Reclaimed Douglas fir Hall Tree


I built this hall tree for a customer who was looking for an entry piece for their turn of the century craftsman home. With custom milled T&G bead board and mortise and tenon construction the end product was a unique heirloom quality craftsman piece. The frame work was milled from reclaimed timbers from an old mill building in Tacoma. The bead board was milled from old window casings. The tacoma timbers yielded tight vertical grain stock for the frames. The window casings were flat sawn and fine grain which made for some very interesting "flamed" paneling. The customer specified a dark mahogany finish which was accomplished with many coats of a custom tinted shellac glaze and a few coats of wiping varnish for protection.

The 2"x 16" reclaimed fir timbers were $2.50 a board-foot from a local salvage shop.

The window frames were free. It took about half a day to break them down and mill them up into some rough stock.

I modeled the entire piece in SketchUp including joinery and true textures which I made from photographs of shellacked fir. 

I added through tenons to strengthen the bench and seat back interface.

After a dry fit it was time start milling the paneling. I decided to mill my own T&G paneling so that I could have complete control over the dimensions and quality of material.

The paneling took about a day to re-saw and mill. I cut the tongue and groove on the table saw with a modified stacked dado head cutter and the bead at the router table with several passes across a beading bit.


The material for the seat, upper panel and shelf came from a 12' long 1"x 16"  Douglas fir plank that was originally a mantel in the client's house.

After the final fitting and glue up it was time to start applying the glaze. I tinted de-waxed shellac and applied 12 to 15 coats with an HVLP spray system. After I was satisfied with the color I wiped on a thinned varnish for protection. The pictures get a little fuzzy here (the camera lens got a few coats of shellac as well)

Shaker style four drawer chest

This scaled down chest of drawers was fun to build and is currently being used to store yarn and other knitting accoutrement in our living room. Like the shakers said, a place for everything and everything in its place. The chest features CVG Doug fir for the case, top and drawer fronts and flat sawn Doug fir for the drawer boxes and dust frames. To dress the piece up a bit I heavily chamfered the underside of the top and transitioned the case to some rather spindly legs with arcs and and a front stretch that is let into the case just below the bottom drawer. The top drawer is slightly shorter than the bottom three. Blonde shellac and some 1930’s enameled steel drawer pulls finish it off.

Lately I’ve been starting the design process on paper rather than in SketchUp. It forces me me to slow down and look at proportions before I put all the work into a 3d model. 

I made the case panels from glue-ups of three pieces of 1x6. I bought this material from low priced cedar in Tacoma. They carry CVG fir in what they call a D grade for $1.20 per board foot. It’s a great deal but you have to cut your material from between the knot holes, checks, splits and pitch pockets. It still beats the going rate for CVG fir at other suppliers. 

After planning down the case panels at a neighboring cabinet shop (My planer will only accept stock up to 12.5” wide) I cut out the profile that forms the legs on the cases with a jig saw.

I laid out and then cut the dados for the dust frames with a router and a 1/2" plunge cutting bit making multiple passes. The dust frames were made from 5/8” x 1 ½” stock held together with mortise and tenon joinery.

I cut the front stretcher with a jig saw and cut the corresponding mortise in the cases with a trim router and a chisel. This picture shows the original stretcher. It looked a little weak near the ends so I decided to replaced this piece with one that had a shallower arc.

 After all the joinery was cut I fit up the dust frames and stretcher in preparation for glue up.

I used biscuit joints to attach the lowest dust frame to the stretcher.

Copy of IMG_2902.JPG

After a bit of tweaking I got all the dust frames in place and glued up.

I sized the top and used a router to cut the chamfer on the bottom side. After attaching it I gave the whole case a couple of coats of  blonde de-waxed shellac. The top got the same treatment but a few more coats and finally some paste wax.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures while building the drawers but they are pretty standard. The drawer front is secured to the sides with a half lap joint and dowel pins. For the floating drawer bottom I used ¼”  AB fir plywood.

One door, two tables.

