The Lost Stickley Side Table

Using a full-size section drawing is essential; it lets me set angles and shows the exact sizes of parts without any of the risks of measuring.

Using a full-size section drawing is essential; it lets me set angles and shows the exact sizes of parts without any of the risks of measuring.

Most original Gustav Stickley furniture can be easily identified by model number. This was, after all, factory-made furniture and pieces were designed to be made in multiples. When you come across an antique, you can look it up in an old catalog to identify it. However, the only known example of this small table appeared at a Sotheby’s auction in late 2004.

This uncataloged piece was likely a prototype, never put into factory production. What makes it unique is the front and back splay of the legs. It’s this slight angle that gives this table more character than straight-legged versions that were mass produced. It’s also the likely reason this piece never got beyond the prototype stage.

This table features many of the Stickley design elements that appear in other pieces. There isn’t much material in it, but there is a good deal of labor-intensive, head-scratching joinery involved. This probably made it too expensive to be marketed at a reasonable price, but that does make it a great project on which to practice and develop joinery skills.

Thin veneers tend to buckle when clamped. Gluing them in a stack applies even pressure to keep them flat.

Thin veneers tend to buckle when clamped. Gluing them in a stack applies even pressure to keep them flat.

The anonymous cabinetmaker who built this prototype lived when it was a great time to be a woodworker. Hand-tool skills had not yet been forgotten, and machinery was in use to make life in the shop easier.

As I planned how I would make this piece, I realized it made sense to do some of the work with machine methods, while on other parts it would be quicker and easier to make some joints by hand.

First Things First
Before cutting any lumber, I made a full-size section drawing on a piece of plywood. This helped me plan the sequence of building, and the sizes of the joints. It also established a reference to the exact size and shape of the parts.

While I was building this table, I referred to this drawing rather than relying on calculations, numbers and measuring. My CAD program tells me that the angle of the legs is 3.56? and that the length of the bottom edge of the rail between the legs is 15-17?32″. Neither of those pieces of information is needed, and trying to build to the numbers instead of referring to the full-size drawing only slows things down and invites mistakes.

An angled block of scrap wood tilts the leg to cut an angled mortise parallel to the top of the leg.

An angled block of scrap wood tilts the leg to cut an angled mortise parallel to the top of the leg.

I made the legs by laminating two 1 3/16″-thick pieces together, then covering the edge seams with 1/8″-thick veneer that I resawed from the same boards I used for the other parts of the legs. This is the method originally used by Gustav Stickley to show quartersawn figure on all four edges of a leg. To keep the thin pieces flat, I glued and clamped all of the legs together at one time.

After trimming the edges of the veneer flush with my smoothing plane, I cut the angles at the top and bottom of each leg. I then returned to the full-size layout to locate the mortises. The mortises in each leg are in different locations, so I marked each leg’s position in the table on its top. As I made other pieces, I marked which leg they joined to with a red lumber crayon.

The mortises on the back of the front legs, and the front of the back legs are parallel to the top and bottom of the legs. I put an angled block of scrap on the bed of the hollow-chisel mortiser to make these mortises.

The Best Made Plans

The angled mortises on the lower rails were roughed out with a Forstner bit on the drill press. A tapered block under the workpiece makes the holes at the correct angle.

The angled mortises on the lower rails were roughed out with a Forstner bit on the drill press. A tapered block under the workpiece makes the holes at the correct angle.I planned on making the remaining mortises in the legs with the mortiser, but on the second mortise, the machine broke down. Faced with a deadline, I switched to plan B and made these mortises with my plunge router.The through mortises that pierce the lower front and back rails are at an angle to the face, and I’d planned to use an angled block on the bed of the mortiser to make them. Instead, I used a similar setup on the drill press. I removed most of the waste with a Forstner bit, then cleaned up the openings with chisels and rasps. I made the straight and standard tenons on the ends of the lower rails on the table saw. I used a miter gauge to cut the tenon shoulders, and a jig that rides on the fence to cut the cheeks.After squaring the corners of the mortise with a chisel, I use a rasp to finish smoothing the inside of the angled joint.

I considered making the angled cuts on the remaining tenons on the table saw, but realized each angled setup would need to be done twice: One to the right and one to the left. I decided to make a guide block that could be reversed for my handsaw, as seen in the photos at bottom left and center.

This was a quick and accurate method, and I was able to make all four saw cuts for each joint in sequence. This helped to keep the parts in order, and prevented making any miscuts by machine.

I dry-fitted the front and back legs with the top rails, and checked this assembly against my full-size layout. The angles matched, so I knew I could determine the length and angle of the lower stretcher directly from the full-size drawing. The critical length on this part is the distance between the shoulders of the through tenons. The angled parts of these tenons are short, but they need to be exact. I didn’t want to risk a miscut on the table saw, so I used another angled block to guide my handsaw.

The Key to a Good Fit

The quick and easy way to make the angled cuts for the through tenons is with a handsaw, guided by an angled block of wood.

