The Debate of the ‘Joint Stool’ Book

As the woodworking community begins to read and absorb “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree,” there have been some interesting criticisms.

The most pointed: “The problem with (Peter) Follansbee’s 17th century methods are that they are completely impractical for the average woodworker.”

Strong words. And as someone who has read this book about a dozen times, I disagree and stamp my little foot as hard as I can. This book introduces you to an entirely different mindset and method of work that machine-trained woodworkers will feel uncomfortable with.

Even if you never work green wood – and I highly recommend that you try it some day – there are lessons throughout this book for anyone who cares about handwork.

But I’m not going to fill your ears any more with my blather. There is an interesting debate on the book going on at Rob Campbell’s blog. You can read his detailed review of the book here.

[Review] Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section. Either way is fine by me. Let truth and falsehood grapple and all that.

Also be sure to check out the follow-up entry, with some interesting stuff from Peter Follansbee, one of the authors of the book.

17th Century Techniques in Today’s World

By the way, you really should bookmark Rob’s blog. I’ll have more to say about his personal journey in the coming weeks. First, I’ve got to go dovetail five drawers.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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23 Responses to The Debate of the ‘Joint Stool’ Book

  1. sablebadger says:

    “The problem with (Peter) Follansbee’s 17th century methods are that they are completely impractical for the average woodworker.”

    Now that’s just silly. I’ve been able to do a fair amount of the 17th century stuff that he talks about in his blog without having a single shred of “green” wood. If and when I get a chance to rive a log, I’m so going to, but there is a LOT to learn from him, and our forebearers in woodworking without riving a green log of pure straight grained oak.

    I would also posit a lot of power tool woodworkers think what the hand tool woodworkers do as “not very practical” as well. I don’t do this stuff to be practical, I do it to learn and enjoy.



  2. jason says:

    It’s different to cabinet making at the bench or table-saw for sure, but I can hardly think of a more accessible, or efficient way of working wood than cleaving and working the stuff green.

    Unless you live somewhere that doesn’t have trees. Maybe Abu dhabi.

  3. Sean Pratz says:

    “By the way, you really should bookmark Rob’s blog. I’ll have more to say about his personal journey in the coming weeks.”

    I’m really looking forward to this.

  4. Joel says:

    You all really should read Rob’s blog. I’m happy to say that I’ve been following it almost since the beginning and it’s a quality read.

    Also, despite the fact that I think the furniture Follansbee and Alexander make is quite ugly (just my opinion) and I don’t know if I’ll ever work green wood, I do intend to buy the book. It sounds really interesting, I’ve heard a lot of good about it, and I’m sure I’d learn plenty. I would have bought it already, but I blew my whole “woodworking budget” for the near future when I signed up for a class this May taught by Chris and Mr. Lie-Nielsen himself :0)

  5. I’m going to post this comment here, and on Rob’s page, where the criticisms originated:
    In regards to the impracticality: I just don’t see it. This project requires very little in the way of materials, really a 3′ log of relatively straight oak (or really, anything that’ll split cleanly, if oak is an issue). For me, in Massachusetts, Oak is a veritable weed, and a stop by the local tree service can yield a suitable candidate for little or nothing.

    If you read about the process, it might take as little as a couple days from log to surfaced boards, after which you can let it sit for days/weeks/months without issue. (One of Peter’s tricks, which he doesn’t state in his response, is to save your shavings, and cover your stickered pile of parts with them if you’re concerned about them drying out.)

    Ugly? Don’t like Oak, or 17th Century Style? Well neither do I. In fact I wrote about it here: when I first ordered the book, and found a friend who had a tree. I also talk about why, despite not liking them, it is important for me to experience it and take lessons from the work. For my part, the book was everything I expected and then some, I’m in my fourth reading of it, and split my stool parts last weekend.

    The biggest lesson? In true Follansbee style: “If it looks good, it’s good”, which seems to be the underlying message in the mostly-functional design from the late middle ages and into the 17th century, and one I think may be lost on those who haven’t put themselves in the shoes of a 17th century joiner, even if they don’t care for the style.

  6. Trevor Angell says:

    “The average woodworker…” Before pocket screws and plywood, there were men with skills and beards.

  7. joemcglynn says:

    I have to agree, that comment doesn’t hold water for me.

    I could understand someone not being interested, or not liking the style, or not liking hand tool work but that doesn’t reflect on the book – it’s a reflection of the individual’s tastes.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book, and may even try working with green redwood or fir or madrone the next time one of these falls across my driveway (which is all too often). I absolutely want to try carving a box in Peter’s style.

  8. Jason says:

    It sounds to me like the book would take the “average woodworker” to a whole new skill level, thus eliminating the need to be average.

  9. Larry Jackson says:

    I firmly stomp my own foot right behind yours!

  10. KB says:

    Impractical if you don’t have living oak trees available or the tools for sawing down trees and spitting them up. Impractical if you don’t own a scrub plane or smoothing plane and a few other treasures of hand tools.

    But while I can look at the world from the point of view of the critic who wrote the review it does not mean I don’t love what Peter and Jennie have written. It does not stop me from wishing and dreaming I was out there in a wood lot making the boards for my own jointed stool. So how about a raffle contest where the winner gets to go to Plimoth Plantation and do exactly that? I will be the first in line to buy a raffle ticket.

