Most people who make chairs today make four-legged chairs. There are good reasons for that. Though three-legged chairs were once very common as they are stable on uneven floors (three legged chairs have NO WOBBLE), on a flat floor it is definitely hard to beat the stability of a four-legged chair. Five-legged chairs are an odd occurrence in the world of seating.
Choosing the right number of legs for your chair is mostly determined by what floors you have in your house. On a flat floor, a four-legged chair is the most stable solution. Three-legged chairs are stable on uneven (dirt) floors, but if you still have a dirt floor in your house then you are probably not reading this blog post.
Ten-legged chairs like the one in the picture above serve no real purpose except an artistic one. But five-legged chairs, even though they are not very common, do pop up in the historical record every now and then.
Why Five Legs?
There are two major reasons people add a fifth leg to their chairs, both having to do with tippiness.
- A three-legged chair got complaints about its perceived sideways instability. Adding a leg on both sides reduces sideways tippiness.
- A four-legged chair didn’t have enough rake to the back legs, causing the chair to be tippy. Adding a fifth leg in the middle reduces backwards tippiness.
I have had both situations happen in my chairs, and in my opinion adding a 5th leg really helps stabilize it.
People make five legged chairs to fix a problem, not for aesthetics.
I have observed that many people enjoy tipping their chair backwards when sitting. If a chair doesn’t have enough rake, this can lead to the chair falling backwards (a potentially dangerous situation).
Will I Ever Start Using More Rake?
I have made several chairs with not enough rake to the back legs. Call it bad luck or plain stupidity, I recently made another chair that turned out a little tippy.
Though I don’t mind a little tippiness to my chairs, this particular chair was intended for a customer so I decided it needed a fifth leg. Plus, I knew the customer would be happy with the uniqueness of a five-legged chair.
Adding a fifth leg to a chair without stretchers is an easy, straightforward process. If your chair has stretchers, this complicates things a bit but it is not impossible.
For this example we will add a fifth leg to a chair with no stretchers.
Mark the location of the fifth leg on the bottom of the seat. Drill a mortise centred between the current back legs (but add more rake). Plane a leg and shape the tenon to fit the mortise. You can use a tapered joint or not.
Fit the leg and glue it in place; afterwards wedge it from the top. Remove the tenon the next day and clean up the seat.
How to Level a Five-legged Chair
Assuming your chair was leveled already, leveling a 5th leg is very easy. You will need five blocks of the same height and a chisel/marking knife. The blocks can be offcuts or scraps. I went into my son’s old wooden building blocks bucket and grabbed five colorful ones.
Set the chair on four blocks. The fifth leg has to hover above the surface so make sure your blocks are high enough or cut some excess material off your fifth leg.
Grab the fifth block and your chisel or marking knife (a half pencil would work too). With the chisel/knife/pencil lying flat on the block, draw all the way around the fifth leg. This will be your floor line.
Trim the bottom edges to prevent splintering when moving the chair, and you’re done.
The chair should be level and very stable now.
— Rudy Everts, underhatchet.com