Build A Classic Shaker Bench
A straightforward way to build a stunning, classic Shaker settee
Synopsis: This 6-ft.-long Shaker settee has a clean, elegant silhouette enhanced by its dramatic ebony finish. The bench has six turned legs and three stretchers, instead of the usual four and two. To improve on the classic Shaker design, Becksvoort beefed up the leg-to-seat joint using stepped tenons, which eliminates the possibility of breakage at the shoulder. The seat is shaped with a tablesaw, router, and hand tools.
Benches have a long history in Shaker meetinghouses. The Shakers made Windsor-style, spindle-back benches, but they left off the arms and the medial stretchers, producing, in my opinion, a more elegant design. Their benches were usually between 4 ft. and 6 ft. in length, but longer versions were sometimes used instead of fixed pews. I based this 6-ft. settee on one in The Book of Shaker Furniture (University of Massachusetts Press, 1980) by John Kassay, although I made some modifications.
Kassay mentions that in the original bench the leg-to-seat joint was a weak point, because the hard maple of the legs compressed the soft pine of the seat. To avoid that, I made both seat and legs from maple. To beef up the connection further, I redesigned the leg and the joint. Rather than copying the original leg’s bamboo swell—thick in the middle and thin at the top and bottom—I decided on a straight taper, thickest at the top. With a full 1-1⁄2 in. dia. at the top of the leg, I had room for a 1-in.-dia. tenon with a 1⁄4-in.-wide shoulder.
In place of the simple mortises in the original bench, I drilled stepped mortises. Each one has a deep hole at the center to accept the tenon and a shallower recess around it where the tenon’s shoulder lands. This joint eliminates the breakage point at the shoulder,…