Part 2 – Making Shaker Furniture the Modern Way

Even the most novice level of furniture builders would like to make Shaker-inspired furniture, and we’re no exception. But instead of including our own directions for creating Shaker furniture, we decided not to reinvent the wheel. Shakers were never ones to waste a motion, and in writing about them, we’re going to emulate them.

The folks at Popular Woodworking have already compiled a marvelous PDF of plans and directions for making three types of Shaker furniture: a Shaker-inspired bench, an Enfield cabinet and a Shaker hanging cabinet.

Shaker inspired bench

Shaker-inspired bench — Photo courtesy of Popular Woodworkinge…

Enfield Shaker Cabinet

Enfield Shaker Cabinet — Photo by Al Parrish

Shaker Hanging Cabinet

Enfield Shaker Cabinet — Photo by Al Parrish

You can download these plans for free by visiting this page and entering your email address for your hobby of furniture building.  These plans can be followed by a beginner, but you should be a beginner who is much like the Shakers themselves—you should try to do the best job possible each step of the way. This furniture is simple but it still requires a commitment to excellence if you want to end up with a nice-looking piece.

Making Shaker furniture is much like making other types of furniture. To make good furniture you must have the right tools. During their heyday, Shakers used only hand tools to make their beautiful furniture. If you want to follow their methods exactly, you can still find all the hand tools they used, much like this toolset seen here.

Making Shaker furniture

Shaker style tool chest by Christian Becksvoort — Photo by Michael Pekovich

But if the Shakers could have used electric tools, they would have. They were innovators and inventors, improving all the machinery on their settlements. These hard-working folks believed in developing technology to help lessen the huge amount of work they did each day.

Also, according to their beliefs, making items that were as close to perfection as possible was the end goal of every task. It follows that good tools will help you make a better piece of furniture. Here’s a list of the modern tools you’ll need to create your own Shaker pieces:

  • Circular saw

The need for this saw should be self-evident and most amateur carpenters have one. If you don’t have a table saw, you can use this for making long rip cuts. Most of the time you’ll be using this for cross cuts. It’s a good, all-around saw that no furniture maker can do without.

  • Power jig saw

Although many carpenters get by with a hand jig saw, buy a power version. Once you have it, it’s one of those tools that will make you wonder how you got along without it.

  • Palm router

Some might say this tool isn’t necessary, and if a person is going to get a router, get a table router. But this smaller version can do amazing things, including tasks that usually can only be done by a table saw, and it has the advantage of being portable. This is a cool tool that you’ll use again and again for years to come.

  • Cordless drill

This one is a no-brainer. Most amateur carpenters have them. If you don’t have one, get one. You’ll be so glad you did.

  • Right angle close quarters drill

Why do you need a fancy drill like this? Because you are going to be drilling at some odd angles in some tight places in the very near future. Yes, you can make these holes without this tool but having it makes furniture making so much more pleasant and easy.

  • Kreg Rip Cut

The Shakers had their own version of a rip cut to help guide their saws. Our modern version connects to your circular saw and to ensure that rip cuts and other cuts are straight as can be. You might think, “I don’t need that. I can follow a straight line.”

Honestly, you can’t. You’ll find that out very soon when you are building furniture. You’ll need one of these and after using it only a few times, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to buy one. They are very handy and they save a lot of time. With a Kreg Rip cut, you’ll find yourself using the T-Square-and-pencil combo much less frequently.

  • Pocket hole jig

Some furniture makers shy away from using jigs. If you’re a traditional carpenter or joiner who wants to stick to only dove-tail joints, router jointers and perpendicular screws, then you wouldn’t need one of these. But for the rest of us, these are the greatest.

The jib makes sure the drill bit is guided in at the right angle and it also holds the piece firmly in place. A jib makes drilling holes a thing of pleasure instead of them becoming a source of pain. There are different types of pocket hold jigs. Buy the best one you can afford because eventually you’ll find a use for all its bells and whistles.

  • Power sander

If you can afford it and you plan to continue in the hobby of furniture building get a belt sander. Unlike rotary sanders, the upscale belt sanders allow you to get into the corners of a piece and the belt really speeds up the sanding process. However, this sander is so powerful it’s easy to sand a groove into the wood. Use it, but use it carefully.

An orbital sander is used for most finishing work. It’s hard to use to take of a large amount of surface but it’s perfect for putting a satiny smooth finish on your furniture pieces. This is the sander type that most beginning furniture makers purchase.

  • Hand tools

Furniture making requires numerous hand tools so we’ve compiled a list of them here. Please note that clamps come in many different sizes so if you’re starting your furniture making tool-kit from ground zero, just buy the size of clamps that you need for your current project.

  • Hammer
  • Screwdrivers
  • Chisels
  • Wooden mallet
  • Rasps
  • Awl
  • Carpenter’s square
  • Tape measure
  • Smoothing plane and block plane (plus sharpening supplies for the blades)
  • Hand saw
  • Clamps
  • Workbench

The last but perhaps most obvious tool investment is some type of workbench. If you don’t already have a large bench that’s good for furniture making, investing in a Workmate® bench is a great idea. A Workmate® has a working surface along with a vice and some clamps attached. There are several models for different needs. Buy the one that best suits both your current and future plans for furniture making.


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