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Christopher Schwarz built this lovely and delicate Creole Table for our February 2007 issue (an issue that also includes a nice Greene & Greene side table, Michael Dunbar’s discussion of traditional handscrews, an easy and accurate way to sharpen scrapers and more).
You can read it free here, but I recommend downloading the PDF at the end for the cutlist and illustrations (and the images align better in the text than online). Until recently, Creole-style furniture was a bit obscure, known mostly to a handful of furniture collectors who specialized in pieces made in the Mississippi valley. This table, for example, looks quite a bit like drawings of 18th-century French furniture from Denis Diderot’s “L’Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne” (1751-1780) – but without the banding, inlay, carving and marquetry.
At its heart, the Creole table is a typical apron table, with only a few surprises in its construction: The four aprons are secured to the legs with mortise-and-tenon joints, and reinforced with triangular corner blocks. You can use the scaled drawings (in the PDF at the end) to create your own paper patterns, or you can download the patterns from our web site. When conquering any complex shape, such as the scalloped aprons, making a template for pattern-routing is a good idea.
There are two patterns for the aprons: One for the side aprons and one for both the front and back.
You could band saw out these leg shapes directly, but you would be in for a bit of fussing when you joined the aprons to the legs. With the stop cuts complete, remove the rest of the waste with a hand saw or your band saw. Now cut your mortises on the legs because they are still easy to manage with their long straight edges and faces. If your band saw blade is sharp and well-tensioned (we like a 1?4″ skip-tooth blade), the work is easy. The second half of a cabriole leg – shaping the sawn surface into something sinuous – is easy with the right tool.
I removed the saw marks from the legs with the Shinto’s coarse side and then smoothed things up with the smooth side.
Before you cut the tenons and the curves on the aprons, you need to decide what you are going to do about the drawer front.
Once you’ve cut the ends of what will become your drawer front, connect the two crosscuts with a rip. Though you could cut out the drawer front freehand, I recommend you clamp a block of wood to the apron as a guide. With the drawer front cut free you can then tweak the apron to tighten things up if you had problems with your rip cut.
Once you have cut the face shoulders and face cheeks, you can cut the edge shoulders on a band saw. In the end, your best bet is to slightly undercut the tenon shoulders on all the inside surfaces.
As with all things in woodworking, if you do enough preparation work, then actual execution is smooth and quick.
Because I cut right on my line, there is little material to remove with the router and pattern bit. You also should install what is sometimes called a “drawer kick.” The kick is a single stick of wood between the front and back aprons that is above the drawer.
When most woodworking magazines describe how to build a drawer for a project, it’s usually something like: Build the drawers using the techniques you prefer.
Here are a couple other details about the bottom: I cut the bottom so the grain runs from left to right in the drawer, so the seasonal expansion and contraction occurs at the rear of the drawer. Once I assemble the drawer with dovetails, I glue the drawer front on and trim it to fit the assembled drawer. Having the shape of the apron marked on both the inside and outside of the work helps keep the blade square through the cut.
Finally, I clamp the drawer in the table’s base and then glue the drawer runners to the web frame so they are snug against the drawer.
Here you can see how the inside of the table works: corner blocks reinforce the aprons, a web frame supports the drawer and a drawer kick stops the drawer from drooping. Christopher Schwarz has helped many of us solve some pretty frustrating problems over the years.


