The Mission-Style Music Stand With Music Staff Inlay
Owing to the straightforward construction and simple selection of materials, my first few furniture projects were of the early 20th century Arts & Crafts period. Since then I've found it difficult to make many more additions since my home’s design aesthetic has changed: not better or worse, but just in a direction that made it more difficult to use medium oak and walnut in a way to showcase grain, joints, and intricate details.
I was contacted to build a music stand in the style and my mind immediately went to where I had left off several years back. Since I don’t believe there were any original A&C stands, I worked on a design with the buyer to be used by a standing vocal artist. So, let’s get started.
Finished music rest
Step 1: Equipment and Materials
I’m not someone who pushes tools that most people wouldn't need. That being said, this project does require a fairly substantial workshop.
· Basic measuring/marking devices
· Table Saw
· Miter Saw
· Sanders (handheld or stationary disc)
· Handheld router with edge guide
· ½” mortise chisel
· Hollow chisel mortiser
· Specialized joiner (Domino, biscuit, or pocket hole)
· Planer or thickness sander
· Impact driver (for bolt installation)
I start with 6/4 and 5/4 rough-cut quartersawn oak, the proper lumber for most A&C projects. It is characterized with very straight grain which resists bending over time and looks very sharp. Plane it down until smooth; we’ll adjust the thickness more later on.
You’ll also need some walnut for the various pins, pegs, caps and inlays. Most of this can be done from scraps of ¾” material. Leave it as-is and we’ll cut everything to fit later on.
For hardware, you'll need two 3/8"x4" bolts for the top, one 3/8"x4" hex head bolt for the center post, two 2.5" hex bolts for the sides and 3 brass sleeves to install them into.
Step 2: Building the Center Post
Since every other piece is attached to the center post, that’s where we’ll start. Cut a three foot section from the 6/4 board and rip three pieces to 3”, 4”, and whatever is left over. Resaw the first two pieces and plane them smooth to make the four outer sections of the box.
I had planned to use a long miter joint for the box, but because of a slight bow hidden inside the board I didn't want to risk it and instead made a double-locking rabbet joint. For this, start with making a normal rabbet joint on two of the boards, then add two deeper saw kerfs at the back and middle of the joint.
Use a table saw to cut the matching grooves on the other two pieces. Before assembly, sand and wax the interior to a high degree since this is the last time you’ll have access to it. I went to 600 grit by hand and then added a layer of turner’s wax. Add glue to the joint and assemble the box, taking care to keep glue out of the inside, the ends even and the joint square.
When the box is dry, use the rest of the board of equal length to make a post to fit snugly down the inside. Insert the post completely and cut a mortise through the center of the side of the box about 3” from the top to make room for a height adjustment key. Remove the post and set it on the mortiser, readjust the fence and make similar mortises all the way to the bottom at ~2” intervals. Use a chisel to pare the holes away on top and bottom to make it easier to insert the key later on.
On the front of the box, mark off space for a square grouping of four mortises to add visual interest. Place a block on the inside so the wood doesn't splinter, and mill them out.
-post balanced on rough base
-detail of mortised post
-detail of post inside of rabbeted box
Step 3: The Post Cap
Measure out 1.5” inch on the outside of the box and cut a piece of 6/4 material to match (so you have a ¾” overhang on each side when centered). Mark the hole for the post to pass through and cut it out with your saw of choice (I used a heavy blade on the scroll saw). Use a file to adjust the fit to the post and add a 1/2” recess to the bottom so it fits over the post. Chamfer the internal and external sides and glue/nail it in place.
-completed cap assembly
Step 4: The Key
The shape here isn’t important; I used whatever was left over from the rest of the stand. Cut a ½”x ½” piece of walnut about 6” long and use a block plane or sandpaper to adjust the size to fit the mortise in the side of the stand. From here, cut a block to use as a handhold and add a ½” mortise to fit the end of the walnut key. Add more ornaments as necessary. I added a piece of walnut from side-to-side to lock the key in place and a small dot on the back with a tapered point. Chamfer the edges like the other parts and use a chisel to pare away the interior corners.
Step 5: The Base
Working from the bottom to the top, we’ll continue with the base. I marked out three parts for the large and small legs and added gentle tapers to them on each side. On the larger section, measure in about 3” so the top will be flat above the lower legs and about 2” out from where the center post will meet.
