Dovetailed Drawers and the Finish
The drawers, in true Shaker fashion, are both simple and sophisticated, with half-lap dovetails at the front and through dovetails at the back. There is nothing out of the ordinary about these drawers other than, once again, I used some really lovely wood for the fronts. I chose to make the dovetails by hand, but jig-cut dovetails would look just fine. After I had cut out and machined the drawer parts (pieces 9 through 13), I dry-fit them and then moved on to assembly. Once the glue cured, the drawers needed little fitting and, with the exception of the tabletop hardware false start, everything went really well. (Oh … did I mention that I sanded the dickens out of them?)
As indicated earlier, I had the finish well conceived before I started the project. But a challenge arose when it became clear that, even though all the various parts of the table were made from soft maple, there were distinct color differences in the legs, aprons and the tops. By putting a finish on scrap wood pieces from the various parts, I found that the tops, with a clear finish applied, presented a rich honey color. The legs, on the other hand, had a slight grey cast to them. The aprons, drawer fronts and stretchers had a pure, paper-white hue. It is my personal preference in most cases to simply let the natural colors of the wood come through, and if there is a range of colors, so be it. But in this case, I found the difference to be too extreme, so I worked to at least reduce the range of variation. I tried an oil stain alone on the underframe stock, but the result looked blotchy. I tried it again with a wash coat of shellac thinned 50 percent … better, but I was still unhappy with the results. In the end, I applied a coat of Natural Watco® Oil to the underframe and allowed it to cure. Then I applied a coat of amber shellac, thinned 25 percent with denatured alcohol. I followed with three spray coats of lacquer, de-nibbing with 0000 steel wool between coats. On the tops, I applied three coats of sprayed-on shellac (again de-nibbing between coats) and then a final coal of lacquer. These tables were small enough that I had no problem achieving really good results using areosol spray cans to apply the finish. And, while there is still a visible difference in the color of the various parts, I think they look fine together. After allowing two weeks for the finish to fully cure, I rubbed it out with paste wax, and the job was completed.
These tables were my first effort at historic reproductions and I have to say that I truly enjoyed the experience. And, while the tables may not be 100 percent as the Shakers would have built them, I think they evoke their spirit very well indeed.