Arts & Crafts Style Quilt Rack
What could be more comfortable than curling up on a cool evening with a nice quilt, a good book and a cup of tea? This Arts & Crafts influenced rack is the perfect place to display and store your quilts.
White oak is the traditional material associated with the Arts & Crafts style, but other woods like maple and cherry were used as well. I have not yet found an original piece made in padauk, but as I prefer to let the natural colour of the wood show through rather than using a stain to colour a piece, the beautiful padauk boards that I stumbled on at the lumber dealer seemed perfect for this project. This project took about 12 board feet of lumber.
Milling tenons with Leigh FMT
Trimming upper rail
Evolution of the upper rail
Construction is straightforward and there are several options available for the joinery. The rack is essentially two panels joined by a set of five rungs on which the quilts rest. I’ve chosen to use router cut mortises and tenons for all the joinery. Wedged through tenons would also be a desirable design element. Another option for some of the joints would be dowels. However, the width of the eight narrow slats will only allow for one dowel per joint.
That would leave them free to rotate until the glue sets, and would result in misaligned slats.
Prepare the Stock
When you are beginning a project, there are many choices to be made, and as you move through the various stages, the decisions you make will narrow these choices until you have a finely crafted unique piece of furniture. To achieve a harmonious look in the final piece, pay particular attention when laying out your parts on the rough lumber. Try to visualize what the finished part will look like in place and choose a pleasing grain pattern that will enhance and reinforce the overall appearance of the piece. When incorporating curves in your work, lay them out so that the grain pattern follows the curve rather than one where it runs counter to the curve.
After you have laid out all of the parts, break up the boards into smaller sections before milling the pieces. By breaking the pieces up, you will lose less thickness as you mill the material to its final thickness.
Earlier in my woodworking career I used a table saw and a compound mitre saw for this task but over the years I have found this process to be safer and more enjoyable when done with a hand saw (or jig saw) and a bandsaw. When using a bandsaw, the cutting force is applied downward against the table instead of back toward the operator and if the wood has internal stresses and the kerf closes on the blade, the material won’t be thrown back at you. A bandsaw blade is also very short (front to back) and as such it is highly unlikely that a piece of wood could even move enough to pinch the blade.
With all of the pieces broken out of the original planks, use a jointer and thickness planer to dress the stock to its final thickness and rip the pieces to their final width according to the measurements in the materials list. Do not cut them to length yet.
When building a project like this, breaking the lumber down into sections allows you to maximize accuracy by using the same machine set up to cut all pieces of the same length at one time, and will pay dividends with an easily assembled square project during the glue-up later.
‘Breaking out’ lumber refers to the process of cutting larger boards or sheet stock into smaller more manageable pieces before milling the lumber to final dimensions.
Mortise and Tenon Joinery for the Panels
If you only make the occasional mortise and tenon joint, you can cut the mortises with a drill press, chisel and mallet, and the tenons with a table saw, tenoning jig, and chisel or shoulder plane. However, if you do a lot of M&T work then you might want to consider a dedicated M&T jig, like the Leigh frame mortise and tenon jig (FMT). The FMT offers woodworkers precision and speed that was unheard of in the home workshop ten years ago; adjustments of .001″ are not only possible, but easy to accomplish (LeighJigs.com).
All the tenons for the slats are 5/16″ x 3/4″; the narrow slats have one tenon while the wider center slats have two tenons. It’s important to ensure that all the slats are cut to the same length. Regardless of whether you use a cross cut sled on the table saw or a compound mitre saw to cut the pieces to length, using a stop block will ensure that every piece is exactly the same length as its neighbour. Begin by trimming one end of each slat piece to square the end, and then set up a stop block and cut all eight narrow slats (A) and the two wide ones (B) to finished length. Repeat this process for the lower rails (C) and the middle rails (D) – note that these tenons are 5/16″ x 1-1/4″. Choose which side you want to face out and mark the pieces to avoid confusion later. Along the length of the narrow edges that face each other, mark the center point and then mark the centerlines for the mortises out to either side. If you are not using the Leigh FMT, then use a traditional marking gauge to define the edges of the mortises. Lay out the mortises so that the back edges of the rails and slats are flush with each other.
Cut the tenons on the ends of the slats and the rails, followed by the mortises in the rails. Test fit the two sections together and fine-tune any problems with the fit of the tenons. Cut the piece for the top rail (E) to length and cut two tenons on the lower portion of each side. Leave the top portion full width, as this will overhang the legs.