After cutting them away from the main board, move to a bandsaw and cut the tapers. Once they are trimmed to size, use a table saw to cut the lap joints that will hold the leg sections together.
To ensure the smaller legs are matched to each other, clamp them together and either run a hand plane or file across them to even them out.
With the smaller legs trimmed to size, set them on a miter sled and trim about 1/8” from the bottom, leaving a 1.5” pad on each end for feet. This is easier with a dado blade or router with a straight bit but I opted to smooth it out with a chisel instead.
Once the leg sections are free of scratches and are relatively the same size, run a router over the edges with a small chamfer bit. Don’t use anything too ornate, but make it enough to cut back on the sharp corners. I stayed away from the lower sides as well as the areas that would be covered by the joints.
Using a bandsaw, cut a lap joint in the box of the center post big enough for the larger leg to fit. If desired, a tab can be added on the sides to fully lock the post into position. File and sand the interior of the tab so it won’t scratch the leg when inserted. Cut a 3” block from the bottom of the center post and glue it into the box where the tab ends. This will give us the space to attach a threaded collar. Reinforce this assembly with finishing nails.
-rough assembled base
Step 6: Pegs and Mortises for the Base
With a hollow chisel mortiser, cut a ½” mortise about 3/8” deep on top of each of the 4 foot pads. Follow this with mortises on the edges of the lap joints along the legs. Mark the edges of the center post and add two more the sides. Cut a few pieces of black walnut at ½” x ½” to use for the various pegs. Two passes on a table saw can quickly trim them off a longer board.
For the pegs, taper the tops at 30 degrees with a sander to form a low pyramidal point and cut them from the blank at 5/8” to ¾” in length. Glue into the mortises above the feet with ~3/8” protrusion. These can also be added to the rear supports, music rest, and central joint in the post as desired.
Next to the lap joints, cut walnut pegs to be about ½” x 5/8” x 1.5” long and taper them down with the band saw to resemble a friction-fit spike. Use a knife to knock down the corners and make each one look handmade. Glue in place, using the assembled feet to properly position them.
-finished center post with walnut inlays
-detail of tapered pins and pegs
-pegs on lower feet
Step 7: Bolts for the Base
To be able to disassemble the base, we’ll use a hex bolt threaded from the bottom. This will allow the base to be broken down with a single hex wrench and aid in transportation. Use a 3/8” bit to start holes on the bottom of all 3 lap joints. We’ll need some room on the receiving side to accept the threaded collar later but don’t go all the way through.
Enlarge the lower holes (where the bolt will pass) to 25/64” or 13/32” to allow the bolt to pass easier and enlarge the upper holes to ½” to accept the collar. Mount the collars carefully and add a recess on the bottom with a ¾” Forstner bit to hide the washers and bolt head.
-inside central lap joint
-below central joint (assembled)
-below secondary joint
-below secondary joint (finished and burned for identification/orientation)
Step 8: Top Supports
For the top of the music rest, start with the support on the back. With an overall area of approximately 16" x 24”, mark out a support about 14” tall and 7" wide on the 6/4 oak, add coves to the outer corners and cut on a band saw.
Next, a semicircular slot is required for the rest to pivot. Mark the center with a compass and sketch out an arc to allow for the stand to reach 0 to 90 degrees. With the aid of a drill, bore a 3/8” hole for the fulcrum of the pivot.
The challenge here is to cut the slot. Although this can be done on a scroll saw, for added precision I added a pin to my router fence and used a 3/8” straight bit to carve the channel. Once this channel is complete, resaw the support in half and plane or sand it flat and smooth. Add a small chamfer to the exposed edges top and bottom.
For added interest, I cut a pair of 1.5” square blocks about 6" tall for the back and used my table saw to cut some notches in the sides as well as caps on the top and bottom. These were assembled with more mortises
I also used the mortiser to add more walnut pegs and a channel to attach the blocks to the supports.
-laid out parts
-rough cut supports
-supports finished and assembled, close
-supports finished and assembled, wide
Step 9: The Music Rest
Possibly the most daunting challenge of the project. Measure the size of the rest you’re looking for and cut the 1” thick lumber to fit. For widths, I went with a 2.5” top, 2” deep music rest, 3.5” bottom, 2.25” for the sides, 3x 1” slats per side and a 5.5” center. Mark through-mortises in the top board and cut them on the mortiser. Mirror the cuts on the bottom but only go as deep as you are able.