You can download a deluxe SketchUp drawing of the Schoolbox, a project that was featured on the cover of the Autumn 2009 issue. This file was made by Randall Wilkins, a set designer in the film industry who uses SketchUp in his job and in his woodworking hobby. Wilkins has added additional scenes (click on the tabs at the top of the file) that will create shop drawings for you in a variety of views, including some helpful section views. Chris is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine and the publisher at Lost Art Press. I use Vectorworks professionally, so it seemed natural to plan my woodworking projects using the same package.
Essentially, Creole encompasses  furniture made in the Mississippi valley by furniture makers who were usually French-Canadian. Our project illustrator, John Hutchinson, took a photograph and produced the construction drawings. The sinuous legs and the scalloped aprons make the table appear difficult to build, but it’s not the curves that will trip you up.
The pattern for the front and back aprons is a mirror image of the left and right sides of the apron.
After trying a variety of pens, the best was a white ink pen available from an art supply store.
Begin by taking the stock for your legs and cutting one long edge so it parallels the grain of the board. It helps to bundle the four legs as you make these marks, slashing your chance for a disastrous error.
That’s because the straight surfaces of the legs where the aprons attach are now buried inside your leg blanks. On the original, the drawer front appears to be cut directly from the apron, instead of using a different piece of wood for the drawer front. Once you cut the drawer front free on its remaining three sides, you’ll glue this 3?4″ strip back to the top of the apron. The only wrinkle to the process is leaving a little bit of material behind on the aprons to make them robust enough to survive assembly. By leaving an extra 1-1?4″ of the apron behind you create a place where this weak spot can be clamped without snapping it off. With the rough shapes cut out, I then clamp the pattern to the workpiece and use a router with a bearing-guided pattern bit to smooth out the arcs on the aprons.
Your best friends during this process are a small square, a sharp eye and an old joiner’s trick. This is efficient because the waste falls away at the same time I need to turn the piece around to cut from the other direction.
If you can’t close this joint with hand pressure, find out what is preventing it from closing. This “cheat” was handed down to us by 17th-century joiners, who would undercut a shoulder for a tight fit. The grain of these runs 90° to that of the apron, so they glued well to both the leg and the apron. I clamped the work on top of the pattern and used a bit that has the guide bearing at the bottom of the bit. Though most authorities on joinery will tell you not to bother gluing the end-grain shoulder area at the bottom of the apron, I think it’s essential here. While that sounds like the author ran out of steam, I think it’s actually a fair statement. Each one is a little surprise when I pull it out and a reflection of that woodworker’s personality.
One clamp pressed the block to the apron; the other clamp pulled the block against the leg. Be sure to cut the bottom so there’s a little expansion room – I make the bottom 1?4″ narrower overall.
Then I fit the drawer in the carcase so there is an even gap (about 1?32″) all the way around the drawer front.


A bit of effort can result in a top that looks right and is easy to plane or scrape to get it ready for finishing. If you want the complete effect in your home, try serving it up with some duck etouffee – you’ll find the recipe below. The pieces have lots of French touches, such as cabriole legs, but also have the unmistakable restraint of early American furniture that collectors seek.
If you prepare your patterns with care, the curves will come easily; the real challenge is the overall fit of the parts – but isn’t that always true?
After marking, cutting and routing one end of the apron, you flip the pattern over to do the same to the other end of the apron.
On my apron, I positioned my cutline so it would run through some straight quartersawn grain on the apron. If you want to do this, too, you’re going to need a couple thin-bladed saws – I like Japanese saws for this. Score your cutline with a sharp chisel, which will make it easier for the saw to follow the kerf.
This is a good idea anyway as you’ll be gluing the strip back in place shortly and want a clean joint. Note how I’ve left some extra waste near the tenons to strengthen the apron’s curve at that point. If you are skittish, use a 3?8″-wide chisel, which will keep you clear of the shoulders, but it will be a bit harder to steer in the cut.
This allows me to work on top of my bench and prevents me from exposing more of the bit than necessary.
After I glued up the web frame’s joints and allowed them to dry, I glued the frame between the front and back aprons. You want all the help you can get when you cut the waste away, and modern PVAs do a better job of gluing end grain than most people realize. So if I want a drawer to last 200 years instead of 20, I prefer the dovetail joint for the corners. I join all the corners with through-dovetail joints and then glue a piece of 1?4″-thick veneer (resawn from the piece cut from the apron) on the drawer front and trim it to the size of the drawer opening. I made the clearance holes at the rear corner blocks oval-shaped to allow the top to expand a bit. My finish consists of a couple coats of amber shellac, which I applied with a small natural-bristle brush and a rag. And the box’s lid is now a dynamic component , which means it will open and shut with a mouse click.
Once you’ve plunged through the board, switch to a Ryoba saw, which is faster because its blade is longer.
If you are not sure that you are holding the piece down firmly, make a second pass over the blades.
I make the back of the drawer 1?2″ narrower than the sides and front, which allows me to slip the bottom in place. This means that you will have to cut the mortises in the legs after you roughly shape things. I guide the work past the blades using a fence on my miter gauge (or the fence on a sliding table). Wilkins created these drawings because he is planning on making a copy of the schoolbox for each of his daughters.
This technique is quick – one blade setup cuts both the cheeks and the shoulders of the tenon.



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