Looking for Trouble

When the new book “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” finally hits the streets, I think its most lasting effect will have little to do with joint stools or trees.

I’ve read this book – front to back – more than nine times now. And already it has changed the way I approach the craft, even when I’m not building joint stools from riven green oak.

I’ll let the authors say it.

“You could use winding sticks for this step, but now we’re in a larger realm. If you can’t see a problem by eye here, then there’s no problem. Don’t go looking for trouble.”

This approach to the craft surfaces again and again in the book. It’s not borne of sloppiness. The goal is to make a stool so well that it does not need glue, it should last through 300 years of abuse and it should still have joints as tight as the day it was made.

The approach of Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee is to focus instead on these three things:

1. The fit and mechanical interlock of the parts.

2. The front and visible shoulders of the joints.

3. The overall form of the piece.

If the inside shoulder of a tenon is undercut, that’s OK. If the four stiles (legs) have slightly different turned profiles but look the same, that’s OK. If the assembled frame is slightly out of square but looks square to the eye, that’s OK.

In the end, Alexander and Follansbee strive to create an object that is immensely pleasing to the eye and incredibly resilient to the ages. The micrometers can go home dissatisfied.

I simply cannot wait for this book to be published.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to Looking for Trouble

  1. Jamie Bacon says:

    Quote:
    “I simply cannot wait for this book to be published.”

    You and me both. Got my credit card out and ready as soon as you say the word. This is one I’d like to see available in a leather bound edition also.

  2. ecrusch says:

    And Peter made some of his technique look so easy on Roy’s show.
    Looked almost like he’s been doing this for a while…lol

  3. Tom says:

    One thing I’m beginning to appreciate about woodworking is something I learned during 40 years of engineering: there’s a difference between “precision” and “accuracy”. It doesn’t take a micrometer to make a well-fitted joint.

  4. Scott S. says:

    I’m still on the fence about this purchase simply because the material would be hard to come by ’round these parts. The prose on the process may sway me.

    I would love to see that broad ax in the background put into action.

    • Follansbee says:

      Scott – It’s Follansbee here. My preference is to make the joint stools from riven green oak, but I have also made them from air-dried mill-sawn white oak, pitsawn oak, and also made some in ash. Walnut would work well, too. I have seen some historic examples done in (gasp) maple. the whole purpose of using the green wood riven from a log is that it’s easier. doesn’t mean it’s the only way…most of the bench-work concepts will transfer to other material.

  5. Lewis E. Ward, Figure in the Wood says:

    I think this is what vernacular woodworking is about. Functional, built well and pleasing to the eye.
    Never was a fine woodworker, but carve well on good days.

  6. Bradley says:

    I’ve just started laying out some timber for a couple of saw benches. Perhaps I should wait until I’ve read this one and save me a few nails and a couple of splats of glue.

  7. Rob says:

    A wonderfully human approach to making furniture. Love it!

  8. ryan says:

    Watched Peter on the Woodwright videos and I cant wait for the book either. His attitude is great…”…it’ll be fine for the first 400 years, I guarantee it.” There’s not enough of that in this hobby. FOR SALE: one Starrett square…

  9. Brent Quarles says:

    Chris:
    Sounds very interesting. I am curious about the simple stools I have seen in various pictures of your workshops. Have you written about how you make those? They appear to be about a foot tall with squarish looking seats. Just curious..angles and such…thanks!

  10. Lola says:

    I am looking forward to this book and how it is made. Anything that rests the ruler and trains the eye is high on my list.

  11. joecrafted says:

    Absolutely looking forward to this book. I have so much green red oak, I’m not sure what to do with it all (some will heat my house). I’m sure they will cover it in the book, but I’m especially wondering how to deal with cracking in the turned spindles. I practiced some spindle turning on one of the green red oak pieces and it now has a nice crack running down the length of it. I suspect I brought it in the dry indoors too quickly and probably should have put it a box with the wet shavings to slow that process down some.

  12. Niels says:

    You big tease!

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