Start Machining with the Legs
I began with the legs. I sawed four pieces from my 1-3⁄4″-thick lumber, 15″ long and 2-1⁄16″ wide, allowing extra length to square up the ends and a little extra width to clean up the glue lines on the jointer after laminating the veneers onto the plainsawn faces. While I was at it, I sawed a couple of extra “test legs” exactly 2″ wide to use for setting up the mortises and the grooves for the slats. (Since I was only interested in the 2″ width and I was not veneering or jointing these test pieces, I didn’t need any extra width.)
Next were the veneers for the flatsawn faces. I resawed 1/2″-thick quartersawn stock into roughly 3/16″ veneers on my table saw, and then cleaned them up, bringing them down to 1/8″ thickness with my planer. As I planed them, I tested them on the legs until the finished thickness was exactly 2″. I then cut them to the same 15″ x 2-1⁄16″ size as the legs, and I glued them to the legs. I used all the clamps I own to ensure that the seams were tight all along their length. Later, when I was ready to assemble, I would bevel their edges to hide the veneers. I wanted square edges to reference the mortises and grooves I was about to machine.
After jointing and cutting the legs to finished size and sanding them to 100-grit, I moved to the mortising machine to cut the mortises for the bottom rails. Since these were through mortises and I didn’t want to cut them from both sides, I clamped a 1/2″ sacrificial board to the mortiser’s table and adjusted the bit to plunge about 1/8″ into it; this also helped ensure that the bottoms of the mortises wouldn’t chip out. Even so, I always put the “show” surfaces up as I cut. My experience is that the top surface ends up with the cleanest cuts.
To achieve absolute uniformity from leg to leg, I marked the mortise location carefully on one test leg, set the machine up for the first plunge cut and clamped a stop to the fence. I then made a test cut and, when everything was accurate, I made the first cut in all the legs, butting them against the stop before repositioning the marked leg for the second cut and resetting the stop. Two tips for accurate mortises with a mortiser: first, make the two end cuts first and then make the intermediate cuts in between them (to avoid drift that might move the final end cut out of position) and second, clamp the workpiece solidly to the fence for every cut with a C-clamp (the hold-down on the machine does not always hold securely, making the bit difficult to withdraw and possibly causing slop). I cut the mortises in my other test leg at this time, too.
At this point, I cut and laminated the top and bottom rails from my 1/2″ stock (allowing a little extra length and width for cleanup), jointed them and cut them to length. As before with the legs, I made up a couple of extra test pieces.
The next step is plowing the grooves that hold the slats in the inner faces of the legs and the rails. I used a dado blade in the table saw for this (be sure to use a throat plate with an opening of appropriate size for the dado blade), configuring the blade for a 1/2″-wide cut to match the mortises in the legs. Here is where the consistent thickness of stock really began to pay off.
It was easy to set the fence exactly 3/4″ from the blade to keep the grooves exactly centered in the legs. I set the depth of cut to 1/4″ and plowed a test groove in one of my test legs to see if everything was accurate. I didn’t need to set up any stops for this cut, since the legs were already mortised. Because the groove is full length until it joins the through mortise, I could simply start the cut at the upper end and look down into the mortise as the blade entered it, stopping the cut once the groove fully intersected the mortise. I reset the fence to 1/4″ from the blade, tested it on my test rails, and plowed the centered groove full-length in the rails.