A New Shaker Bench

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Project by Todd A. Clippinger posted 04-10-2007 04:07 PM 10576 views 14 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I just completed and delivered this bench, it was a local commission.

This is the nicest one I have made so far. I made it out of curly cherry, which I hope you can see in the picture, and I used black walnut as the accent wood. In the past I had used maple but the black walnut is rich looking.

I made the previous benches 4’ long and one at 4’6”, but I went to 5’ on this one to satisfy the client’s needs. I made the boxes just a little deeper at her request but maintained a good size without getting too big visually.

I used precatalyzed lacquer as the finish. I have had great results concerning durability for this on furniture but would not recommend it for any kitchen or bath cabinetry.

These benches are not what I really want to be known for. I have a more sophisticated vision of what I want to build, but people really like them and keep buying them. There’s a lesson somewhere in there for me.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

24 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5452 days

#1 posted 04-10-2007 04:14 PM

I won’t touch the lesson part—I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

The bench is beautiful and the little decorative touches shown in pix 3 are really nice. They “match” the holes in the drawers.
(Hey, I just realized that if you take the legs off, this is pretty much what my latest shelf/drawers were supposed to look like! Before all of those adaptations that is).

I like this: simple but with an elegant touch to it.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5384 days

#2 posted 04-10-2007 04:39 PM

Beautiful as usual Todd. I don’t think it’s a negative to produce existing styles that people want as long as you continue to produce pieces that stick to your own vision and style. Craftsmanship is craftsmanship. And all of your pieces have that for sure. Thanks a lot for sharing this one.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 5453 days

#3 posted 04-10-2007 04:41 PM

A wonderful looking bench Todd. What do they use them for, hall bench? I like the storage underneath. It makes the bench more elegant than if it was just a big box for storage.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5391 days

#4 posted 04-10-2007 04:55 PM

Thanks Chip, true words on craftsmanship and integrity.

Bill, the clients are all using them as a hall bench so far. Some place to sit down and put your shoes on. It makes a great place for the kids to put shoes underneath and hats and mittens in the boxes. It makes great use of available space, they are quite a practical piece of furniture.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5384 days

#5 posted 04-10-2007 05:03 PM

I would be curious sometime to hear your thoughts on “practicality” in furniture. There are probably strong arguments for it and strong arguments for furniture more as “art” I guess you would call it. And I guess both can be combined (practicality AND art). Shaker furniture is the best example of this I think. Anyway, would be curious to hear your comments.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5591 days

#6 posted 04-10-2007 05:18 PM

A beautiful bench, I think you went a few steps beyond Shaker with this one.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View lclashley's profile


244 posts in 5406 days

#7 posted 04-10-2007 07:17 PM

Nice. I love the curly cherry.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5606 days

#8 posted 04-10-2007 07:24 PM

I know the lesson, still not sure what i should have learned. I like the walnut accent.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5391 days

#9 posted 04-10-2007 07:37 PM

Well Chip, I never thought posting a simple bench could turn into a thought provoking and challenging situation. (I did not plan on thinking this hard today.)

Personal Thoughts:

On Practicality: I think that the bench hit “practical” mode when I added the drawers to the underside of the seat. It makes better use of the space that it takes up. That was the big selling point of the original bench in comparison to what I was shown to base the design on. (Side note: I don’t believe the original bench I saw was a true historical shaker bench. It was referred to as such for its’ simplicity of design.)

Did the bench “practically” use 100% of the space that it sits on? Of course not. There could have been more cubbies added or holes in the back to accomodate umbrellas or something. But ultimately, by adding the drawers a very convenient and practical feature was added while maintaining visual harmony in balance, proportion and integrity of the desired style. (That just about blew a cerebral gasket for me.)

The mahogany sofa table I designed was originally sized to accomodate a shelf midway for holding an extra row of books. That would have maximized use of available space and still looked good. But the wife decided she liked it better without the shelf, and most would agree it still maintained good proportions. I would still label it as practical because the bottom shelf accomodates storage and display in our small house. Reasonably good use of available space with great looks.

On Art: I believe that defining what is art, and what is good or bad art is very subjective and that makes it difficult. Some would say the simple lines of the Shaker asthetic or Asian asthetic is art. Some would say the mahogany table is more artistic than the bench.

I would not consider that the sofa table designs are in the studio furniture realm, but they do possess an intruiging visual quality to them. But isn’t that relative to what people see on a daily basis? Isn’t the quality that makes many things look interesting, simply the fact that they are alien to our normal daily visual diet?

At what point does a project cross the studio furniture threshold? Is it simply that, it is so much more abstract than what we are used to seeing that it is labeled as “art” and “studio furniture”. What if all the furniture anybody ever had for the last century looked like Gary Knox Bennet and Wendell Castle designed it. Where would the simple lines of the Shaker design then stand? Would that be considered “out there”? With Bennet and Castle’s designs as our only point of reference, then the answer would probably be “yes”. Imagine going into oak express and seeing what we now consider as abstract, actually just being the norm.

Practicality and Art: I do not believe that practicality and art have to suffer a dichotomous relationship. Art does not have to be devoid of practicality, and practicality does not have to be vacuous. As incredibly difficult as it may be to put definite boundaries around these two terms, I think I go with a fairly moderate stance on them. But that is relative to culture, heritage, religious influences, and values based on a white, middle-class American upbringing.

Thanks Chip, I’m a just a mass of melted down grey matter goo now.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5510 days

#10 posted 04-10-2007 08:42 PM

I love it, Todd…especially because it is simple enough that I can actually envision myself building one. I’m a big fan of contrasting plugs, by the way.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Lou's profile


178 posts in 5373 days

#11 posted 04-10-2007 11:59 PM

very nice! ive been making some of these, either to sell, or for family. great looking wood, and especially the finish! do you make plans for each one? or just invision it in your mind, and make it? either way, they turn out very nice.

-- "What one can make with good tools is limited only by one's talent" ([email protected])

View FMOmbr's profile


47 posts in 5376 days

#12 posted 04-11-2007 12:07 AM

Very nicely done Todd. Your client will certainly be pleased!

View halfabubbleoff's profile


7 posts in 5357 days

#13 posted 04-11-2007 12:45 AM

Nice piece Todd. I make ‘Southwestern style’ benches and people really love them. There’s something that just works about a bench.

-- They say the best things in New Mexico are at the end of a dirt road, I know I am.

View john's profile


2389 posts in 5673 days

#14 posted 04-11-2007 02:00 AM

Beautiful job Todd
I like the drawers and the curly cherry really sets it off nicely.

-- John in Belgrave (Website) ,

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5391 days

#15 posted 04-11-2007 03:34 AM

Thanks guys. To answer Lou’s question, I don’t have any plans. On a lot of my freestanding furniture I don’t. I just know where I am going. On technical pieces like Cooper’s entertainment center, I had 32 pages of technical drawings that I made up. I still have the original notebook with about 26 of those pages.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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