Shaker Tailor’s Cabinet
This tailor’s cabinet was brought to my attention by a customer who wanted one just like it. She had seen the piece in John Kassay’s “The Book of Shaker Furniture.” The original was made in Watervliet, N.Y., during the first half of the 19th century using plain and figured maple, and pine for the panels and interior pieces. The book also describes the drop-leaf on the original as being of walnut, indicating it may have been added later. My customer wasn’t looking for a walnut leaf or pine sides, and I assured her I could make those changes.
This is a great storage piece for any number of rooms in the house, and while the leaf adds character, it doesn’t add all that much space. While the leaf may never be used, I like the way it looks; so it’s well worth the effort.
The basic construction of the cabinet is frame and loose panel for the sides and back. The front is a mortise-and-tenoned frame filled with drawers. Construction starts with the legs. Cut them to size according to the Schedule of Materials, then mark the foot of each leg for the simple tapered turning. The taper starts 4-7/8″ from the bottom. At the top of the taper the leg is turned from a 1-5/8″ square post to a 1-1/2″ round, then tapered to 1″ at the base.
With all four legs tapered, determine the arrangement of the legs to show off the best figure and mark them to keep them straight. The sides and back of the cabinet are made of panels and rails with tenons that fit into grooves that are cut on the inside faces of the legs. The grooves are 3/8″ wide x 1-1/8″ deep and are run 1/4″ in from the outside edge of the leg. I used a router table to run the grooves, lowering the leg onto the bit to start the cut and lifting at the end of the cut. Use indexing marks on the router table fence to indicate when to start and stop the groove. Make the same groove in the side and back rails and stiles to hold the panels in place. The groove will be off-center on the rails, so determine which face is most attractive and run the grooves with the best side on the 1/4″ offset while the router table is set up.
The next step is to cut the mortises in the legs, then form the tenons on the front rails. You’ll see in the photo above that the front rails have double tenons for extra strength. Mark the mortise locations on the front legs, then use a mortiser or router to cut the mortises. While using the mortiser, mark the locations for the 10 drawer runners on the inside of the face rails and cut those mortises as well. Then set your table saw to cut the double tenons on the ends of the front rails.
The front stile dividing the upper four drawers is attached to the second rail with a half-lap or bridle joint, cut exactly in the center of the rail and the stile. I made these cuts on the table saw, nibbling away with repeated passes. Assemble the front frame by starting with the stile, attaching it to the top and third rails using pegs through the rails.
Next cut the tenons on the ends of the side and back rails and back stiles. I again used the table saw to make these cuts. The tenons are centered on the pieces and offset from the center to match the grooves.
Cut rabbets on all four sides of the side and back panels. As these are 1/2″-thick pieces, a 1/8″ rabbet forms the tenon easily so that the inside faces of the panels and the rails will be flush on the inside. By setting your table saw’s rip fence to 3/8″ (with the blade set at 1/2″ high) the rabbets can be easily cut on the saw by running the panels on end.
To add a nice detail to the piece, put a beading bit in your router and run a 1/4″ detail on both edges of the side center rail and on the inside edges of the top and bottom rails. Cut the notches for the drop leaf support in the top back rail according to the diagram, then assemble the back and rear legs. Use glue on the rail and stile tenons, but don’t glue the panels so the wood can move.
While the glue is drying, turn to the drawer supports. There are four side supports and two center supports for the upper drawers, and four side supports for the lower drawers.
Cut the supports to the sizes given in the Schedule of Materials. The supports are all a little different, but let’s start with the front end. Make 3/8″ x 1-3/4″ x 3/8″-long tenons on the front of all the side supports. Make 3/8″ x 2″ x 3/8″-long tenons on the front of the two center supports. Only the six top supports have tenons on the back end. Make the side support tenons 3/8″ x 1-3/4″ x 1″ long, and the two center supports 3/8″ x 2″ x 1″ long. The four lower drawer supports are notched 3/4″ x 1″ around the the rear leg, and then tapered on the inside edge. These are then nailed in place, with reproduction nails, to the rear leg after assembly.
To attach the upper drawer supports at the rear of the cabinet, mortise and then nail two support battens in place on the back legs.
You’re now ready to assemble. Test fit the side panels and rails in the back legs, and check the fit of the front frame to the sides. If everything fits well, lay the face frame on your work surface and glue the side rails to the front legs (again leaving the panels glue-free) then glue the drawer supports into their mortises in the front frame. Lower the back into place, leaving the tenons on the drawer supports glue-free. Check for square and clamp the cabinet until the glue is dry.
The drawer supports provide support for the bottom of the drawers, but to get them to move well they also need some guides to control side-to-side movement. These 3/4″ x 7/8″-wide strips are simply tacked in place to the drawer supports to guide the drawer sides.
While you’re still working on the inside of the cabinet, cut the leaf supports and the four brackets to support them to size. Each pair of brackets is rabbeted 3/8″ x 7/16″ on one side, and the leaf supports are rabbeted on both sides to form a stubby “T” cross-section. Then notch the support as shown in the photo and chamfer or round the end to avoid sharp corners. Later you will screw the brackets to the underside of the top with the arm protruding through the notches you cut in the back rail.
Drawers and Details
The drawers are of standard construction (by 19th century standards, that is) with hand-cut dovetails and a solid wood bottom. Cut a 3/8″ x 1/2″ rabbet on three sides of the drawer fronts, then use the same beading detail as on the side rails to dress up all four edges of each drawer.
It’s now time to get to the rule joint that attaches the drop-leaf to the top. First glue up the large top, leaving it oversized for length until after the top and leaf have been attached by the hinges so the lengths will match perfectly. Use the information at left to cut the rule joint. I use standard hinges for my drop-leaf. If you purchase special drop-leaf hinges, then you won’t have to rout a recess for the barrel as shown.
The top is attached to the cabinet by using rectangular wooden “buttons” that have a short tongue. The tongue slips into grooves cut in the side rails with a router and a slot cutter. If you don’t feel like making your own buttons, you can purchase metal clips through most hardware catalogs. Cut the slots wide enough to allow the top room for wood movement. Attach the leaf supports to the top at this time.
After a good sanding, the cabinet is ready to finish. If you’ve read any of my earlier pieces in Popular Woodworking you may have noticed I have a favorite finish for curly maple furniture. I used that finish again on this piece. (Moser’s Golden Amber Maple, a water-based aniline dye, available from Woodworker’s Supply, 800-645-9292 as item #W14904.) After the dye is dry, lightly sand the entire piece to remove any raised grain, then top coat the piece with lacquer or your favorite choice of protective finish. PW
Click on the title below download a PDF of the article as it appeared in the magazine:
Glen Huey is a former managing editor for Popular Woodworking.
For more Shaker work from the magazine, read “Popular Woodworking’s Shaker Furniture Project,” with pieces by Glen Huey, Malcolm Huey, Robert Lang, Kerry Piece, Christopher Schwarz, Troy Sexton, Megan Fitzpatrick, Steve Shanesy, Jim Stuard and David Thiel. Available in papberback or as an eBook.