By Robert Lang
In the early 1900s, furniture maker Gustav Stickley began producing a unique style of furniture that he called “Craftsman.” At the time, the world was coming into the modern industrial age, and Stickley, among others, began to question the value of mass-produced furniture and its effect on those who made or owned it.
Victorian furniture featured many machine-made elements that sought to mimic the handwork of earlier times. In most cases these adornments detracted rather than added. Just because machines could produce intricate imitation carvings and mouldings didn’t mean that they should. Stickley decided to get back to basics.
This simple book rack is a good example of the style. The joinery, along with the character of the quartersawn white oak, becomes the decoration. Function comes first, and the form is a combination of nice wood, good proportions and honest joinery.
Making this piece is like going to Craftsman boot camp. You’ll get to know the nature of the wood and how to make exposed joints. It’s not a big piece, but there are enough joints and details to provide plenty of practice.
Craftsman furniture was factory made, but Stickley’s aim was to use machines to save the workers from drudgery while providing room to display skilled workmanship. At the time, most of the machines we know today were in common use, but the subtle details that make this piece special have to be completed by hand.
We have the choice to work by hand, work by power or work with both. If we understand where each method excels – as well as where each falls short – we can master both sides and produce furniture we’re proud of, without taking forever to make it.
Precision & Productivity
The heart of this piece is the keyed through-mortise-and-tenon joinery. There are eight of these joints to make, each with two through-mortises. One of the givens in this type of work is consistency, and the electric router, combined with the precision of a template, provides that.
I print a full-size pattern of the side profiles and joint locations, and attach the prints to a piece of 1⁄2″-thick Baltic birch plywood with spray adhesive. These patterns are available online in PDF format. You could do all of the layout by hand, but using the pattern is faster and more accurate.
I use a straightedge and an X-Acto knife to mark the lines of the mortises from the pattern. Then I remove the pattern, drill a 7⁄16″-diameter hole at each mortise location and place double-sided tape over the lines. That allows me to place small pieces of plywood along the lines. The adhesive is pressure-sensitive, so I smack the pieces with a mallet to fix them in position.
With the pattern pieces in place, I use a 3⁄8″ bearing-guided flush-trim bit to cut the openings exactly on the layout lines. After routing, I peel off the pattern pieces and remove the residue left by the tape with lacquer thinner.
Article: Learn to create an authentic-looking finish with modern materials.
Patterns: Download Full-size Patterns for the Book Rack sides
In our store: Buy the “Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture.”
From the August 2012 issue #198
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