Last July, I took a class from Peter Follansbee on making a joint stool. It was at Roy Underhill’s The Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, N.C., where the sun beat down all week and the mercury crossed the 100° mark every day. My people are from peat bogs; I would rather it be 50° and raining than hot and sunny – and our first two days were spent outside splitting stock from freshly felled red oak logs. But despite the constant threat of heat stroke, I had a marvelous time.
Peter has an arid sense of humor (which I adore) and he is unfailingly generous in sharing his years of woodworking experience, and his deep knowledge of 16th- and 17th-century furniture – not to mention his tools. And working with wet oak was a wholly new experience for me, and a great deal of fun. It seemed revolutionary to me – even though the technique is centuries old – to be able to split off a perfect (or perfect enough) tenon rather than saw it. (And I’m sad you can’t do that with cherry.)
In just one week, most of the 10 students in the class managed to go from a log to a finished drawbored joint stool, complete with shaped legs (some of them turned the legs on Roy’s pole lathe) and a seat with a profiled edge.
I’m chagrined to admit that I was in the minority (as you can no doubt tell from the photo at the top). On the last day, as we were doing a final dry-fit on the tenons in preparation for drawboring, I cut the angle on one of my side stretcher tenons at such a wrong angle that I removed too much material to be able to drawbore it in place. Peter calmly assessed the situation, made me laugh about my mistake, then hewed another stretcher for me from some leftover stock in less than a half-hour, while also helping the other students complete their work. (I’m a horrid hewer; I need a lot more practice and a much stronger wrist.)
By the end of the day, I managed to get the show surface planed and the angles cut on the shoulders of the new stretcher, but the tenons were still square and I didn’t have time to add a bead to match the other three. I think I was having too much fun playing with the gouge and mallet as I cut the simple design shown at right into the aprons – a technique that Peter had me doing with ease in but minutes.
With the class over, I packed all the parts into a tomato flat, tossed them in the back of my car, and drove home to Cincinnati. As soon as I got home, I borrowed from Chris Schwarz a beader to finish the last of the decoration, and I was gung-ho to get the joint stool assembled. I took it into my shop at work … then life got in the way.
As of two days ago, the pieces were languishing at work in the tomato flat, and covered with sawdust. Now, they’re dry-assembled on my bench at home, and I have a couple pins driven. I still have to fit those last two tenons, then drill the holes so I can complete the drawboring.
But I can’t for the life of me remember what Peter told us about pegging the top in place – particularly a two-board top, which is what mine will be.
So I’m delighted that “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” is at the printer; I need it as soon as possible – because I’m not moving those joint stool pieces off my bench until the project is done.
– Megan Fitzpatrick