You are Like a Dog that Pees on the Rug

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The following is not a petition for affirmation. It is merely a reminder to myself not to order so many books at press time.

Though I loved journalism school, it didn’t love me. During my first two years, both my academic adviser and news writing instructor recommended I transfer to a school that was better suited to my odd writing style.

“You are like a big puppy that pees on the rug all the time,” said David Nelson, my newswriting instructor. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

The vice principal at my high school would have agreed with Nelson.

“You have got to stop wearing that bathrobe to school,” he told me one spring day.

So today I am officially tempering my enthusiasm for my next book, “Furniture of Necessity.” I have about half the projects built for the book, and they are slowly being integrated into our daily lives on Greenbriar Avenue.

Three-legged backstools sit at the ends of our dining table, and I steer every guest in our house to sit on them (we’re up to about 20 pair of buttocks now). Some visitors are clearly fearful that it is a trick.

My first 14th-century trestle table has become a portable work table and has been out in the yard, in the sunroom and set up in the living room for a number of dinners. But a couple visitors have asked why the table is missing legs. Or why it has too many legs. Or they have just asked what the heck it is.

I love these pieces, perhaps more than any other pieces I’ve built in recent memory. But the outside world isn’t sure. The three-legged chairs and table trestles are particularly off-putting. As one woodworker recently told me: “It looks like you’re just trying to save a little wood by having one less leg.”

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I seek out and appreciate this sort of honest response. It shapes the way I will explain these pieces in the book and, more importantly, tells me I need to show you more examples here on the blog. The problem is that in the last five years I have looked at hundreds of images of aumbries, trestle tables, backstools, medieval worktables and staked pieces of all sorts. They don’t look weird to me anymore.

But deep down, I know they’re difficult pieces. Just like I knew it was strange to write about stabbings at adult bookstores (suggested headline: “Ouch! Wrong Hole!”). Plus, terrycloth bathrobes are odd attire at high school pep rallies.

So write a birdhouse book, you idiot.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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36 Responses to You are Like a Dog that Pees on the Rug

  1. Al Navas says:

    We are creatures of habit, and evolution has taught us to remember things “…the way they are…”: Four legs on things. But we really do not know that centuries ago fellow humans would have scoffed at the idea of a 4-legged table or chair.

    Thank you for taking us full circle, and reminding us that things *were* a tad different wayyy back. Either tat, or you and Jeff have been creating drawings with crude perspective, hoping to sell some ideas. Some of us know better, though 🙂

    Al

  2. Chris, this is fascinating – I greatly look forward to the finished book- do you think that prior to the 6 legs in your photo and the prints (of which only the last image even shows a back leg) that they would have looked like todays trestle tables, then the 6 legged table evolved and today 4 legs- a natural progression?

    Growing up my father made a table that only had legs at the front and rested on a ledge on the wall – we had it years.

  3. alexbotkin says:

    Three-legged chairs and stools are really not that uncommon. A stroll through various chair blogs or Pinterest will reveal a number of the Scandinav-ish style chairs or stools with three legs. They were also a high-light (low-light?) of one of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts. They are also often tagged “Mid-century Modern” (century not specified)

  4. Ed Clarke says:

    The three legs on the chairs keep things steady as they’ll never ever rock. I don’t understand the table though – it seems like the two sets of three legs are the equivalent of a four legged table?

  5. knewconcepts says:

    I had the misfortune to sit on a 3 legged stool at a bar in Italy many years ago (my first exposure to the damn things). Expecting it to have 4 legs (it was fairly dark in there and I hadn’t noticed), I shifted my weight to change position, and it decided that it didn’t like me, and we went down quickly. I put my hand out to catch myself, and drove my thumb about half way into my wrist. Needless to say, the rest of the trip suffered as a result, and I will always avoid those infernal things in the future.
    This happened in ’64, and I still get a twinge every time I think about it.

    Lee (the saw guy)

  6. growing up in the uk barstool is a less offensive term for Bastard nicer to say “You thick barstool”

  7. jonathanszczepanski says:

    I really like the look of the three-legged stool, but I would sit back on it gingerly at first. The table does look odd to me with two on one side, and one on the other. It just seems visually unbalanced. Maybe if one of the bases were flipped so there were equal number of legs on each side? I don’t know, but I am looking forward to finding out.

    • Jonathan,

      That is exactly the problem I am facing. That table looks correct to my eye now. I know that it looks odd to others.

