Arts & Crafts Hat and Coat Shelf
Home Project: This hat and coat shelf has clean lines and ample storage. It is equally at home in a formal entry, or a back door. The three coat hooks provide plenty of hanging space for your jackets, and the shelf is a great place to set your hats and gloves.
In keeping with the Arts & Crafts tradition, this project is constructed out of quarter-sawn white oak. Choose your wood wisely, and highlight the distinctive medullary rays of this species. Of course, if you prefer wood other than white oak, any hardwood would be suitable.
This is a straightforward project that doesn’t rely on fancy joinery. It is great for both the beginner and the more experienced woodworker.
When selecting material for this project, keep in mind that the horizontal slats will be the only ones that face forward. Try to select material with prominent ray flecks for a traditional Arts & Crafts look. The boards that make up the uprights and the top are not as prominent, so less distinctive boards could be used for those parts. Some of the parts are 3/4″ thick and others are 7/8″ thick. If your lumber dealer doesn’t have stock that can be dressed to 7/8″, then simply reduce the thickness accordingly. When you get your lumber back to the shop, let it acclimatize for a few days before beginning construction.
Making the Parts
• Mill all of the stock to 7/8″ thick, using a thickness planer and jointer.
• With the stock now flat and straight, the grain will be more visible than when rough.
• Have another look at the boards you have chosen; the process of milling them down may have revealed previously unseen figure on some of the boards. Set aside the boards with the most distinctive ray fleck pattern for the horizontals (A, B, C, D) and mill them to a final thickness of 3/4″.
• Unless your lumber dealer happens to have some 9″ wide boards and you have an extra large jointer, you will have to glue up the shelf (E) from narrower stock. When gluing up the shelf, keep in mind that once the rack is hung, it will be the bottom of the shelf that is most visible. Quarter-sawn white oak is a great species for gluing up panels. The long straight grain makes it easy to hide the glue lines.
• When the glue has set, remove the clamps and scrape off any glue squeezeout. If you are using carpenter’s glue, remove the clamps within a couple of hours. The glue will scrape off easily in a long string. If you wait until it has hardened completely it will be much harder to scrape, and can easily tear out chunks of wood.
• To give the top a lighter look, the front and sides of the shelf are bevelled slightly. You can do this on a router table, on a table saw or on a jointer. Choose a method that suits the equipment you have available. A combination of the jointer and table saw is the easiest by far. Set the fence on your jointer to bevel the front. The knives on the jointer will leave you with a smooth surface that only needs a light sanding. Use the edge milled on the jointer to set the angle on your table saw’s blade. Then, using a cross cut sled, bevel the ends of the shelf. The top wraps around the uprights, so cut the mortises to house the uprights now.
• With the top prepared, move on to the uprights (F). Trim these to length and lay out the curve on the ends. The easiest way to do this is to place a mark at the center of the upright and another on each side, ½” down from the end. Lay a thin flexible piece of wood across the upright and use it to draw a curve joining the three marks. Cut the curve on the end of one upright and use as a pattern to mark the curves on the second upright. When these are cut, use one of them to mark the second curve on the first upright. This is a quick and foolproof way of ensuring all four curves are identical. Cut out all of the curves and use a sander to remove any saw marks and achieve a fair curve.
• The horizontal slats are all sized differently. Using the stock milled earlier, rip the individual slats to width and then cut them to length. After all of the slats have been cut to the final size, use one of the uprights to trace a curve onto each end of the longer slat. Cut and sand these ends.
• When choosing wood for the corbels (G), bear in mind that the direction of the grain and the direction of the ray flecks can either enhance or detract from the finished piece. If possible, choose a piece of oak in which both the grain and ray flecks follow and complement the shape of the corbel, rather than work against it. Lay out the corbel on the stock and cut out the shape using a band saw, jigsaw, or scroll saw. Sand the edges and smooth the inside curve using the end of a stationary belt sander. When you’ve finished sanding the curve, use the sander to bevel the top and bottom ends of the corbel. The bevel is only about ½ of the bevel on the top, but it does two things. The bevel at the top of the corbel echoes the bevel on the shelf, and the bevel on the bottom of the corbel provides another facet when viewed straight on from the front. Small details like this help to elevate a simple project from the ordinary to something a little more visually sophisticated.
When milling lumber with decorative figure, keep in mind that every pass through the thickness planer will change the look slightly. When you have a look that you are pleased with, flip the board over and remove any remaining stock from the rear of the board until you achieve the final thickness. The ray flecks in white oak can be very thin and have a tendency of chipping out, so proceed carefully.
Applying the Finish
• With all of the parts now shaped, sand everything in preparation for finishing. Start with 100 grit and give everything a thorough sanding. Follow this up with 150 grit. Because white oak sands so beautifully, it is unlikely that you will need to go any further. When this project is assembled, there are many small areas and corners that would be hard to finish properly, so it is best to do all of your finishing before assembly.
• To really bring out the look of the ray flecks, finish this project using a two-step process. After sanding, apply a coat of Watco Natural Oil to each piece. The wood will absorb the natural stain and some of the figure will begin to reveal itself. After wiping off the excess, follow this with an application of Watco cherry stain. Wipe off this stain soon after you apply it. The rays, being composed of harder material, will not readily absorb any of the pigment, while the wood will absorb some of the darker pigments. This will darken the wood, effectively bringing the lighter ray flecks to the fore.
• After staining, protect the finish against moisture and dirt with a topcoat of some sort. I chose a paste wax for a warm traditional look. If you want more protection, a polyurethane base product would serve well.
Assembling the Rack
• Assembly is straightforward. You’ll need a drill, countersinks, screws, and some clamps. I prefer a clean look, without visible fasteners on the front of a project, so I install all screws from the back, or through the top from above.
• Begin by cutting a couple of 1/2″ spacers to use between the horizontal slats. Lay the top horizontal slat on your workbench, face down, and clamp the uprights in place on top of the slat. Use a drill and countersink to drill a proper hole for the type of screw you are using and screw the uprights to the slat. Repeat this for the remaining slats using the spacers to maintain an even spacing.
• When placing the screws for the upper slats, keep in mind that the corbels must also be fastened in place, so keep the screws for the slats off center. With all of the slats in place, drill countersunk holes for the corbels. These screws will have to be longer, as they are going through two pieces of wood before entering the corbel. With the corbels fastened in place, fasten the top in place using the same method. Mount the coat hooks so that there is approximately the same open space on either side of the hook.
• The easiest way to mount this would be to drill a couple of holes through the uprights and then screw the rack to a couple of studs in the wall. Unfortunately, this would limit where you could hang the rack, as you would be limited to the location of the studs, making it almost impossible to center on a wall, unless the studs happened to line up.
• Instead, use a cleat behind the top horizontal slat. The cleat is screwed to the wall, and then the shelf is attached to the cleat via several angled holes through the top. In this way, all of the hardware used to assemble the project is hidden. And, because the cleat is long enough to straddle two studs, you are much more flexible in locating the coat rack on a wall, or centering it in an entry hall.