Today is “Blasphemy Friday.”
I’m preparing the panels to start assembling this Gustav Stickley No. 802 sideboard and wondering if my project is going to self-destruct after a couple years. Here’s the problem: The sides of this piece have the grain running vertically. Yet the grain in the stretchers near the floor runs horizontally.
It sounds like a recipe for disaster: The side panel will shrink with the seasons, and the tenon shoulder facing the floor will open up. Then the panel will expand in the wet months, and the tenon shoulder facing the ceiling will open up.
One way around this problem would be to rotate the side panels so the grain runs horizontally. But that would look funny to me , not like the original piece at all (shown above). Another solution would be to steal a trick from the Hall Brothers, the craftsmen who built the furniture for Charles and Henry Greene. They would build pieces with a two-step mortise , so the shoulder of the tenon would be buried 1/8″ in the leg.
This seems fussy and excessive to me, and I’ve never seen any evidence of this on any piece of the hundreds of Arts & Crafts piece I’ve examined (I used to collect the stuff back when it was all flea-market grade).
So Senior Editor Bob Lang and I put our heads together and figured up how much a 13″-wide black cherry (Prunus serotina) panel would change in width during a 3-percent change in moisture content: about 1/16″ to 7/64″. Then I looked at the bending characteristics of cherry. The legs will flex a bit between the stretcher and the panel.
And then I remembered another project I’d built like this in 2002: A Harvey Ellis-designed magazine stand that’s in my home. It has exactly the same problem (perhaps Ellis didn’t believe in wood movement). The stretcher in this project is as tight as the day it was made. No gaps. And the mahogany I used for that project moves about the same amount as cherry.
So I’m going to build the No. 802 with the cross-grain construction and see if I get spanked.
(By the way, the smaller photo of the sideboard is of the other Stickley No. 802, the one owned by my photographer friend. Note how the curved stretcher and double-tapered legs shown in the picture at the top change this piece for the better.)