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Options for backs of Shaker style dressers etc

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Viewing 8 posts - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
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  • #624369
    joemonahan
    Participant

    Looking at how Shakers sometimes built the backs of larger furniture pieces like dressers, cupboards, etc with individual boards that are tongue and grove or rabbited. I wonder what the pros and cons are compared with making a panel framed with mortise / tenon joinery and a single piece of plywood or boards glued up to create a single piece.

    Anybody able to help think through these two methods?

    #624558
    GfB
    Participant

    I’m not as knowledgeable as most of these other dudes, but I’ll give this a shot. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

    The tongue and groove or rabbeted joints allow for lateral expansion of the cabinet, without creating an open gap in the rear. A solid piece, especially plywood, which is considered stable, would work against the natural movement of the cabinet, and could eventually result in structural failure.

    In your second option, which sounds to me like framed panel construction, is also supposed to create a stable panel. As long as the plywood (or glued panel) can float freely within the frame, it should work ok.

    #625071
    YrHenSaer
    Participant

    It depends on how close you wish to stay to the original designs.

    Both options work. The secret is not to fix anything with glue or nails so that it can move with seasonal changes. The original ‘Shakers’ did not have the modern standard and uniform plywood at their disposal, so they used what they had and was tried and tested for generations – T&G boards.

    However, from what I’ve read about them, they were great innovators and simplifiers – it seems that they weren’t rigidly stuck to a single form in their work; so if plywood was available in those days and it suited their purposes, there’s a strong possibility that they would have used it.

    Would they? Who knows.

    #625178
    GfB
    Participant

    I’d like to make a distinction to the definition of “shaker style”. Something I read in an article somewhere, and I tend to agree. When I hear “shaker style”, I think of a piece, as it would have been built by the shakers, in appearance and in method. When you have a piece that appears to be shaker, but is actually built using modern methods and materials (ply, particle board, fasteners, vs. real wood and proper joints), I consider that to be more “shaker inspired”.

    I admit, most of the work I’ve done so far is 90% shaker style, 10% inspired. I use screws only where needed, such as to attach a dresser top, and a back may be a stable substrate, such as ply or wainscot.

    [quote quote=625071]It depends on how close you wish to stay to the original designs.

    Both options work. The secret is not to fix anything with glue or nails so that it can move with seasonal changes. The original ‘Shakers’ did not have the modern standard and uniform plywood at their disposal, so they used what they had and was tried and tested for generations – T&G boards.

    However, from what I’ve read about them, they were great innovators and simplifiers – it seems that they weren’t rigidly stuck to a single form in their work; so if plywood was available in those days and it suited their purposes, there’s a strong possibility that they would have used it.

    Would they? Who knows.[/quote]
    Yeah, I imagine they probably would. I wonder how much work it would have been to create a piece of ply, vs. just using tongue and groove.
    Glued boards aren’t evil like modern electricity. I like your explanation.

    #625203
    sanford
    Participant

    A quicky on shaker innovation. Roy Underhill, in his The Woodwright’s Shop (PBS) commented on Shaker innovation several times and even demonstrated a mortise machine and a table saw used by Shakers, the latter originally powered by water I seem to remember.

    #625475
    GfB
    Participant

    [quote quote=625203]a mortise machine … powered by water I seem to remember.[/quote]

    Eh? CURIOSITY PEAKED! I wonder what that would have looked like.

    #625756
    joemonahan
    Participant

    They innovated but selectively. They didn’t use veneer wood for example because it was deceptive.

    If using T&G wood do I leave gaps? Just loosely install? If I put it together snug it might buckle when conditions change, or expose gaps if they shrink?

    #626003
    YrHenSaer
    Participant

    Assemble the pieces loose, resting in loose grooves (made with a plough plane) all round – no nails, no glue, no nothing.

    T&G boards are designed with movement in mind. I usually position a thin card, less than 1 mm thick, at the shoulders of the joint so that there is room for expansion as well as contraction.

    Most boards will move probably less than 1% across the grain with seasonal changes, varying with species and humidity. Mostly it’s imperceptible if you build allowances into the piece.

    T&G boards usually have a beveled edge at the junction where a tongue fits into a groove which disguise any small gaps by making them obvious.

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