I recently came upon two 5 panel doors that were being discarded. I knew that underneath the many layers of paint and varnish or shellac the doors were constructed from fine grain mostly quarter sawn Douglas fir. With a little work I was able to salvage enough material to build two shaker style end tables from one door. 

shaker end table

The doors were interior doors so the rails and styles measured 1 3/8" thick. This meant that after removing the paint and sizing the stock the material measured 1 1/4" thick. This ultimately determined the size of the legs which are 1 1/4" square at the skirt and then tapered in the traditional shaker style to a little less than 3/4" square. Another constraint was the material for the top which came from the flat panels of the door. After removing paint and planing, the panels measured just under 1/2" thick and allowed for a glue up 16 1/2" square. It was fun to design the table to fit the limitations of the stock. Overall I was pleased with the proportions. The thin top and narrow legs made for a delicate yet sturdy little table.

Douglas fir door

I used a circular saw to rip the styles off of the door. I cut just inside of the profile so that the panels remained as large as possible. These doors were assembled with cope and stick joinery meaning that the rails were coped to fit over the profile on the styles. Traditionally this joint would be reinforced with a mortise and tenon but these doors were joined at the intersections of the rails and styles with dowels.

salvaged door

Once the styles were removed it was easy to knock the panels and rails apart with a hammer.

salvaged Douglas fir

Here are the rails with the paint removed and planed down to 1 1/4". I resawed two rails to make the skirt pieces for each table. Here you can see the dowels in the ends of the blanks. They show up throughout the table and add a bit of character to the piece.

Here are the panels before and after paint removal and sizing. It took two and a half panels glued up to make one top.

shaker end table

After sizing the skirt pieces and tapering the legs I milled open mortises on the legs and tenons on the skirts.

table top cleat

Securing the thin top to the table took a little experimentation. In the end I used four wooden cleats that grab shallow mortises on the skirt. I used brass screws and epoxy to secure the cleats to the top.

shaker bedside table

Ready for a lamp and a few back issues of Fine Woodworking magazine.

The Fire Watch desk

Like many folks here in the Pacific Northwest I am fond of the  Forest Service buildings and Park Service facilities built by the CCC (civilian conservation corps)  in the 1930's. Among some of the most interesting are the fire lookouts that were built on high mountain tops and ridges. These lookouts were staffed by Forest Service personnel during the fire season who's job it was to find and then locate fires within their immense field of view. Because the lookouts were in such remote locations the materials were often brought to the site by mule train. The folks who staffed these lookouts lived in them the entire fire season so they were outfitted like small apartments. 

After looking through quite a few pictures of these little structures I couldn't help but notice the desk that seemed to be present in almost all photos of the interior.

I began to wonder if there might be some sort of standardized plan out there for this great example of primitive Pacific Northwest furniture. After a lengthy google search I struck gold.

The image above was taken from a set of blueprints for one of the most common lookout designs known as the L-4. I was pleased to find that as I suspected, the furnishings for these lookouts were called out right in the construction plans. Although I plan to build a replica, I decided to first take inspiration from this utilitarian table and design a small desk that would bring a bit of the CCC into the home or office.

The result is the Fire Watch desk. Like the original, this desk features tapered legs and a Douglas fir plywood top. To give the top a 1940's look I radiused the corners and added aluminum edging with trim nails. To scale this piece down a bit from the original it has one drawer instead of two. A vintage cup pull finishes the pre-war look. Here is how it went together.

The legs and skirts of the original piece are joined with a bolt and brace system like much of the mass produced furniture today. This surprised me at first but these tables were built in the 1930's and 1940's when this type of joinery started to become prevalent. I decided to use more traditional joinery, the dowel pinned mortise and tenon joint. The image above is from my sketchup model of the Federal study desk  and shows the inner workings of the mortise and tenon joint.

Here is the frame before paint. I used fine grain Lodgepole pine for the legs and CVG Douglas fir for the skirt and drawer guides. The mortises in the legs were cut with a jig, a plunge router with a collar and a 1/2" high-speed steel end mill. The tenons were cut at the table saw with a stacked dado head cutter. The drawer guides fit into shallow mortises in the front and back skirts.

Here is another view of the finished piece. I found a nice piece of 3/4" Douglas fir plywood for the top. The radiused corners and aluminium edging really dress it up. The drawer is a flush front type, half lapped and dowel pinned. I picked the green paint from a federal color book and found the cup pull at the local salvage store. The table measures 30" tall x 40" wide x 22" deep.