A Campaign Stool Mystery

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While teaching at The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts this week, Phil Lowe pulled out an interesting conservation (or restoration) project he was working on for a customer.

It was a footstool that was in pretty bad shape because the joints were all loose or coming apart. Or was that by design?

Lowe turned the stool over and pointed out how the four legs were attached to the top frame of the stool with snipe hinges. Then he showed how the lower stretcher simply pulled out of its dovetailed socket and was keyed in there at some point.

So it looks like the whole stool was designed to fold down.

Was it English? The turnings looked kind of English. And the entire thing was worm-eaten like old English walnut. Was it a campaign piece?

Who knows?

Lowe pulled up some of the horsehair and burlap stuffing and showed me a further mystery. The frame and legs were nailed together so the legs couldn’t fold. And the nails were blacksmith-made, wrought-head nails. Very early. Was the stool built to knock down? Was the nail added immediately after the maker saw that the folding wasn’t work to his or her liking? Or what?

Lowe and I looked at the piece for a good long while. Then we walked away and had a beer.

If you’ve seen a piece like this, leave a comment or let Lowe know. He’s debating how to properly conserve or restore the piece.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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11 Responses to A Campaign Stool Mystery

  1. Are blogging while drinking? Notice a few grammatical errors in the last two posts, very un-Schwarzian. Looks like a great place to be, regardless

  2. toolnut says:

    Logic would say the nails were added after the fact. As to why…..

  3. Hunter Cox says:

    Proto ikea furniture. My wife got some upholstered chairs from ikea that are built with hinges. To put them together you “open” the back of the chair and secure it with screws. Makes for a sturdy and quickly assembled chair, wonder if they were made like that to be exported and final assembly completed at the end sellers shop?

    Hunter

  4. Art Shaw says:

    The turnings look French to me, as in French Canadian Louis XIII chair turnings. If the wood is birch, it is almost certainly French Canadian.

  5. proclus153 says:

    I can see one possible design flaw with the assembly that might have prompted the addition of the nails: the grain direction in the two parts of the dovetail joint is perpendicular, so the width of the tail is going to move a lot more than the channel. Maybe the owner got tired of kicking it in the winter and having it collapse in a heap.

    • proclus153 says:

      Actually, come to think of it, any shrinking of the rail would tend to loosen the joint as well, by effectively splaying the angle of the recess. I would tend to assume the maker would have been aware of that fact, but maybe it was only intended for summer campaigning.

  6. Very interesting indeed. It looks like the worms enjoyed it more than the original owners.

  7. I guess I’m not an old furniture person, I would ask why bother restoring it? The wood looks pretty ratty; especially under the seat.

  8. Perhaps at some point it was effectively re-purposed? Started life as a folding footstool, and when no longer needed for that purpose was banged together to make it work as if it never had been been made to fold.
    Let’s say it originally folded so as to be able to slide or place under a chair when not in use? When the owner got a larger room for his favorite chair there was no need to stow it away. If it was a bit wobbly, too, that would ‘clinch’ the decision to defeat the folding mechanism.

  9. misterlinn says:

    Is it possible that some old pieces were just made wrong? Here’s us analyzing them, but maybe it was the village idiot’s efforts…

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