  11. Richard Wile says:

    With all the rhetoric these days around a renaissance of hand tool work, I find it hard to believe that someone would suggest Peter’s approach is non practical. You are telling me that some guy like me who spends the hours I need to in order to complete a project to the standards I strive to achieve is atypical today? I read enough forums about fellow workers like myself who spend far too many hours on projects to be “practical” for the sheer pleasure. Sure impractical for the guy putting food on the table with his woodworking. But for the rest of us that post our projects with great pride along with obscene amount of time we put into them like a badge of honour – to the author of those remarks – do not speak for us!!

  12. kenmorgan says:

    ““The problem with (Peter) Follansbee’s 17th century methods are that they are completely impractical for the average woodworker.”

    Nonsense. If you don’t all ready have a three thousand dollar woodshop full of machines, making a chair from greenwood is the most accessible way to start woodworking. It requires such a simple set of tools: maul, wedge, frow, drawknife, spokeshave and a drill, and maybe one plane. When I first started working wood, other than plywood and 2x4s, I went to the Appalachian Center for Craft and under the guidance of Tim Hintz, built a greenwood chair with a hickory bark seat. It’s now my wife’s favorite chair and it hooked me on working wood with hand tools. Splitting and working green wood was like a turning on a light. I began to “get” what wood really is.

    “The Jointer and the Cabinet Maker,” for instance, is actually too advanced for the beginning woodworker. It requires too many tools, a fairly good bench, and skills that are kind of hard to master. Greenwood chairs and stools are the place to start. A three or four foot oak log is the best and cheapest real wood to come by. Just call a few arborists in any urban area and I am sure they will be some who will be glad to help you out. The guy who cut down the walnut in my back yard actually collects more logs and burls than he has room for, just because he hates to see them chopped up.

    I all ready have my dirty fingernails on my very own copy of “Build a Joint Stool from a Tree” and look forward to building a stool. Oh, and about the style issue. It doesn’t have to look like an 18th century stool. MIne will no doubt look lighter and lean toward Shaker.

    • tsstahl says:

      “MIne will no doubt look lighter and lean toward Shaker.”

      My clan elders told me that fat feet on furniture was to keep them from sinking into the dirt floors, or if you were blue blooded, through the chinks in the rough sawn flooring.

  13. bawrytr says:

    One point that a number of folks here have touched on: there is a lot of urban and suburban wood out there that gets made into firewood or chipped because it isn’t worth it to mill the trees or because there is often iron in them, nails and lag screws for whatever reason that can ruin saw blade or the sawyer himself. If you split the wood out, this is obviously much less of a problem and opens up a whole new world of wood and even a lot of interesting wood species that are not commercially exploited.

  14. bawrytr says:

    I also don’t get much of the criticism of the style of the furniture Follansbee does. If you look at the underlying form, it is very clean and modern stuff. And in fact you can do what you like with the methods. Seems like too much of the “get some plans and follow them” mentality at work.

  15. Seamus says:

    “The problem with (Peter) Follansbee’s 17th century methods are that they are completely impractical for the average woodworker.”

    This book is EXACTLY the book
    the woodworking community needed.
    Minimal tools, minimal cost, sustainable materials
    and techniques, enabling and empowering
    and freeing from the Big Box Borg….

    What was it Jenny Alexander said?

    Oh yeah, “I’ll never go to the lumberyard again.”

  16. This discussion is similar when Norm Abrams was featured in Fine Woodworking. Oh, the knashing of teeth. Any smart woodworker would recognize the evolution of woodworking when studying Peter’s work and woodworking today. Moreover, I would imagine that most 16th century woodworkers would appreciate some of our 21st century improvements.

  17. Gerald says:

    When I was in college I dreamed of the day I would have my own dedicated workshop with a table saw and a band saw and a planer and a joiner and a lathe and a drill press and a belt sander and a … then I got married and graduated and got a job and lost a job and had a kid and got another job and bought a condo and had another kid and moved to a different state and bought a house and had another kid and got a new job and now my wife is pregnant again. Somewhere between kids and jobs and houses and cars, I realized that the Norm Abrams shop of my dreams wasn’t going to happen. But a couple of used Disstons for $20 here and a couple of old Stanleys for $40 there and corner in the basement–maybe that wasn’t so impossible. Now I don’t know whether Peter Follansbee’s 17th century methods are completely impractical for the average woodworker or not. But they’re a whole lot closer to reality for me than the New Yankee ever was.

    • quietkayak says:

      In meeting the Geralds of this world where they’re at, we will find the key to saving woodworking. Thank you, Peter and Jennie, for the book. And thank you, Gerald, for the reminder.

  18. Ches Spencer says:

    I read Making a chair from a tree many years ago and wanted to make a ladderback chair. After completing the chair I realized I had learned much more about wood than I had from wood working with machines. The draw knife and spoke shave were intuitive and building the shaving mule was fun. Working green oak was magical and one has to observe the grain and rays as well as wet dry construction. Bottom line – I love my chair from a tree. Now that I have the Joint stool Book, I can not wait to complete this stool as my next step in knowledge and build something that will last several hundred years. The picture on the book cover pleases me much the same way that Roubo’s Workbench did on Woodworking Magazine cover in 2005 when I knew I had to build that work bench, which I did. I may even construct a pole lathe to turn the legs to futher enjoy the wet shavings and the why is – It pleases me!

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