The Second Staked Backstool


I don’t give names to my pieces of furniture. I have nothing against people who do, but it’s just not my thing. But sometimes a piece of furniture reminds me of someone as I’m building it. When I look at this backstool I can think only of Joe Kent Wagg.

For three years I attended a Lutheran school that was populated by a volatile mix of smart kids, token charity cases and trouble-makers. In fourth grade, our resident bully was Joe, who was older, bigger and had questionable dental hygiene.

I was the kid with a bowl haircut, glasses and a smart mouth, so naturally Joe had it in for me on the playground. Thanks to Joe I learned a lot about scuffling, chewing dirt and hiding in the bushes – all valuable skills in the corporate world.

While Joe ruled recess, he struggled in school. He would get out of his seat several times a day and sprint around the classroom. Eventually the teacher brought a roll of duct tape to class and adhered him to his chair by wrapping his midsection to the chair’s back.

This did not stop him. Partially mummified, he would tip backward in his chair all day, a clear violation of school rules.

So the teacher taped him to a chair that with casters on the feet. When Joe tipped back, he would fall on the floor like a crippled turtle unable to get upright.

We were commanded to ignore him, and Joe was left on the floor for what seemed like hours.

I think it was that day that I started to have a problem with authority.

So Joe, this three-legged backstool is for you.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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26 Responses to The Second Staked Backstool

  1. Bob Snyder says:

    Looks great. You said you were going to paint it. How was it finished?

    • Lamp black General Finishes Milk Paint (not milk paint, really) over Brick red General Finishes Milk Paint.

      • Brian Clites says:

        Another really beautiful piece of furniture Chris. Thanks for the pics!

        Will you give us some more info on finishing in Furniture of Necessity? You’ve converted me to Milk Paint, but I haven’t experimented with layering the colors yet. Nor have I settled on a protective coat. (I’ve been burnishing with steel wool, then applying a wiping varnish in roughly the same 3-part ratio you recommended for workbenches.)

        I was starting to think that black over blue was your trademark – like with the first Dutch chest and the prior chair. What inspired the switch to red? Do you burnish through both layers, or just the black? (As far as I can see in the pics, you might not be scuffing through either, but rather anticipating the nice way this piece will age naturally through use.)

        Have a great Sunday!

        • I frequently use black over red as well. The store was out of blue, so red it was.

          The General Finishes “Milk Paint” is actually an acrylic. So no topcoat is needed. You can burnish the black with steel wool and wax if you want to accelerate the wear, but chairs (and tool chests) don’t need much assistance….

          If you are using traditional milk paint from a powder, I have found that a topcoat of oil, oil/varnish or wax is a good idea. The finish looks better. And is a little more resistant to spotting if you spill water on it.

  2. Another great example of form not following function.

    • jenohdit says:

      Louis Sullivan was an American. No one had even thought of the Bauhaus in 1896.

      “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.”

      There is a distinction between “shape” and “form” which needs to be considered for Sullivan’s statement to make sense. There is a nice explanation of Aristotle’s Four Causes here:

      “But in the case of living things, it is very clear that to explain behavior we must refer not to surface configuration, but to the functional organization that the individuals share with other members of their species. This is the form; this, and not the shape remains the same as as long as the creature is the same creature. The lion may change its shape, get thin or fat, without ceasing to be the same lion; its form is not its shape, but its soul, the set of vital capacities, the functional organization, in virtue of which it lives and acts.”

      Aleister Crowley had a different take on things.

      “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

      Search for Crowley’s name with “The NIghtmare Paintings” to see how well his work has held up compared with Sullivan’s.

  3. wortheffort says:

    After painting I really like the parallel sides. Beforehand it looked odd with the three legs. Is it the black that seems to shrink the back of seat?

  4. rondennis303 says:

    I dare not pontificate among such scholars. I think the backstool look clean and functional.

  5. spokeshave27 says:

    looks great! – Now I have yet something else to make – if only to see how it sits.

  6. Jeremy says:

    I used to think your chairs (which I quite like) were as Spartan as possible, that nothing could be removed and remain a chair. Then you took away a leg and proved me wrong.

  7. Looking good Chris! The differences are subtle, but I think I like this one better.

  8. Reblogged this on RJS Woodworks and commented:
    There are no words to describe how perfect this stool is, at least, to my eye. Check the Lost Art Press blog for more on the design and construction.

  9. woodworkerme says:

    I really like this one. so if I were to make a set, What style of table should I match them up with?

  10. Awesome chair….when are the plans coming out???

  11. skywalker011 says:

    Great looking chair! It looks like it would be a fun challenge to lean in. My mother would yell at me im sure.

  12. jckrbbtslm says:

    I know that, a while back, you said you were going to elaborate on your seat blank procurement. Any chance of an update in that arena? I’m working my way through Chairmaker’s Notebook and while I can lay my hands on a sufficiency of green wood for parts, I’m suffering from a dearth of locally available air dried wood suitable for seats. And the home stores around here carry no poplar in dimensions greater than 3″x3″. You didn’t glue up six of those, surely?

    • I use 3″- or 4″-thick poplar, which is very common at a professional lumberyard. This is the stuff that contractors buy when they need to do something unusually thick and painted, such as a mantle. Our lumberyard has it in 8″-10″ widths, dressed, for $3.25/bf. (This is Paxton Hardwoods in Maderia if you are local).

      They don’t have this stuff in the racks usually. It’s warehoused. So you need to ask for it. Hope this helps.

  13. jckrbbtslm says:

    Thanks! I’ll try that. I live in Wichita, KS, which is basically a desert for both furniture wood and hand tools, so suggestions like that are super helpful.

  14. gyegreene says:

    “Dining room chairs: 25% off!!!”



  15. Alex A. says:

    I like the new design better. Can’t wait for the book.

  16. James Orr says:

    I don’t know the in’s and out’s of chair design, but I *will* say that this one looks ridiculously cool. I bet it would be a great seat for a fingerstyle guitarist.

  17. Barak Bruerd says:

    Are there historic examples of 1 foot in the front and 2 in the back? I have not sat in a 3-legged chair, but I’ve always avoided losing my composure on 3-legged stools by positioning 1 leg in the front and 2 in the back; which essentially allows my legs to act as stabilizers that keep the stool from tipping left or right. If the 1 leg is in the back and the chair tips, your center of gravity moves behind you over your shoulder, and the only thing left to do at that point is flail and hope for the best. But perhaps the wide angle of the legs keeps that eventuality to a minimum.

    • There are historic examples of almost every configuration imaginable. But the more common arrangement that I have encountered in my research has been two legs in front, one in rear.

      After you sit (and work) in one for a while, it becomes apparent why. We don’t lean back all the time, especially when we are working (I’m sitting in one of my backstools now, and every movement I make reinforces the reason behind the design).

      I do not expect anyone to believe me because our eyes betray us. It is only through the buttocks that truth is found. (Hey, that’s a good T-shirt slogan… maybe not.)

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