Shaker Cherry Bench.

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  Above photos show the initial sequence from left to right: raw Cherry planks – planing & thicknessing -ripping to correct width.

This project plan was taken from the December 2004 edition of Popular Woodworking by Robert W. Lang.  I chose to do this project because I liked the look of the bench, and not out of any particular need for this piece of furniture.  The plan made it look like a pretty straightforward piece to make, but in reality I found the methods employed and order of events difficult to lay out and assemble the piece as well as confusing to understand.


Some more initial shots, from left to right: the original planks from the lumber yard, planed & thicknessed and zoomed in view.

For example, the dados that run through the underside of the seat were cut first by the author, and I would have done them last-after making the sub-assembly (consisting of the end pieces that form the legs and the seat supports which run under the seat and end in an ogee).  See proceeding photos:

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Above photos show the ogee-curved seat support resting under the seat (it’s actually fitted into a dado that is cut through the underside of the seat); and simultaneously lap-joined with the side pieces that make up the legs.

Then with the sub-assembly dry-assembled, I would have placed the whole thing onto the seat and traced the location of the dados directly.  The reason I would have done this  is because there is a three way alignment that has to happen here.  (i) The seat supports have to be centred so that they are equidistant from the ends of the seat.  (ii) The depth of saw-cut for the lap joint on the end-pieces had to take the depth of the seat dado into account as well.  (iii) The seat support lap joints have to be equidistant from the front & back edges of the seat.  (iv) Then the depth of the saw-cut in the end pieces had to be deeper (I chose 55 mm), in order the keep the seat support from becoming too thin and so compromising the strength of the bench.  (None of this was mentioned in the article-I would have at least pointed out that the shallower the saw cut for the lap joint on the end piece, the thinner (and therefore weaker) the seat support would have had to become due to a corresponding deeper lap joint saw-cut).    So starting with the dado, and then trying to line up all the pieces to this was very difficult and time consuming.  Another thing I would have done differently is to cut the ogees at the end, again after a dry-assembly of the whole seat.  This would have made the job of centring much easier in my opinion. I am remaking this bench without a backrest to prove this point.  So look up my next post labelled “Shaker Bench II”

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The wood used for the seat was from a solid plank, so the one corner was not square and some Heartwood is showing white towards the back of the seat.  Because of the width, I had to joint it by hand as shown above.  For this reason the underside was not finished but left rough as is found in many antique hand crafted tools.

20130804 gluing up end pieces20130922_21020820130922_210219

Above photos show glue up.  The first photos is the end pieces that make up the legs.  Second photo shows the main assembly and the third photo a detail on the glue up of the seat support ogee.  I used bottled hide glue and left the piece in the clamps for 24 hours.

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Above photos show the bench assembled except for the back rest, which still has to come.  I chose the do this last so as to get it properly centred.

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Above photos show arch cut-out on two end pieces to form two legs.

I had a template for the half oval cut-out for the end piece made from plastic (shown above).  I traced this onto the end piece, and then cut the wood out with a coping saw, rasp and spokeshave.  In the end, the  card scraper proved to be the best tool out of all to get the curve smooth, but I suppose a hand-stitched rasp would have made a bigger difference?


Above photos show back rest installation.

Finally I screwed and plugged the seat and back rest.  The best fit was achieved using  an Imperial drill and Metric dowel one size apart, in this case a 5/16″ drill with an 8 mm dowel.


Above photos show copper screws added as per plan and covered with dowels. Dowels were cut level with the wood with a flush trim saw. Four screws were used on the seat and two on the back rest.

Perhaps I like being spoon fed but I would have appreciated the plans mentioning the dowel diameter as well as their positioning on the bench.  On the other hand, if one read George Walker’s Design Matters article in the latest Popular Woodworking Magazine (issue #207), he makes a valid point where we should consider using plans up to a point, and then input our personal preferences, like what we need to store in the piece, or adapting the dimensions of the bench or chair to how tall or short we are.  If I were to apply that thinking here, I would have made the bench a half inch shorter, the seat 4 inches wider and I would have moved the back rest further back by sinking it into the back support with a full depth rabbet.  I would also have made the wood thicker than the specified 3/4″ for Cherry and relative to the length, as the back rest bowed slightly when leaned against.  Otherwise I would have used White Oak, 7/8″ thick.

And here are some photos of the finished project.

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