NBSS Week 11 – A field trip to Haverhill, shaker nightstand part 3, the spring joint, toolbox dovetails, and NBSS career day and open house

This week began with a field trip to the Historic New England’s furniture storage facility in Haverhill, Ma. The warehouse is where they store furniture and other historical items like art, jewelry, clothing, etc. currently not on display or in need of repair. We visited with the artifact conservationists and discussed the difference between conservation and restoration, and how the processes to perform each differ.

We then moved on to discuss and view some of the historically significant furniture pieces in storage. After our guided tour we were allowed access to the storage bins to peruse more of the collection. I found it amazing what level of craftsmanship existed in the 17th and 18th centuries considering the type of tools available.

It was also interesting to see the differences of style and techniques that existed in early America and how a maker’s location impacted both.

On Tuesday we returned to the shop and continued constructing the shaker nightstand. We began by gluing up the right and left sides. The glue-up process is always a bit stressful as it involves managing a few different processes concurrently while working “against the clock” as the glue begins to dry. To help with this a little, we glued up each side separately. We spread the glue into the mortises and then onto the tenons and then clamped up the side assembly, being sure to keep the legs square to one another (the clamps provide enough force to pull the leg apron assembly out of square). After the two side assemblies were glued together we installed the drawer guide. These are the pieces inside the table that bridge the surface gap between the aprons and the legs to provide a smooth surface for the drawer side to ride against. Once these were glued in, we skimmed all the surfaces to ensure that they were all flush to one another.

We then turned our attention to the rear apron and the top drawer divider rail. Both of the pieces needed holes drilled into them to allow us to attach the top of the table later on. On the rear apron this involved carving a pocket hole that allows the screws to sit flush with the inside surface, ensuring that the rear of our drawer can slide all the way to the back without hitting any screws.


The front divider screws are countersunk on the bottom, again for drawer clearance, and then the top of the hole is elongated to allow the top to move as it changes seasonally. Once these holes were drilled we were ready to glue up the table base. Again we checked for square, this time for the whole base of the table and the drawer opening, and made sure the table sat flush on the ground with no wobble.

Once the base was dry and out of the clamps, we began our work on the drawer “box” opening. This includes all of the components inside the table that facilitate the drawer opening and closing. First up was installing the drawer runners. These are the pieces that sit behind the bottom drawer divider and are glued to the drawer guide. During their installation it is crucial that the left and right guides remain parallel to one another in the case. To check this we press fit the runners in place and then use winding sticks that extend out of the drawer pocket to ensure that the two runners are installed in the same plane with no twist. (Twist would result in a drawer that does not open smoothly and would almost always bind.) Once fitted, the guides were glued in and we moved on to the drawer kickers. These serve to provide an upper surface in the drawer pocket, ensuring that the drawer does not tip forward and down as the drawer is extended out. They must be installed parallel to the drawer runners or again the drawer will bind. We made a block that press fits into the drawer opening and then used this block in the rear while lining up the front surface flush with the upper drawer divider. This ensures that the kicker is installed parallel to the runners.

During the week I also glued up the panels for my next project, the North Bennet Street toolbox. One of the requirements to build the case is that two boards must be glued together to achieve the depth (16” on my case). Dan demonstrated an edge gluing technique called “springing the joint” in preparation for our panel glue-ups. We planed the two boards clamped together on edge flat and square first, then we took a small shaving in the center and then another a little further out and finally a full pass shaving across the entire length. The edge joint then showed a very slight concave surface on each edge that extended evenly all the way across its length and met at each end. When force is applied with a single clamp in the middle, the entire edge joint “springs” together and creates a very tight and even glue joint across the entire surface.


I used this technique to glue together my panels for the top, bottom, and both sides of my toolbox. I then cut each panel to width and length in preparation for laying out and cutting the carcass dovetails. I practiced on a few test pieces first, then I jumped in and spent Thursday night cutting and fitting the dovetails.

Thursday we also had career day at NBSS where we were able to talk with representatives from local businesses interested in potentially hiring NBSS graduates. As a first semester student I was mainly interested in getting a feel for the atmosphere and was able to have great conversations with representatives from three local firms: VCA, Kochman Reid and Haigh, and Boston Boat Works. It was very informative and exciting to see the types of employment opportunities available within the field.

We closed out the week on Friday and Saturday with the NBSS fall open house. This is where future students and the general public are allowed access to the school to visit with students, tour the programs, and talk with current students about their experiences. It was fun to see all of the folks interested in NBSS and to talk with future students about my experience so far. We had a great turnout and I look forward to the spring event. Next week we work some more on the drawer of our Shaker nightstand and I delve deeper into the NBSS toolbox…

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