Mill the stock for the legs (F) to dimension and then cut the four pieces to length with one set-up. If your local lumber dealer doesn’t have any thick stock for the legs, glue up a blank from two pieces of 4/4 stock. Joint one side of each piece and then glue them together and mill the result to size. If you are using quarter-sawn stock, the glue line will be almost invisible.
Lay the legs on a workbench, and position the assembled slats (A, B) and rails (C, D), and the top rail (E) on the legs. Mark the locations of the four mortises on each leg, and then cut the mortises. I also counterbore a hole into the bottom of the leg to accept nylon furniture glides, leaving only ⅛” of the glide projecting past the end of the leg.
Rungs Connect the Panels
The five rungs connect the two end panels together. First cut the four upper and lower rungs (G) to length, and then cut a 5/16″ x 1-1/4″ tenon on each end of the rungs. Lay out and cut the mortises on the legs so they match with the location of the mortises for the rails.
At this stage everything should fit perfectly if the components have all been machined in groups, and the assembly should be straight and square. The center rung (H) is the last piece to fit, but it is also the first whose measurement is determined by the work done so far. Assemble the rack and apply some clamps to close up the joints.
Measure the clamped up project for the final distance between the inside faces of the two top rails. Add 1-1/2″ to this length (for the two 3/4″ tenons) and cut the piece to length. It’s now a straight forward process to cut tenons on each end of the center rung, and then mark out and cut the mortises on the inside faces of the top rails (E).
Introduce Some Curves
Most joinery is based on wood that is straight and square; that is what makes it possible to accurately lay out and cut tight fitting joints. While our hands and brains may like to work this way, the eye and the heart perceive anything made purely of square shapes and straight lines as clunky and boring. Whether they are used to create a sense of movement or to lighten the look of a heavy piece, adding a couple of curves to a project can dramatically change the way we perceive a piece. My original concept of a fairly pronounced bump to give the center rung some additional height evolved and softened into the broader overhung arc of the top rails (E).
I positioned a one-inch wide spacer as a stop block on either side of the top rails, and on top of the legs marked the center point on the top edge of the piece. Using a flexible drawing batten and a 2B pencil I drew an arc across both top sides of each rail. I used the same method to draw a shallow arc across the bottom edge of the two front and back lower rails (G). It’s quick work to cut the curves out on a bandsaw and then fair (smooth) the curves with a sander or by hand with files and sandpaper.
Fairing is a term that originated with boat builders. It refers to smoothing a curve until there are no noticeable bumps or transitions along the length of the curve. You can fair a curve with hand planes, spokeshaves, files, or sandpaper.
Set up a 45º chamfering bit in the router table and mill a 1/8″ chamfer on the edges of the top and bottom of the legs and then chamfer the sides. Follow this by sanding all the surfaces up to 220 grit in preparation for the finish. As usual, I apply the finish before assembly, applying painter’s tape to the tenons and over the mortises to keep the finish out. Glue will not adhere properly to a finished surface. I chose to apply a Danish Oil to bring out the beauty in the wood followed up by Antiqwax English Wax (Circa1850.com).
Some projects can be glued up in sections, but this can sometimes cause problems. In this case, if you were to glue up the center sections for the ends first, unless you are very lucky, the four tenons will not line up properly with the four mortises on the legs. Multiply this by two sides and you may find the chance for problems too high. In this case, it is best to glue up the entire end as one piece. I find it advisable to run through a trial glue-up once before the glue hits the wood. Take this opportunity to check your timing, gather all of your materials and supplies and to work out any last assembly issues before it is too late. On mortises and tenons I find it easier to use small artists paintbrushes or acid swabs (#83K04.01, LeeValley.com) to apply glue.
Begin by gluing things up in the same order as the parts were made. Start with one side, assembling the slat (A) and end rail (B) section first, and then attach this section and the top rail (E) to the legs (F). Clamp and check for square. Once the glue has cured on the sides apply glue to the rung mortises and attach the rungs (H, G) to the sides. Clamp the project up and let the glue set.
As with any project presented in this magazine, you don’t have to slavishly copy the design; feel free to add your own design elements. You might want to make the legs slimmer or have them rounded or curved, reduce the number of slats, or add a decorative inlay to the upper rail. After all, woodworking should be an enjoyable and fulfilling avocation.