Chris Schwarz's Blog

White Water Meeting House Bench

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

25 thoughts on “White Water Meeting House Bench

  1. James Watriss

    Sorry Chuck,

    I was in a rolling cranky mood yesterday. I think a shorter version would be a great project. My apologies to Ray were due to the misreading on my part… I thought he said the 13′ version would be a great I can do that project.

    Apologies to all, I’m going to go put the dunce cap back on now…

  2. Chuck Curci

    "I CAN DO THAT" is the reason I read your magazine. This project (esp. the 4 foot version) got me excited. Please don’t let (well intended) nay sayers discourage you from including this type of project. Let there be room for the beginner…

  3. James Watriss

    3 things:

    -For the love of god, a 13′ plank is not an I can do it piece. Please don’t send beginners out to destroy hard to find lumber.

    -"If everyone liked everything, then nothing would be special." This is going on my quote board immediately.

    -Pull the guard from your jointer. Most modern jointers are designed to do this to enable rabbeting, using that little ledge that sticks out. In this case, you’d be running a 12" wide rabbet on a 13" wide board, but I think it’s easier to take that last 1" down with a hand plane, than it is to hand-flatten the whole #*^&% thing.

    My .02

  4. Ray Knight

    Chris – thanks for doing this project. In reality it is a public service project for the Whitewater Shaker museum. I thank you. While this is not a highend piece the long one presents real challenges. The short one is a nice project for I CAN DO THAT column. I love shaker benches (benchs?). I retrieved several poplar planks left over from a tree cut in our front yard 28 years ago, the bulk of which went to build a friend’s barn. I didn’t want to waste these planks, so set out to make 7 shaker benchs (?sp) with the dovetailed angle piece as used at Pleasant Hill. All different sizes, different heights, different uses. One I am using as a saw bench outside my shop. Every piece doesn’t have to be a highend piece, and a Federal, Chippendale, Maloof, or A&C bench just wouldn’t work in that meeting room. Ray Knight

  5. Michael Dyer

    Ah, Chris, you are always a gentleman.
    Too bad I can’t hit the "no, on second thought, don’t send" button. I really don’t get the appeal of this piece, but that doesn’t mean that I have to carp about it.
    Best Regards,
    Mike

  6. Chris C.

    I more or less agree with Michael Dyer; this isn’t exactly the
    greatest Shaker piece I have ever seen. In fact, it seems only
    a so-so example of Shaker craftsmanship and design. There are much better pieces, even within the category of seating.

    Not that a piece has to be perfect, but aren’t there already an
    overabundance of published Shaker pieces much like this
    one? (Or exactly like this one, other than the length?)

    I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I think the Arts
    and Crafts and Shaker styles get too much coverage(though I
    like them just fine). That’s one of the reasons I like the
    fact that Glen Huey is on staff, since he seems to produce the
    most non Arts and Crafts and Shaker pieces. I have a suggestion
    for two Popular Woodworking books:

    1. Mostly NOT Shaker and
    2. Mostly NOT Arts and Crafts.

    Chris

  7. Chris Somers

    Chris wrote:
    "And our jointer is a 12"-wide model, which is 3/4" too narrow to deal with the top."

    Dude, that’s an upgrade to a 16" jointer staring you in the face there. C’mon!
    :)

    -Chris

  8. Christopher Schwarz

    Michael,

    I have other photos, but they are just detail shots to help me with the drafting. I don’t think they’d impress you. The bench is very simple, but I like its lines. It reminds me of one of the first woodworking projects I built on my back porch, so I have a soft spot for it.

    It might not be a Harvard piece, but it does have a Western Shaker charm, which is an acquired taste.

    Chris

  9. Michael Dyer

    I hate to be a complete philistine here (Wiki -A person …..said to despise or undervalue art, beauty, intellectual content, and/or spiritual values), not me, I hope, but I confess that I can’t relate to the use of extra wide, extra long, and somewhat wonderfully rare (to us philistines) walnut boards to reproduce what seems in the original to be a utilitarian after a fashion, uncomfortable after a moment, and ugly on the face of it rough bench. Do you have a photograph from another angle?

  10. Rich Spence

    We think that the meeting house originally had six of these benches – for the "world’s people" to sit on when they came to observe Shaker meetings on Sundays. We are so pleased that new benches are being made, and soon the public will again be able to sit on them in a Shaker meeting house. Rich Spence, Friends of White Water Shaker Village

  11. Patrick Secord

    13 feet long.(?)
    How long is that Dominy bench, or rather how long could it be?
    Hmmm, is it time to rethink that oath about "not yet" building one.

    Patrick

  12. Rob, The Tattooed Woodworker

    This may sound crazy, but why not quick-lam 2 pieces of 14′ LVL (face-to-face), bolt that to the front edge of some sawhorses, nail a cleat on the back side of the LVL to keep the wood from slipping, and brace the horses against a wall? Should be plenty solid and cheap. I can send you a drawing if you don’t follow my description.

  13. Gregg

    I can’t imagine working on a 13′ project like that. Keep us up to date on the challenges of this project. I agree with David, it is a cool looking bench and I look forward to building one (4 ft).

COMMENT