Authentic Shaker Knobs
Turn and attach a classic knob in minutes
Synopsis: Commonly called mushroom knobs, authentic Shaker knobs have a graceful profile that commercial versions can’t quite replicate. Christian Becksvoort, a master of the Shaker style, turns his own knobs because he prefers that graceful profile and wants the freedom to use any wood species and customize the size to fit any drawer front. Becksvoort offers tips for sizing knobs, cutting the rough shapes on the bandsaw, sizing the tenon, and turning the final knob on the lathe.
I make mostly Shaker furniture, so a number of my pieces have Shaker-style knobs—commonly called mushroom knobs—mounted to the doors and drawers. Although you can buy them, I prefer to make them. Commercial versions come in limited sizes. Plus, some of them don’t quite have the graceful curves that are the hallmark of a classic Shaker knob. I’m also free to use any wood species.
Then, too, when I make my own knobs, I can size them in proportion to the drawer front. For example, I make a 15-drawer chest that has 21⁄4-in.-tall top drawer fronts and a 51⁄2-in.-tall bottom drawer front. That piece has eight different knob sizes, varying from 5⁄8 in. dia. to just under 7⁄8 in. dia., in increments of 0.025 in., or just under 1⁄32 in.
After 30-plus years of turning these knobs, I’ve managed to learn a few tricks that help get the job done quickly and efficiently. In fact, I now turn a typical 1-in.-dia. knob in about eight minutes.
Early on, I realized that the tenon diameter is the only critical dimension on a knob. The tenon must fit snugly into its hole. Too big and it won’t fit; too small and the joint strength is compromised. And extra glue won’t correct the issue.
So rather than turn the tenons on a lathe and have to deal with some inevitable inaccuracy, I use a drill press with a 3⁄8-in. or 1⁄2-in. tenoncutter (depending on the knob size) to do the work. A tenon-cutter creates perfect tenons every time. You can order one for between $20 and $25 from www.woodworker.com.
For any knob to look good, it must have correct proportions. When turning a Shaker mushroom-style knob, I make the exposed length the same as the diameter. Add about 11⁄4 in. to the rough blank to accommodate a 1-in. tenon and the turning process.
From Fine Woodworking #196
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