For the last seven years, every time I opened the book “In the Arts & Crafts Style” it fell open to the same page. There, perched on a broad-armed settle, is a print stand that was originally designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908 but never built during his lifetime.
The print stand shown in the book was built in 1990 by a company owned by Thomas A. Heinz, a Chicago-area architect and the author of more than 15 books about Wright. Apparently Wright designed the stand to display Asian prints, of which he was an avid collector. However, the stand in the book displays only a single rose, no prints. Even stranger, over the years I’ve noticed this design appear in several different forms. In one, the proportions of the stand have been altered and the space above the spindles houses an 8 x 10 photo. Other companies have built the stand in a much bigger form and turned it into a floor lamp.
As I set out to build my own version, I wanted it to look as “Wrightian” as possible, and be functional as a print stand. So I added the stubby stops on the table to prevent prints from sliding off the stand. I also made the top cap (above the spindles) a little longer to lock into the mitered frame. Finally, I pushed the legs out toward the edges of the table just a bit. The first prototype I mocked up seemed a bit wobbly to me.
You can build this print stand using thin pieces, shorts and offcuts that are hiding in your scrap pile. And here’s the amusing part. Versions of this project sell for about $500 these days. Some days it feels great to be a woodworker.
Build the Mitered Frame
All of the parts of this project are wedged inside the mitered frame, so the frame is a good place to begin construction. Cut your pieces to rough size and then head to your miter saw or table saw.
If you’re new to cutting miters, here’s a piece of good advice: let geometry be your guide. Most beginning woodworkers will cut the first miter with their saw or miter gauge set 45° in one direction, and then turn the gauge or saw to 45° the other way to cut the adjoining miters. This is a mistake.
Your equipment probably isn’t precise enough. You’ll end up sanding your miters to fit, cutting them over and over or learning to live with your mistakes. Instead, let complementary angles help you out. Set your miter gauge or saw to 45° and cut one-half of the joint on the left side of the blade and one-half on the right side of the blade. If you are off by a degree or so it won’t matter because the piece cut on the other side of the blade will cancel out the error. (If you do this with your table saw’s miter gauge, you’re going to need to screw a long accessory wooden fence to your gauge.) When your miters are complete, cut biscuit slots, dowel holes or a spline to reinforce these joints. Glue the frame together using a band clamp or miter clamps.
Table and Top Cap
The spindles are attached to the table and the top cap using mortise-and-tenon joinery. Lay out the location of the 1/4″-wide x 1/2″-deep x 1″-long mortises on the table and top cap using the full-size drawing on the next page. Cut your mortises using a mortiser, drill press or chisel. When done, go ahead and cut the tenons to match on the spindles. I cut mine on the table saw. Dry-fit the spindles and make sure everything lines up. Take the assembly apart and set everything aside.
Legs and Notches
I attached the legs to the table using #20 biscuits. Cut the slots using a biscuit joiner and set the parts aside.
Now it’s time to make the most critical cut in the whole project: the notches in the table and top cap. These notches allow the table and top cap to squeeze inside the frame. You want the fit between these pieces to be nice and tight because it’s a highly visible area.
I cut the 5/8″ x 1/2″ notches using a dado stack in my table saw. Make several test cuts and shim the dado stack until you get just the right fit on the frame. Then, to make sure the height of the dado stack is correct, cut notches on a piece of scrap the same size as the table and see if it all fits.
Cut the notches on the sides, then cut the same size notches on the ends of the table to hold the two stops, which you’ll glue in later.
Sanding and Finishing
It’s best to sand all the parts, finish them and then assemble the project. Getting finish between the spindles would be no fun. Begin sanding with #100-grit paper and sand up to #180 grit. Now glue the stops into their notches, clamp and allow the glue to dry.
To prepare for finishing, cover all the tenons with masking tape and stuff packing peanuts into the mortises to keep finish off them.
A varnish, wiping varnish or oil/varnish blend will give the bare oak a nice warm tone that was typical of many of Wright’s pieces. Add as many coats as you need to get a nice sheen.
Begin assembly by gluing the feet to the table. Clamp and allow the glue to dry. Now place this assembly inside the frame, and glue the spindles between the table and top cap.
When the glue is dry, nail the table and top cap to the frame. Nail at an angle on the underside of the table and top cap. If any of your nail heads are sticking out when you are done, cut them off or sink them with a nail set.
Completing this project didn’t solve the historical mystery of what Wright’s print stand would actually have looked like, but it does solve the problem of where I can display my own collection of Asian prints. PW
Christopher Schwarz is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine.