Shaker Occasional Tables

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Project by farmgeek posted 07-30-2007 12:37 AM 1314 views 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I finally finished these two off. The carcases have been sitting in my workshop for months waiting for drawers and tops and I felt guilty leaving them behind whenever other projects beckoned. They were often referred to as the “eventual tables” as a few folk were concerned they’d never get done.

The style is inspired by classic Shaker design. This is my favourite furniture movement – I love the simple clean lines and the purity of form. The Shakers were a very humble people so didn’t set out to build beautiful furniture but when you combine a passion for outstanding quality with the simplest, most elegant designs, it kind of happens. Pieces like this one were built around the 1850’s and the design hardly changed for 100 years.

In keeping with the historic theme, I used some reclaimed Kauri from a friend’s house renovations. The wood is well over 100 years old and was a joy to work with (once I had removed 100 years of lead based house paint and the ancient square cut nails, but that’s for another post). Kauri weather boards are about 20mm thick and about 220mm wide. Cleaned up they end up pretty close to 3/4 inch thick (18mm) so are perfect for making furniture with.

The legs are joined to the stiles and rails with classic mortise and tenon joints. The drawers are dovetailed like almost every Shaker drawer I’ve ever seen. The legs have a slight taper thanks to a table saw jig I made for the project. I’m sure the Shakers would have approved. They did live by a pretty spartan aesthetic, but were very open to labour saving technologies (they even invented the circular saw).

The finish on the tables is several coats of Danish oil, rubbed with #0000 plastic wool (synthetic steel wool) between coats. The Kauri really comes alive with the Danish oil – my photos really don’t do it justice. I’ve still got quite a bit of Kauri left in the shed and plans for quite a few more pieces of furniture on the drawing board. Looks like I’ll be doing it Shaker style for a while yet.

-- John, Auckland New Zealand -

7 comments so far

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14173 posts in 4008 days

#1 posted 07-30-2007 12:44 AM

nice work … beautiful result … have never heard of Kauri … looks like maple or cherry. Is Kauri a common wood in your country ? Are there shaker communities there as well ?

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View farmgeek's profile


8 posts in 4318 days

#2 posted 07-30-2007 01:00 AM

Thanks Dan – I’ve only been at this for a year and a half (as a hobby).

Kauri is pretty rare in NZ now. When settlers first arrived the North Island was covered in vast Kauri forests (over a million hectares). The trees were valued for their huge height and vast amounts of clear grained timber (on some of the larger trees the first branch wouldn’t appear under 60 feet). It’s huge lengths of straight timber were also valued for ship spars and the British navy outfitted 1000’s of spars supplied by NZ in the 1800’s. Within 100 years the forests were almost entirely depleted.

Now it’s a rare and protected tree, most of the Kauri for wood work comes from either recycled timber or swamp Kauri stumps dug up. I’ve been luck enough to locate some when people renovate their 100 year old+ houses. I’m not sure what North American woods are similar but it works up beautifully and can have that 3D lustre you see in Cypress or Maple sometimes.

The Shakers never made it to this part of the world as far as I know but I love their furniture nonetheless.

Thanks for the kind comments on my first project here – I can’t wait to get more work finished and posted.

-- John, Auckland New Zealand -

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4186 days

#3 posted 07-30-2007 02:41 AM

you are a natural at this “hobby”

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View cajunpen's profile


14575 posts in 4091 days

#4 posted 07-30-2007 06:39 AM

Nice project John, I also like the history lesson on the wood-very interesting. Isn’t it wonderful to salvage old wood and create something new with it.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4336 days

#5 posted 07-30-2007 06:21 PM

Great looking tables. I’m glad you finished them and shared them with us.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View farmgeek's profile


8 posts in 4318 days

#6 posted 07-30-2007 10:05 PM

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. The roll call of really accomplished wood workers here is amazing (and a little daunting for first time posters) but it’s a huge encouragement to get more work finished and posted.

Bill, you’re absolutely right – re-using old wood is doubly gratifying. You get to make something with some history behind it, save more stuff going to the landfill and you get to work with material that already has that beautiful colouring you want your piece to have in the future. The trade-off is the work required to get the wood into usable condition (and the price of resharpening blades more often than you’d like) but I’m happy with that deal :)

It may sound funny, but I believe working with historic wood is making me a better woodworker. It really makes you focus on quality, care and economic cutting – you want your piece to live up to the potential of the wood, but also you know it’s a scarce resource so you can’t just buy more if you mess up a cut. It’s not that I’d be sloppy working with pine, but there’s an extra edge of “don’t screw this up” with the nice stuff.

-- John, Auckland New Zealand -

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4062 days

#7 posted 07-31-2007 07:15 PM

Geek! Nice job and excellent detail. Thanks for sharing!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

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