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Stickley Sideboard


Stickley Sideboard

By Tim Johnson and Bruce Kieffer

This sideboard is a reproduction of one that originally appeared in Gustav Stickley’s 1912 Craftsman Furniture Catalog as piece No. 8141⁄2. The cost was $50. It was factory produced, at a time when woodworking as a hobby was virtually unknown. Today, though it will cost a lot more than $50, this piece is perfect for our power tool-driven workshops.

This project is a major undertaking, but by dividing it into three stages, you’ll find it easier to manage. You need to know how to make rabbets, dadoes, mortises and tenons, and machine-dovetailed drawers. The hardware on this piece is custom-made, patterned from the original hardware on an authentic Stickley No. 8141⁄2 sideboard. A much less expensive option—advocated by Gustav Stickley himself—is to make your own hardware (see "Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware," available at

Quartersawn white oak, with its striking ray flake figure, is the wood of choice for this piece. The drawer fronts are solid, the doors and side panels book-matched veneers. If veneering is new to you, our step-by-step photos will take you through the process.

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Lay out the parts

Lay out the rough lumber so you can see it all and decide how to use each piece. On the completed sideboard, the drawer fronts (EE, FF, GG, JJ), plate rails (T and MM), back stile (U), and lower front rail (S) will be most visible, so use the boards with the best quartersawn figure. Make the drawer fronts from single boards.

Boards for the top should be matched for color first, then figure. Width isn’t an issue. Choose pieces for the side rails (P and Q) last. After you’ve chosen the wood for these important pieces, rough cut them (including the lower back rail), about 1" oversized in both dimensions, and set them aside until you’re ready for them.

The legs (M and N) are made from 8/4 rough quartersawn lumber, with the bestfigured side as the front of each leg. It’s a good idea to make an extra leg for testing tear out and milling to dimension, because you’ll need to cut 1-7/8" square legs from 2" rough stock. It helps to cut the legs to rough dimensions on the bandsaw, before planing, to minimize the amount of bow or cup in each leg. On a wide plank, use a cardboard pattern to help you lay out the legs.

Cut all plywood parts and web frame pieces to exact dimensions. The only web frame pieces that show are the front edges of the drawer divider webs (C). Be sure these show quartersawn grain. The same is true for the divider and shelf faces (L and AA).

Find quartersawn veneer with suitable width and figure (Sources). Faces for the 12-1/2" wide doors are made of two pieces bookmatched so the flake pattern resembles a mountain peak. Each piece must be 16" long and at least 6-1/2" wide, with ray flake extending diagonally all the way across. The side panels are bigger, 23" L by 18" W, so use four book-matched pieces for each face.


Build web frames

Your first constructions are four web frames. Two of them (C and D) serve as drawer dividers. Tongue-and-groove joinery is easy and allows plywood dust panels (E) to be included in the design. The lower frame (F, G, and H) is made the same way, with an added center rail. This frame will be glued between the lower front and back rails. The upper frame, (A and B), employs mortise-and-tenon joinery for extra rigidity. Position its inside rails 16-7/8" apart, spaced 9-3/8" from the outer rails.

The top and bottom web frames and the horizontal shelf (J) must be made square and to the same width, 47-5/8", though they have different depths. Notch the corners of each piece to fit around the legs.


Make the dividers

Cut dadoes in the vertical dividers (K). When you measure for these dadoes, allow for the 1/4" tongue at the bottom of each divider. Glue facing strips (L) on the vertical dividers. At 3/4", they’ll be slightly wider than the plywood. Position them so the overhang is on the drawer (dadoed) side, and allow for the 1/4" tongue at the bottom edge. After gluing, cut a dado on the outside of each vertical divider for door stops, (Fig. A, Detail 1).


Assemble the interior

Notch the front corners of the drawer web frames so they fit between the facing strips on the vertical dividers. Assemble these frames and dividers to form the drawer section. Glue this assembly, taking care to make it square.

Cut dadoes in the top web frame and horizontal shelf to house the drawer section. Dadoes for plywood parts are only 23/32" wide. Fit the drawer section between the top web frame and the plywood shelf and glue and screw them together.


Cutting rails and legs

Cut all the through tenon rails (P, Q, and S) to size, and make some scrap pieces for testing the tenon cuts. Cut the legs (M and N) to size, mark them for position (right front; left rear), and mark each side (front, back, inside, outside).