The quick and easy way to make the angled cuts for the through tenons is with a handsaw, guided by an angled block of wood.I did use the table saw tenoning jig to cut the wide cheeks of the through tenons on the lower stretcher, and the band saw to cut the edge cheeks. I made all of these cuts a hair big. Through tenons always demand some hand fitting. I used chisels, rasps and a shoulder plane to fit the tenons, checking the fit frequently as I came close to the finished size.With the through tenons fit, there were only two mortises remaining: Those for the keys that hold the lower stretcher to the lower rails. These look difficult, but are actually the easiest joints to make in the piece. With the tenon fit in its mortise, I made a pencil mark at the intersection.Taking the pieces back apart, I made another line slightly behind the first one. This puts the mortise just behind the intersection, and ensures that the key pulls the two lower rails tightly together. Luckily a repair part for the mortiser arrived, and I could cut these mortises with one stroke of the 1/2" chisel. I used a piece of scrap under the tenon to support it while the cut was made.In most pieces with a keyed tenon, the mortise is angled slightly to allow the key to wedge in place. Because the rails are tilted back and the stretcher is horizontal, the angle of the rail allows the key to wedge in a straight mortise. To make the keys, I cut a few long pieces of scrap to slightly more than the 1/2" width of the mortise by 5/8". I cut pieces about 6" long, and cut the taper on the band saw. I used my block plane to remove the saw marks, and bring the keys down to a snug fit. These angled shoulder cuts would be tricky to make with power tools.

This method let me get a good fit without worrying about the length of the keys. When I was happy with the fit, I marked 3/4″ above and below the protruding tenon to get the finished length of the keys.

The last parts to be made were the narrow rail below the drawer and the web frame. The rail is thin so that it can be turned 90? to show quartersawn figure on its face. It is also beveled to be parallel with the front faces of the legs. The web frame is made from poplar, and is mortise and tenoned together. When I had all the joints fit, I made a dry assembly of the table. Then I took the pieces back apart so I could plane, scrape and sand all of them before gluing the entire table together.

I glued in stages, making subassemblies of front and back legs, and the top aprons. I cut some angled blocks and attached them to the top of the legs with masking tape so that the clamps would pull straight on the angled legs.

After fitting the through tenon, the location of the second mortise is laid out, keeping the back of the hole just behind the face of the rail.

After fitting the through tenon, the location of the second mortise is laid out, keeping the back of the hole just behind the face of the rail.

After letting the glue dry on these, I put one of the leg assemblies flat on my bench. I put glue in the mortises, and put in the upper-back rail, the small rail below the drawer, and the lower rails, with the stretcher in place between them. I then brushed glue
on the tenons, and placed the second leg assembly on top. Turning the table upright on my bench, I clamped the joints and began to worry about the drawer.

Half-blind dovetailed drawers don’t bother me, but I’d never made one with the face tilted back at an angle. I decided to lay out the tails with the same angles they would have if the drawer front were vertical. This makes the top and bottom angles of the tails different in relation to the slanted drawer front which made the layout tricky, but it looked right when the joints were completed.

After cutting the tails by hand, I laid out the pins on the ends of the drawer front, and removed most of the waste with an upcut spiral bit in my trim router. This speeds things up, and gives a perfectly flat surface where the back of the tail rests on the bottom of the pin. I then used a chisel to pare down to the layout lines.

The mortise is cut with one plunge of the hollow-chisel mortiser. A piece of scrap below the cut supports the tenon, keeping the wood from breaking on the back side.

The mortise is cut with one plunge of the hollow-chisel mortiser. A piece of scrap below the cut supports the tenon, keeping the wood from breaking on the back side.

The pull was made from a cutoff piece from one of the legs. I trimmed it down to 1-1/4″ x 1-1/4″ by about 3″ long. The pull finishes at 1-1/8″ but the extra length gave me something to hold on to while cutting it to shape. I laid out the shape of the pull on two adjacent faces, and cut it out on the band saw. I didn’t worry about the exact size of the radius below the pyramid shaped top; that would come from the shape of my rasp.

After cutting one face, I taped the scraps back on the block with clear packing tape and cut the adjacent side. With the rough cutting complete, I clamped the extra length in my vise, and finished shaping the pull with a rasp. The finished pull is held to the drawer front with a #8 x 1-1/4″ screw from inside the drawer.

I wanted an authentic looking finish, but didn’t want to go to the trouble of fuming it with ammonia. I used W.D. Lockwood Dark Fumed Oak aniline dye (wdlockwood.com or 866-293-8913) diluted with alcohol. I brushed on the dye, and wiped it with a rag. I then brushed on two coats of amber shellac. After letting the shellac dry, I attached the top with figure-eight fasteners. I took off the gloss of the shellac with a Scotch-Brite pad and applied a coat of paste wax. PW

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As the tenon key is fit, the length above and below the through tenon changes. I leave the key long and mark the length once I have a good fit.

As the tenon key is fit, the length above and below the through tenon changes. I leave the key long and mark the length once I have a good fit.

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