Cut tenons on the vertical pieces that are long enough to protrude by ½” on the top. Mine were done with multiple passes on a table saw sled which I then cleaned with a chisel and block plane. Once you have a sufficient fit, trim a 45 degree chamfer from the tops of the three exposed tenons.
-laid out parts
-through-mortises being cut for the top
-marked out mortises
-cutting central mortise
-using sled for central tenon-top
-chiseling away remainder on tenon
-complete mortise/tenon joint, center top
Step 10: Break/Break
So what if you measure incorrectly? Run out of lumber? Have a change of plans?
My original plan was to resaw 6/4 material to make the vertical pieces and plane the entire assembly to match. I realized after I started there was a hidden bow in the middle of the 6/4 board. Had I followed through, the entire thing would have been misshapen so I was forced to go full thickness for the entire assembly. Problem was, I was now short on material. The board wasn’t long enough to get all of the pieces I needed so I had to build the six supports without tenons. The top and bottom already had the holes bored, so there'd be no going back and using dowels, etc. Instead, I removed the head from the mortiser, flipped it around and clamped the base to my workbench from the rear. I stuck a support below the fence and carved new mortises into the supports, top and bottom. I cut some ½” oak to match and added the tenons I needed for the project (about 1" protrusion). Once this was done, I was ready for assembly.
...And we’re back on schedule!
Once the top is glued up, sand it down front and back on a thickness sander if available to keep the thickness and weight down.
-overly complicated mortiser setup to fix my own silly mistake
Step 11: The Staff
To add interest to the front of the stand, I added an inlay of a music staff, complete with bar lines. If you’re feeling adventurous, add the clef as well.
Set a dado blade in the table saw and mill 5 x ¼” notches about 3/8” apart. Add a fence and ¼” straight bit to your router and add the bar lines at each end, offsetting the inner double-bars by about 3/8”. If your fence cannot reach the center of the stand, clamp a straightedge across the stand and run the router along it.
Cut enough walnut strips to build the staff and glue them in place. I started with the horizontal lines and added the vertical portions after they were dry. Sand the top flush with the rest of the face.
After the top is the correct thickness, run it over the mortiser once more and add pegs top and bottom to resemble locked mortises. Add walnut pegs, tapering the backs but leaving the fronts flush.
-basic staff from 1/4" dados
-routing 1/4" vertical bar lines
-horizontal lines glued in place
-vertical lines glued in place
Step 12: Music Rest Extrusion
A small board must be attached to the front of the stand to allow room for music to sit. Most stands will keep this at about 2” and add a notch for a pencil or to hold music in place. For this one, we’ll use a table saw to make a cove. Carefully mark the location of the cove and clamp an offset fence to your table saw at a 30 degree angle. Add a second fence to the back so you can ride the board across the blade at an angle. Droping the blade and making multiple, gentle passes will build the cove.
Once complete, cut the board to length and use a table saw to add a 45 degree chamfer to the bottom. Attach it to the stand with Dominos, biscuits or screws from the back. I had a few spare bits of walnut so I made some little posts and added them to the bottom to resemble small supports.
Additionally, I added small caps to the top bolts by epoxying small oak cubes @ 1" per side onto the square-headed bolts and nuts. Sand the tops at 30 degrees to match the rest of the project. I lucked out by finding square-headed bolts which were easy to hide in a mortise.
-detail of music rest
-detail of nut and bolt caps
Step 13: Finishing It Off
There are a multitude of options available for the staining and finishing of the stand. I used a Mission Oak gel stain to give the entire project a brown, even tone that improved the contrast with the walnut. Once the stain is dry, move to a clear varnish to complete the look. To keep the period appearance, go for a satin or semi-gloss polyurethane. Apply several thin coats to the entire project, sanding lightly with 600 grit sandpaper or 000 steel wool between each one. Watch for any drips or bubbles and correct them as they appear. At the end, you can also add a very light coat of wax to give the project a nice, even glow.
I was especially careful of the central post so that it didn't get stuck inside the tall box. Test fit it before and after each coat of finish, sand it smooth and give it a thicker coat of wax. If it's tight, give it a pass or two with a hand plane and try it again.
-top in finishing room
-all parts getting hit with polyurethane
-detail of staff
-detail of base
-support from side
Step 14: Rock Out!
If you made it this far, congratulations! Time to dust off the horn, rock out, get your jazz on, drive the ship and keep the beat! Thanks for taking the adventure!