Assemble side rails and panels

On a piece of leg scrap, lay out and chop one mortise 2-1/2" long and another 1-3/4" long. Use scrap rail pieces to adjust the fit of the tenons to the mortises (a sliding fit without side-to-side play), then cut the through tenons on the rails. Chamfer the ends.

Cut rabbets in the upper side rails for the top web frame (Fig. B). Cut dadoes in the edges of the side rails and tongues on the panels (R) so the insides of the rails and panel are flush. Cut dadoes across the inside of the panels for the tongues on the plywood shelf and the lower web frame. Glue the rails and panels together. Align the inside rabbet on the panel with, or slightly inside of the tenon shoulders (Fig. B, Detail 1).


Mortise and dado the legs

Use the assembled sides to locate the positions of the mortises and mark them on the sides of the legs. Mark the mortises for the front and back rails by measuring from the bottom of the legs (Fig. B, Detail 3). Chop the mortises (Photo 9) and rout dadoes for the side panels in the legs (Photo 10).

Dry-assemble the sides and legs, then add the front and back rails. Check the fit of the lower web frame between these rails and make any necessary adjustments. Remove the rails and legs. Glue the web frame between the lower rails. Rout stopped rabbets in the inside back legs for the back assembly. After all the mortises are cut, lay out and cut the tapers on the bottoms of the legs (Fig. B, Detail 3).


Fitting the plate rail and top

This is the most difficult joint of the project (Fig. B, Detail 2). Lay out the tapers on the legs and make sure the rail stock is long enough to fit between them after they’ve been tapered. Cut the 3/4" deep mortises in the legs and rail, enough to house the loose tenons after tapering. Cut the pyramid tops on the legs with a tablesaw, miter gauge, and a stop. Leave a flat spot on the top to bear on the stop. Now taper the legs.

Reassemble the carcass (without the lower rail assembly) and transfer the taper of the leg tops to the plate rail. Use a sliding bevel to transfer this angle to the miter gauge and cut the ends of the plate rail. After a good fit between rail and legs is made, cut the peak on the upper rail’s top edge and glue the loose tenons into the rail.


Assemble the carcass

Setting up the two interior assemblies and having a second pair of hands makes a difficult glue-up easier (Photo 12). After the clamps are removed, drill holes for the pins and install them.


Doors and drawers

The doors and drawers on this cabinet are set back, both for aesthetic and practical reasons. The set-back adds visual interest and camouflages a lessthan- perfect fit.

Work from the open back when positioning the drawer stop blocks (LL), then mount the drawer runners (DD). The drawers’ stepped sides and centermounted guides are production techniques that allow extra margins of error when fitting, but do little to make the drawers work better.


Install the back assembly

The back (V-Z) is assembled the same way as the drawer web frames—tongueand- groove, with panels between. You’ve already chosen a piece with nice figure for the top stile—it’s the only piece that shows. Cut a rabbet in the bottom stile to fit over the lower back rail and fit the back into the leg rabbets. Drill counterset mounting holes and screw the back in place.


Attach the top

Notch the back edge of the top to fit the legs and screw it down through holes in the top web frame that are large enough to allow for seasonal movement.


A beautiful finish

We chose a finish that is easy to apply, adds rich color, brings out the figure, and has a soft luster.

Mix two shades of Transfast Wood Dye water-based dye: 5 parts Dark Chocolate Brown to 1 part Medium Red Brown, both mixed at 1 tsp. to 4 oz. water ratio. Before you use a water-based dye it is imperative that you wet all surfaces with a sponge. Let the surfaces dry and sand the raised grain smooth. Wet the surfaces again, especially end grain, before you apply the dye. You can spritz the dye on with a plastic spray bottle and wipe with a cotton cloth. After the dye has dried, seal it with a coat of 1-lb. cut dewaxed dark shellac followed by a coat of 2-lb. cut dewaxed pale shellac. This enhances the color and builds enough of a finish so you can sand it lightly before applying the top coats, Master-Gel finish. (See Sources for these supplies.)


The hardware

The crowning touch on this sideboard is the authentic hand-hammered copper pulls and strap hinges (see Sources, below). This hardware is well worth the cost, but you can also make your own hardware (see "Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware," available from awbookstore. com) or buy similar mass-produced hardware.

