The term Shaker is sometimes seen as denoting a furniture period, like Queen Anne or Chippendale, but although Shaker furniture making is a genre built to a set of aesthetic principles identifiably different than those of other genres of furniture making, the Shaker genre is not based, even loosely, on an historical period.
Shaker furniture making existed outside American furniture periods, running sometimes concurrently with them, sometimes trailing well after the fact. Nevertheless, like the country furniture tradition in which it is most deeply rooted, Shaker furniture making drew deeply from the high-style period furniture made in the American urban centers, borrowing forms and design motifs, translating them in the light of the Shaker aesthetic.
Shaker tables, for example, often exhibit straight leg tapers much like Hepplewhite tables of the late 18th century, but unlike those high-style models, Shaker tables with tapered legs were nearly always simple and plain. Similarly, this little Shaker candlestand — a reproduction of one from the Union Village community near Lebanon, Ohio, — borrows heavily from high-style Chippendale tables of the 18th century. Like those Chippendale predecessors, this stand features three graceful cabriole legs leading to a turned pedestal that supports a top surrounded by a shallow turned lip. But this somewhat stripped down and “Shakerized” version offers only a smattering of the turned and carved detail characteristic of the American Chippendale examples from which it evolved.
Turning the Pedestal
The pedestal consists of a succession of turned beads, coves and vases. After roughing in the cylinder, I marked these elements by transferring them from a story stick (see top photo for details), then created the beads with a skew chisel and the coves with a 3/8" fingernail gouge. I added a 1"-diameter, 13/16"-long tenon at the top of the pedestal, which you’ll later fit into a mortise drilled into the bottom of the top support and the top itself.
The vertical centerline of each of the three legs is exactly 120 degrees apart from the other two. These distances are most easily located through the use of an indexing head. An indexing head is a disk centered on the lathe’s axis of rotation with a number of equally spaced stop holes drilled near its circumference. It is a truly helpful feature now found on most lathes. My lathe has 36 holes, so the distance between two adjacent holes is exactly 10 degrees.
To mark the 120-degree segments on the base of the pedestal, I engaged the indexing head’s spring-loaded locking pin, drew a line with the marking gauge, and marked the centerline of one of the pedestal’s legs. I then counted off 12 stops on my indexing head, engaged the locking pin, and marked the second centerline. I repeated this to locate the centerline of the third leg. I also added marks on the base of the pedestal halfway between each of these centerlines. These extra marks allowed me to later create lines on the bottom of the pedestal that form the centerlines of each mortise on the bottom of the pedestal.
You can achieve the same thing by connecting the bottom of the centerline of each leg mortise and the mark left by the tailstock center. I added the extra marks because sometimes in cleaning up the bottom of the pedestal, I obliterate the tailstock’s center mark.
Making and Installing the Legs
I clamped the pedestal to my bench top using a series of U-blocks and the clamps. Then I completed the mortise marking process.
The joinery on this pedestal stand is unlike any I’ve seen on other Shaker pedestal stands. Many of these pieces have sliding dovetails, while others have simple tenons with a shoulder on each side. Each leg of this particular pedestal stand, however, has only one shoulder on the right side of a fat tenon.
I chopped out the mortises with a 1/2" mortise chisel and a wide paring chisel. I then turned my attention to the legs.
In profile, these legs are much like the legs on many Chippendale-era pedestal stands. They don’t, however, exhibit the carving typical of the Chippendale examples. The only elaboration on the band saw leg form is a slightly crowned bevel on the top outside edges of each leg.
I began work on these bevels by free-handing penciled guidelines to indicate the limits of the bevels. I created the bevels with a spokeshave, a rasp and sandpaper. I roughed in the one-shouldered tenons with a backsaw, hand-planing each to final thickness one shaving at a time.
Many years ago, when I first began to build tripod tables, I undercut the shoulders on the leg tenons in order to get a tight fit of shoulder against the round base of the pedestal. Otherwise, there will be a wide gap between the shoulder and that round base — which curves away from the shoulder. However, several years ago, I began to cut a narrow bevel on the base underneath the shoulder instead. This bevel allows the shoulder to fit snugly against the base.
