Friday, July 21, 2017

Plant Stands, Part 1 - Layout and Mortising

The honey-do list has included a couple of plant stands that would go outside our kitchen windows and raise plants to a level where we could see them from inside.  I had some quartersawn white oak and some red oak from tables that I saved from landfills.  The white oak will be a good outdoor wood, but the red oak I'm not too sure about.  Fortunately they won't get too wet - we don't get a lot of rain here in northern California.
Sketchup rendering of the design and location
White oak dimensioned for the smaller of the two stands (top slats not shown)
Aside from height and width, the two plant stands differ in design only slightly.  The taller one has a lower shelf and the smaller one has a single stretcher that joins the side assemblies.

I've been getting better (i.e., more consistent) at how I mark my pieces of a project.  I'm using the triangle to show the orientation of the four legs.
Triangle is on tops of legs and wide part of triangle is the front
I didn't get pictures, but the upper long rails get a similar triangle, as do the upper short rails and lower long and short rails.  I did the same for the top slats to keep them in the order I found most pleasing.
OK, found a picture.  On these short rails, I know which is left and right, which edge (with the triangle) is the upper edge, and which end goes towards the front of the stand (tenons laid out at bottom of picture go toward front of stand).
Back to the legs - I was very careful in the layout of the mortises.
Mortises for upper rails laid out
Mortises for lower rails laid out
For the layout of the rails, I ganged together parts with the same length and knifed lines as one.
Upper and lower short rails ganged and knifed
I wanted to write a little about the mortising.  My mortises are a tad over 1/4" wide.  I read a couple of years ago (I think it was on Dennis Laney's excellent blog) about lining up the mortise and the workpiece with your line of sight.  That is, place the piece to be mortised as pictured below, not across your body.
Leg and mortise are in my line of sight
By doing this, it easier to line up the chisel with the leg to make sure it's vertical.
Chisel looks to be vertical, based on alignment of chisel and workpiece
I was able to do all my mortises freehand this way, as opposed to using a Sellers-style mortise guide.  Here's a closer picture.
Looks fairly vertical
I can't easily tell if the chisel is vertical from the other direction - if I'm pushing it too far forward or too far back.  But left to right is easy this way and that's the part I think many people struggle with.

The pins of my mortise gauge were set just slightly wider than the chisel and that leaves a little bit on the sides of the mortise that can be pared away with a wide chisel.
Paring the mortise side to the gauge line
For the upper rails I used a haunched mortise and tenon.  After chopping the mortise as described above, I used a small saw to cut the haunch.  The saw can register against the side wall of the mortise.
Sawing the haunch
I did a dry assembly of the frame so that I could find the proper length of the center stretcher.
Frame dry assembled without lower stretcher
With the assembly clamped up, I made a couple of sticks the exact shoulder-to-shoulder length of the long upper rails.
Fitting a small scrap to the long rail
These sticks would be used as spacers to separate the legs at the floor so I could get an accurate distance of the shoulders for the stretcher piece.
Spacers separate the bottoms of the legs,
making a knife nick where the stretcher shoulder will meet the short rails
So much for the joinery.  Fourteen mortises on the smaller stand and 20 on the larger one.  Next time I'll write about shaping the parts, including a couple of firsts for me - stopped chamfers and beading a curved stretcher.


  1. Looking good! That's a good tip about using sticks to set the proper distance at the bottom of the assembly. In theory, you shouldn't need to. In practice however I find that the legs inevitably lean in or out.

    It must be the season for plant stands. I've been working on a design too. Mine will live inside though.

    1. Greg, my legs were leaning slightly in, so I needed to separate them just a wee bit. My tenon shoulders were pretty good, so perhaps if I clamped a little differently the legs would have aligned better. Either way, I think it's a good idea to use the spacer sticks to make sure the distance is right. Have fun with your stands.

  2. Hi Matt
    Yes White oak is a great wood to use outdoor were it could get wet... That is why it is used in wet cooperage.
    Red oak would not fare so well, but in your location? I dont suppose you get much snow ? :-)


    1. Hi Bob. No snow here, but I'll be watering the plants year round and there's bound to be some spillage on the wood. It rains here between October and April, sometimes very little, sometimes more, but rarely does it come down hard. I'm interested in how the two woods will hold up.