After the hardware is installed, stand back, and enjoy your masterpiece!

Click any image to view a larger version.

A masterpiece in Arts and Crafts style.

1. Assemble the interior by fitting the drawer section into the dadoes in the horizontal shelf and upper web frame. Dadoes are great for easy, accurate assembly. Carefully position the three pieces so their back edges align. Secure the joints with glue and screws.

2. Cut the book-matched pieces of veneer with a veneer saw. With its flat bottom and offset handle, the veneer saw is designed to be used while held against a fence. Here the fence is a board clamped across the pieces of veneer. It holds them in place and guides the saw. The saw’s curved blade keeps a minimum of teeth engaged and allows starting the cut anywhere on the piece. Choose pieces of veneer with ray flake running diagonally across their entire widths, and cut them at least 1" oversize.

3. Joint the edges of the veneer. Fold the two book-matched pieces together and clamp them between two straight-edged boards so the veneer protrudes. Make sure the edges of the boards are aligned. Trim the edges of the veneer with a router and a flush-cutting bit, making a climb cut. (Advance the router from right to left. This will reduce the chance of tear out.)

4. Hold the book-matched pieces together with a piece of veneer tape. Run this tape the length of the joint on the front surface after pieces of masking tape have been stretched across it on the back side. After the veneer tape dries, remove the masking tape. The doors require two pieces of veneer per side, the side panels need four.

5. Apply glue to the edged door substrate. Unibond 800 (see Sources) is a modified urea formaldehyde adhesive designed for cold press veneering. It has a slow set, gives a good bond, won’t creep, sands well, and is easy to apply. Use a foam roller to spread the glue uniformly. To hide any bleed through, tint the glue with dye powder— the same color you’ll be using to dye the sideboard.

6. Glue the book-matched joint from the back side. Bend the taped pieces to open the joint and apply a thin bead of glue. Close the joint and immediately lay it, with the veneer-taped side up, onto the glued surface of the substrate. Position it squarely, and press it flat.

7. Clamp the veneered panel between sheets of MDF, separated by newspaper. Even clamping pressure, working from the center to the edges, is the key to a successful glue-up. To apply pressure to the center of the panel, place boards over blocks taped to the centers of both pieces of MDF and clamp the ends of these boards together. Move the pressure out by using deep-throated clamps first and then smaller ones around the perimeter. Glue should squeeze out around all edges. By setting the assembly on saw horses, you can get clamps all around it.

8. Trim the edges of the veneer with a router and flush-trim bit, using a climb cut. The oak edging gives the appearance of a solid wood door and provides solid mounting for the hinge screws. The side panels need neither edging nor trimming. Make them slightly oversized so they can be cut to final size on the tablesaw.

9. Chop through mortises by cutting to half-depth, turning the piece over (keeping the same face registered against the fence), and finishing the cut from the other side. A mortising machine is great for this, but a mortising attachment on a drill press will get the job done too. The mortise being cut here is for a front rail. The location of both the rail and mortise are marked on the leg. After mortising, locate and drill 3/8" dia. by 3/8" deep tenon pin starter holes in the legs.

10. Rout the dadoes for the side panel tongues on the insides of the legs, between the mortises. A fence clamped to the router positions the bit accurately. Locate the dadoes by dry-fitting the legs on the rail and panel assembly and marking their positions.

11. Lay a bead of glue in the leg dadoes, in the mortises and on the tenons and glue the legs to the rail and panel assembly. You can’t take this step until all of the leg mortises, dadoes, rabbets, pyramids, and tapers have been completed, as well as finish sanded, so check twice to make sure you’re ready.

12. Assemble the carcass with glue, clamps, and a little help from some friends— a helper is one, the saw horses are another, and the box, exactly sized to the opening between the lower rail assembly and the drawer and shelf assembly, is the third. Glue and clamp one assembled side at a time, as shown, adding bar clamps at the bottom rails and upper plate rail after both sides are in place.

13. Cut dovetails with a router and template jig and you’ll have drawers that look just like the originals, especially if you make half-blind fronts and backs. After dovetailing, and evening-up the bottom edges, cut 1/4" deep dadoes on all four pieces for the bottom. If you locate the dadoes behind the lowest tail, it won’t show from the side. Glue the drawer parts together with the bottom inside.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August 1999, issue #74.

August 1999, issue #74

Purchase this back issue.