Tips for Preparing the Top
I turned the top while it was mounted on a faceplate. First, after mounting the faceplate to what would eventually be the upper side of the top, I cleaned up the bottom surface of the top, turned the filet under the lip on the top’s edge, and then shaped — by scraping — the bottom half of the lip itself. I then removed the top from the lathe, took off the faceplate, and remounted it on the bottom side of the top to complete the lip turning and to dish out the excavation. This last process removed the material containing the screw holes made by the first mounting on the faceplate.
Note: After you’ve done your shaping on the bottom surface of the candlestand top, and before you remove the work from the lathe, use a pencil on your tool-rest to create a couple of concentric circles on the bottom of the candlestand top. These circles should be just a bit larger than the diameter of your faceplate. Then, after removing the faceplate from the upper side of the candlestand top, use these concentric circles to align the faceplate on the bottom of the candlestand top. When you’re mounting the faceplate on the bottom side, it must center on the same axis of rotation you established with the faceplate on the upper side.
I actually made two tops for this candlestand. The first one, which I turned from a blank of kiln-dried 5/4 curly maple in one long session at the lathe, transformed itself into the buckled shape of a potato chip after one day in our heated home.
I took a more cautious approach to making the second top. First, I planed the 5/4 blank flat, removing perhaps a 1/4" of thickness, and placed it under the couch in our heated living room for a week. Next, I mounted it on my lathe and removed another 1/4" of thickness and gave it a second week under the couch. Then I reduced it to its final thickness, leaving it fatter than the the first top. The combination of approaches — reducing the thickness in stages so I could turn away any deformation that occurred, and leaving a greater final thickness — resulted in a more stable top. But I know that nothing can completely prevent an unsupported top like this one from curling a bit over time.
A slow lathe speed is very important when turning an object with a diameter as large as the top of this candlestand. That’s because the rim speed — the speed at which the work passes the tool — is determined not only by the lathe’s rpm, but also by the diameter of the object mounted in the lathe. For example, an object two inches in diameter mounted in a lathe with a speed of 400 rpm will have a rim speed of 209.4 feet per minute. A 12-inch object spinning at 400 rpm will have a rim speed of an astonishing 1256.6 feet per minute, almost six times as fast. And that speed has real consequences at the work/tool interface. A careless move with a gouge that might be a minor event at 200 feet per minute could be disastrous at 1,200 feet per minute.
That’s why I’m going to make two recommendations in regard to turning the top. First, turn that top at the slowest possible speed. A speed of 100 rpm would not be too slow. Second, unless you’re a great technician at the lathe, use a timid approach to turning the outside edge where the speed is greatest.
I’m not a great technician on the lathe, so I embrace the timid approach. Although I use tools that cut when I’m spindle turning, when I’m turning the outside diameter of something mounted on a faceplate, I simply scrape — very carefully — until I’ve rounded the entire outside diameter. Then I shape it by pushing little nibbles with the tip of my skew until I’ve created the shape I want. It’s not an elegant technique, but it works, and I’ve never had an accident when turning on a faceplate.
The actual excavation of the top’s interior I achieved with a spindle gouge I’ve reshaped so that most of its tip is ground to a bevel. I then feed the tool to the work, from the center out, so only one short section of the radius on the end of that ground tip is in contact with the work at any one time. It gives me long shavings and solid control.
There’s a 6"-diameter support under the candlestand top that I turned on a faceplate. I then attached the top support to the underside of the top using four 1-1⁄4" #8 drywall screws. I aligned the grain on this support so that it was perpendicular to the grain direction in the top itself. That provides a small bit of resistance to the top’s inclination to curl across the grain. I then bored the 1"-diameter hole that receives the tenon at the top of the pedestal.
Finally, there is a small disk with a radiused edge on the bottom of the pedestal. I made the radius with a carving gouge and a rasp, although I could have turned it on the lathe like the other pedestal components.
Give the project a final sanding, add finish, and you’ll have an elegant candlestand that wears its blended styling and traditions proudly.