are all quartersawn walnut.

But the drawer was a different story. The drawer had one giant dovetail at each corner, and the half-blind tails at the drawer’s front left a scant 1/16″ of drawer front. Further, the groove that held the drawer bottom was visible on the ends of the drawer front. That’s usually a no-no.

Then I turned my attention to the tabletop. Unlike the table’s base, the top was flatsawn walnut and was thinner along its edges with an enormously wide rabbet on the underside. The top was glued and nailed to the base.  Several weeks later, I measured the table and all its details. I sat before it and stared for a long time, hoping that I would find the answers to the questions racing through my head.

Was the drawer original? Was it made by a different maker? Was the top a replacement? And what was this table used for? It’s a little big for a side table. And it’s too small and low for a typical worktable. But I liked it, and I resolved to build one to donate to the organization restoring the White Water village – Friends of White Water Shaker Village.

Even today, I don’t have answers to any of these questions, but I do have clues. Senior Art Director Linda Watts visited the South Union Shaker village in Kentucky in 2009 and reported she saw a table like this being used as a washstand with a large washbowl on top. Could the original top of this White Water table have been ruined by water?


From the June 2010 issue #183
Buy this issue now