This coming week I’m starting to build a pair of close reproductions of the White Water Shaker Meeting House benches. Earlier this summer I measured the original bench, which is in a building near the Meeting House. When I’m done with these reproductions, we’re donating the benches to the Friends of White Water Shaker Village, which is restoring the village, and Hamilton County, Ohio, which owns it.
The joinery in the benches is extraordinarily simple. It’s all nails and glue. But these benches have been a massive woodworking challenge, even though I have yet to put a single tool to wood.
The reason I’ve been tearing out my hair (don’t worry, I have plenty left) these last few weeks is that we’ve had trouble finding the walnut for this project. The original bench is 13′-1/4″ long and 12-1/4″ deep. Its top is one board and is pretty darn clear of knots.
Finding the right boards has required us to call in favors from all our friends. Last week, we finally hit paydirt. Chuck Bender at Acanthus Workshop found us a couple boards that we’re going to bring back with us on our truck when we return from Woodworking in America in Valley Forge, Pa., next month. That will be enough for one bench at least.
Also, Dr. David Bryant, an avid woodworker and turner who owns a band-saw mill, donated three enormous planks of walnut to the cause. These planks arrived on Thursday and they are beautiful stuff. The nice detail here is that the walnut was cut locally, within about 15 miles of the White Water Shaker Village, and air-dried.
Of course, once we get all the wood in-house, I face some additional challenges. Our shop isn’t set up to deal with 13′-long lumber , we’re going to have to move some machines around. And our jointer is a 12″-wide model, which is 3/4″ too narrow to deal with the top.
Of course, I considered surfacing it by hand, but my bench is only 8′ long, so I’m going to have to rig up some sort of support system to keep the wood firmly down on the benchtop as I plane away.
The good news is that I’m also building a 4′-long version for publication in Woodworking Magazine. That short version, at least, should be a cinch.
– Christopher Schwarz