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Shaker Table

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Shaker Table

A perfect blend of classic lines and modern joinery.

By Tom Caspar

When I first saw a drawing of this table 20 years ago in a book by Thomas Moser, I knew I had to make it. It perfectly captures the essence of classic Shaker design. Taut, lean and elegant, Moser’s reproduction has become an American icon.

Here’s an up-to-date version that retains the Shaker spirit. They used mortise-and-tenon joinery, but I’ve substituted biscuits. For this table, the biscuits are just as strong and can be made much faster. The Shakers planed their wood by hand. For my version, you can machine all the parts and then give them a few licks with a hand plane. The Shakers also hand-dovetailed their drawers. You can make machine-cut dovetails if you wish, but I prefer the look of the hand-cut dovetails shown in this story.

If you’ve never planed wood by hand before, this project is a great way to get started. I built this table in walnut, a wood that is easy to work with hand tools. Cherry, mahogany, red oak or other woods of equal density would also be good choices. The pieces are small and easy to handle. I used a No. 4 smooth plane, a No. 5 jack plane and a No. 6 fore plane, but all three aren’t necessary. A single No. 4 or No. 5 is OK.

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Plane or sand the side rails to remove machining marks. Planing is quicker, quieter and a lot more fun than sanding. This small project, though primarily built with power tools, is a good opportunity to put your planes to work.

Click any image to view a larger version


Cut a biscuit slot to receive the lower front rail. Clamp a notched board under the side rail for support. This rig guarantees that the slot is square to the leg and the same height as the corresponding slot in the lower front rail.


Glue drawer supports to the sides. Both supports have to be parallel so the drawer doesn’t rock. Clamp a board to the front rail to make sure both supports are in the same plane.


Plane the drawer to perfectly fit the case. The drawer should be about 1/32 in. narrower across the back than across the front, to make it easier to slide. Support the drawer with a board and a spacer.


Bevel the top’s underside by hand or on the tablesaw. Planing goes quickly—about as fast as setting up a tablesaw—if you use a slightly curved iron set for a heavy cut. With a plane, you’ll have no saw marks to remove.


Attach the top with angled screws. Drill the pilot holes with an extender and a bit with a built-in countersink (see inset photo). Use the plate joiner to cut slots inside the table for tabletop fasteners. The fasteners allow the top to shrink and swell without cracking.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2006, issue #119.

January 2006, issue #119

Purchase this back issue.