      Birdhouses now!

      • toolnut says:

        As long as they look the way birdhouses are supposed to look. If not then all I can say is, “Bad Dog”.
        (All kidding aside, I’m getting used to the table. It looks like a computer table to me. I don’t know why, but when I look at it I think, “computer tablle or work table”. It still looks weird as a dining table though.)

  8. Ryan McNabb says:

    Very elegant. Each set of three legs is independently stable, unlike a pair of legs would be. The tripod won’t rock and will make the table instantly stable in a way that four legs wouldn’t. Being able to set up a table quickly on thick cobblestones, rough uneven board floors or on dirt would be as easy as kiss my hand. If they’re too far out of “wind” the top won’t sit right, however, but only one illustration shows a true table form. The others are saw horses and a base for something that looks like quilting frames. Pretty cool. You have an instant work table of any sort you want.

    I can’t wait for this book!

  9. jim4570 says:

    Lets make that three….

    I’ve been waiting for this book since you first started talking about it!

  10. rondennis303 says:

    Chris, I think you have basically two ways to go with this. First, more along the line of the bathrobe, you could claim that you are following the latest trend of Minimalism.

    As an alternate, you could appeal to logic. I suspect that floors of the period were seldom flat thus the leg configurations of staked furniture was built to meet the needs of the time.

    On a personal level, I would suggest you keep the bathrobe stuff on the down low, you really don’t need to share.

  11. Chris,

    Do you think your book will include sections on the demise of some of these forms or what they evolved into? Three-legged, staked chairs and stools still exist today, but generally different from what people made in the past. My guess is that the rise of joined forms and the joiners’ guild had an impact on their popularity. Adding more history might make the book that much harder to research, but it would make a book I’m pretty excited about that much more compelling.

    As for the table, it has always looked like a panel on two three-legged saw horses. Three-legged saw horses aren’t as common these days, but they are common enough to still be a “thing”. I think the only problem with the table is that you made it too fancy. If instead of glue jointing the top and planing it super smooth, you had battened and clinch nailed the top, then it would give it a little more “furniture of necessity” feel.

  12. Mike Baggett says:

    Seems to me. The the extra legs on the table prevent racking. Much like the skirt of a 4 legged table. Can’t help but imagine a 6 legged workbench.

  13. John Vernier says:

    I’m enjoying seeing your interpretation of the medieval trestle table because I made one myself, years ago, when I was involved in historical reenactment and was barely a woodworker. It no longer exists, which is just as well. My first mortises, I think, but lord they weren’t good.

    It is often suggested that the three legged trestle arrangement was used because sitters at meals commonly sat on one side of a long table and were served from the front. This allowed diners in a large hall to be arranged with their backs to the walls of the room, and servers and whatever entertainment in the center of the room. The sitters would have the single leg of the trestle on their side, relatively less encumbering. This idea makes sense as far as it goes, and there is some evidence supporting it, but a lot of medieval pictures, especially the north Italian ones you have been looking at a lot, show these tables being used at all levels of society, and for many purposes.

    There are a tiny number of late medieval trestles surviving, all fairly heavy and probably from pretty exalted contexts. I particularly like this enormous painted, folding table top at the Musee de Cluny in Paris: http://www.meublepeint.com/table_allemande_moyen_age.htm

  14. Sergeant82d says:

    I know you’ve spent years researching this form of furniture, but are you – truly – sure the whole “2 x 1” leg thing isn’t another victim of the medieval drawing perspective? Where the drawing just isn’t correct?

    Honestly, not trying to second guess you here. Love your projects, motivation and incredible rate of production, and I never fail to learn something. Looking forward to the new book and hope to be able to use my ticket to see the Studley Tool Chest Exhibition in Iowa, and hopefully meet you as well.

    Brad

    • toolnut says:

      I thought that too because I saw drawings in past posts with two legs per side in front with none in back; two in front with one in back and I found one with two in front and two in back( the circumcision one in the post What do You See); however, if you think of these tables as knockdown tables, the third or fourth leg per side makes sense in that it allows an easier setup of the table. Place the legs, add the top. If these weren’t designed to be knockdown, then I’m with you on the perspective drawing theory and artistic license.

    • bsrlee says:

      They have recovered both 3 and 4 legged trestles from the wreck of the Mary Rose so both were in use in the early 1500’s.

