Handmade Spanish-Colonial Furniture

Making Spanish-colonial furniture is a "natural" moneymaker that should work for you whether you're an aspiring urban artisan or a self-sufficient back-to-the-lander!

| November/December 1978

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    This bench is a relatively simple piece to get you started making Spanish-Colonial furniture.
  • Assembly diagram of the Spanish-Colonial bench. None of the dimensions are critical. You may vary the design to suit your own needs or materials.
  • Even simpler than the bench is this stool.
  • This milking stool is another simple variation on the theme.
  • Another simple piece: a dining table.
  • Assembly diagram for the dining table.
  • Assembly diagram for a round table, if and when you get your hands on some power tools.
  • Southwest-style doors are another project to tackle when you have more experience and power tools.
  • Assembly diagram for the southwest-style doors.
  • Finally, a cupboard or "trastero." For this one we have no diagram, so try it only when you've built up skill and confidence in your woodworking abilities.

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I supported our homestead family of four during the winter of 1971/72 by selling handmade furniture in the Spanish-Colonial style. The business was a "natural" for me, for at least two reasons: [1] The rustic simplicity of this style is very popular here in the Southwest, and [2] Spanish-Colonial furniture is easy to construct with only the most rudimentary of hand tools.

That second point was especially important to me six or seven years ago, because at the time (before our wind powered electrical system was installed) we had no electricity at all. Thus I had to build the pieces I made the same way that Spanish furniture makers of a hundred years before made theirs: by hand.

This was not particularly difficult, but it was time-consuming and consequently lowered our potential income considerably. Once I had my shop wired for 32-volt DC and I'd installed a few power tools designed to operate on that voltage, however, I immediately cut the time I had to spend on a piece by half. That doubled our income overnight.

So: I know from personal experience that anyone halfway capable of working with wood can earn enough to support a family by building the furniture you see here, even if he or she has to work entirely by hand. And if you're that same woodworker and you have electricity and some power tools to use, Spanish Colonial furniture most certainly can put a respectable income in your pockets.

The Basics ... and Then Some

Here, then, is the minimum set of hand tools you'll need to bust into this business: a hammer, crosscut saw, ripsaw, try square, hand drill with wood boring bits, set of wood chisels, and a plane. Those are the basics and, if you don't already own them, you can obtain them quite inexpensively. I personally like the Sears Craftsman brand of tools (they're a fortunate combination of good quality and reasonable price).

Now that's all you really need to get started and, at one time, it's all I used to construct a variety of tables, benches, and stools which sold for anywhere from $35.00 to $350.00 apiece. If you can afford it, though, it's awfully nice to have at least the following power tools: an eight- or nine inch, tilt-arbor table saw; a good jointer-planer; a quarter-inch (maybe even a half-inch, too) electric hand drill; and a portable circular saw.

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