My next project is a close copy of a walnut side table from the White Water Shaker community. We’ll be publishing the plans in an upcoming issue and donating the finished project to the nonprofit group of volunteers who are restoring the amazingly intact Shaker buildings.
I spent a summer afternoon measuring the project and just staring at it. The more I looked at it, the more it puzzled me.
Mystery No. 1: The top of the original might not be original to the piece. The base of the table is quartersawn walnut and the craftsmanship is top shelf (except for the drawer — more on that in a second). The top just doesn’t look like it belongs to the base. The walnut is plainsawn and the way the top is assembled just doesn’t live up to the craftsmanship of the base.
Mystery No. 2: The drawer is all kinds of wacky. I am certain it is original because it was sawn from the front apron. Each corner of the drawer has one big dovetail. There are nails everywhere (which might not be original). The drawer groove is exposed on the ends of the front. The half-blind dovetail on the front is but a hair’s breadth from showing through the drawer front.
I have some theories about this drawer, but I’ll keep them to myself until I get deeper into the project.
So as I gathered my materials this week for the project I was torn about what to do. While at the Woodworking in America conference at Valley Forge, Pa., last fall, Roy Underhill said something that is lodged in my noggin.
“We had a saying at Colonial Williamsburg. It was: ‘Stop trying to improve the 18th century.'”
So I have St. Roy standing on one of my shoulders, sporting angel wings, of course. On my other shoulder is Frank Klausz, with devil horns and a pitchfork. Here’s what Frank says:
“Whatever it is you do, always do your best.”
Today I sided with Frank Klausz. I made the top using quartersawn walnut and carefully matched the edges to make the seams disappear as much as possible.
We’ll see who wins the next battle.
– Christopher Schwarz