  15. momist says:

    I’m with Stefan Rusek here, the furniture you have made looks too ‘modern’ with flattened surfaces and there is something awry with the proportions. The staked legs look too spindly to me. As regards the tables being used down one side only, this makes a lot of sense in an insecure age when sitting with your back to a wall would be second nature.

    • The proportions and dimensions are taken from paintings and real pieces. I have made no attempt to update the pieces on those two points.

      As to dimensions: Staked-leg furniture has a variety of modes with both thick and thin legs. Here is one example (of many):

      As to proportions: all the angles, positions of stretchers, position of trestles, position of legs are bang-on. In the two examples shown here I did use bevels instead of rounding the underside of the receiving top planks, so that could be some of the modernism that is off-putting. Not all the pieces will be that way.

  16. To my eye, the design makes sense if the top slab isn’the attached to the legs. It think that in the past interior space was at a primium. If the table was three independent componets, one person could move it and it could be compactly stored out of the way. These characteristic aren’t as valued today, so tables are no longer built this way. As a result, the table looks odd to our modern eyes. In the end, added exposure might take away the ‘oddness’, but it won’the recreate the utility.

  17. John Vernier says:

    Three-legged trestles certainly existed – there are far too many clearly-drawn examples in medieval art for them to have been an artist’s misconception. There are a few surviving examples. In addition to the Mary Rose example, there is a pair recently acquired by the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, seen here: http://lescarnutes.blogspot.com/2012/12/mettre-la-table.html
    and here, part way down the page: http://www.dendro.fr/mobilier.html
    There is also a set in Bruges which may be original: http://thomasguild.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-15th-century-trestle-table-from-bruges.html

  18. pfollansbee says:

    If the carpet was on the tabletop like it should be then you (the dog) would not be able to pee on it. simple.

  19. jwatriss says:

    I would crank for hours on end about post-modern morons who wound through their thought experiments, building chairs, that aren’t chairs, and being pointlessly contrary, in an effort to be… Whatever. Ce n’est pas un pipe will only take me so far. I got the idea: turn a concept around, for to learn something new about the topic… But that lesson was only interesting to me if they then came back to reality, and used it to build a chair that is actually a chair, but cleverly improved.

    So it’s oddly reassuring to see you continuing to do what you do… Build things people aren’t building, and share what you’ve learned, with the people who give a s…..

    And, by the way, Tage Frid made 3 legged chairs for his own dining room. So you’re in good company.

  20. beshriver says:

    When i think “furniture of necessity” i think shaker style…simple, clean lines, good craftsmanship… to my eye this could be all three but is definitely not shaker…i think i’m in the mo’ legs mo’ better camp… or maybe i’m more comfortable with furniture that looks more traditional to me.

  21. Bob Jones says:

    I for one am looking forward to building several useful and non typical things that will confuse/irritate/annoy others. That will be part of my enjoyment.

  22. Brett Denner says:

    Chris, I’d like to see you build those saw horses in the bottom-right picture exactly the way they’re shown. They look like they were designed by an ancestor of M.C. Escher.

  23. Eric Key says:

    Chris, I was flipping through a book called Southern Furniture 1680-1830: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection by Ronald Hurst and Jonathan Prown and came a across a couple pics of three legged stools. You may have already have seen them but if you haven’t I posted them on my blog here https://wilmasheritage.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/southern-furniture/

  24. Mike Siemsen says:

    The three legged trestle has the fewest parts so it won’t tip over. A fourth leg is an excess and is only needed if it appeals to you. The top is a slab that sits on the trestles, simple, no unneccesary material in furniture of neccessity. A fourth leg would be furniture of niceity, Chris’ next book.
    Falling off of a barstool is not the barstools fault, a craftsman never blames his tools!/stools.
    I met a man with a three legged dog, I asked how the dog lost his leg, “Poker Game” was the reply.

  25. Doug Shannon says:

    Chris, you may or may not be interested to know that Heals, the famous and fashionable London furniture and design store, are currently selling three-legged chairs of pretty much the design that you’ve built here. I even took a photo for you, but I don’t think I can post it here.

    What this represents or signifies, I have no idea. Maybe the three-legged chair’s time has finally come? Maybe three-legged trestle tables will be the next big trend amongst London’s wealthy?

  26. Paul Ray says:

    There will be many people in the SCA thanking you soon enough. I can’t wait to start seeing these pieces popping up at Pennsic.

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