It’s a crude and obvious joke, but what do you do with all the extra kinda-crappy chair parts and chunks of waste that are piling up in your shop? Make stools.
Ever since I began making chairs, I also began designing and making a lot of stools using the leftover chair parts. While simple vernacular stools get little love in the woodworking literature, they are one of the most common pieces of peasant/farmer furniture out there. Sometimes called “creepies” or “milking stools,” these low perches are a great way to hold your butt off the ground while you are working.
While working on “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” I developed a three-legged staked creepie that had been kicking around in the back of my mind for a few years. That stool ended up in the chapter titled: “The Island of Misfit Designs.”
Yet I keep making these stools using leftover chair parts (they take only a couple hours to make), and people are delighted by them. So here is how I make them.
The seat is made from chunks of leftover 8/4 material. When making chair seats or combs, I usually end up with short chunks of wood that are no good for chairs. Rather than throw them away, I make them into stool seats.
The seat is two chunks of 8/4 stock, about 11-1/2″ x 11-1/2″ that are face-glued to make a blank that is about 3-1/2″ thick. The exact thickness isn’t important.
After the glue dries, I cut the square blank into an 11″-diameter circle using the band saw. I rasp off any big lumps or bumps on its rim. Then I tilt the band saw’s table to 30° and saw an underbevel on the blank. I saw right on the seam between the two layers of wood. This helps hide the glue line.
Then I clean up the edges of the seat with rasps, sandpaper and a scraper.
To lay out the mortises on the underside of the seat, I first draw a diameter that is 1″ less than the diameter of the underside of the seat. After cutting the underbevel, the seat is about 9″ in diameter. So set your compass to make an 8″-diameter circle.
Now lay out the location of the mortises using the compass. Its current radius (4″) can easily lay out the three mortise locations. Choose a location for one of the legs on the 8″-diameter circle. With the compass, step off twice around the circle. That’s where the second mortise goes. Step off two more times. That’s where the third mortise goes.
Connect these mortise locations with the center of the circle. These three lines are your sightlines for drilling.
Now drill the mortises with a 1″ auger. Set a sliding bevel for 18°. (This is called the “resultant angle” in chairmaking.) Put the sliding bevel on one of your sightlines. Line up your drill bit in line with the sightline. Tilt the auger bit back toward you to match the 18° bevel. Drill. The mortises should be about 2-1/2″ deep.
The legs are usually leftover 1-3/4″ octagonal sticks that didn’t make the cut to be used in a chair. Usually because of some small defect or color problem. I also have a lot of extra legs sitting around in case I mess up a leg or two while building a chair.
The legs should be 1-3/4″ x 1-3/4″ x 18″-long octagons with straight grain. Cut a 1″ x 2-1/2″-long tenon on the end of each leg. Sometimes I use a 1″ plug/tenon cutter in my drill. Other times I make the tenon on the lathe. Sometimes I taper the legs. Sometimes I do a double-taper. It all depends on what the legs look like and how late in the day it is.
Before assembling the stool, clean up all the show surfaces. Then glue the legs into their mortises with hide glue. I don’t fox-wedge the mortises. If the legs ever come out, I’ll just glue them back in.
Then level the legs and cut them to length. I like my stools to be between 16″ and 20″ in height. Lower stools for around the fire. Taller stools for work.
These days I usually engrave a spell on the seat as well.
“Please almighty beings, protect this rumpus from harm.”
The following is excerpted from “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” by Christopher Schwarz, an exploration of furniture forms that have persisted outside of the high styles that dominate every museum exhibit, scholarly text and woodworking magazine of the last 200 years.
There are historic furniture forms out there that have been around for almost 1,000 years that don’t get written about much. They are simple to make. They have clean lines. And they can be shockingly modern.
This book explores 18 of these forms – a bed, dining tables, chairs, chests, desks, shelving, stools – and offers a deep exploration into the two construction techniques (staked and boarded) used to make these pieces that have been forgotten, neglected or rejected.
Here’s a simple stool design that represents a lot of false starts, research and prototyping. It’s not perfect, but it is a nice, stout stool. The stool is based on 18th-century low stools from American homes. This stool is also an excellent introduction into building the seat and undercarriage of a full-blown chair.
This stool has a pine seat and hardwood legs – ash in this case. The seat is 13″ in diameter and the legs hold the seat about 16″ off the ground – a good height for a low stool. The H-stretcher is a bit of overkill. But I think you should include it. It will teach you how to add stretchers to any of the chairs in this book – or from other people’s books. So let’s go.
Make the Seat The seat is a softwood that is about 1-1/2″ to 1-5/8″ thick. You can glue up the seat from two bits of wood (that’s what I did) and put the seam in the dead center of the seat. Keep the leg joints away from this seam; you don’t want the legs levering the seat apart. (Yes, a long-grain-to-long-grain joint is stronger than the wood itself in a perfect world. But that is not where we live.)
With the seat blank glued up, use a compass or trammel points to lay out the 13″-diameter seat. Cut the seat to shape. Then cut a 1/2″ x 1/2″ bevel on its underside. This bevel lightens the look (and the weight) of the stool. You can do this on the band saw or do it with a block plane or spokeshave. Now you can mark out the location of the joints. Here’s the easy way. On the underside of the seat, draw a line through the centerpoint of the circle. Make this line parallel or perpendicular to the glue seam in the seat (if you have a seam).
Place a protractor on your pencil line and mark the seat at 45° on both the left and right sides of 90°. Connect the marks with the centerpoint and you will have a perfect “X” on the underside. Now take a ruler and mark out the location of the four leg mortises 1-1/2″ in from the edge of the seat’s bevel. (It’s all shown in the photo [below] if you look closely.)
Make the Legs The legs are 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ x 18″ and are made from a dead-straight hardwood such as oak, maple, ash or hickory. Knock off the edges until the legs are octagons. Then taper the legs so they taper to 1″ at the top.
For this project, I decided to use cylindrical tenons. While I prefer tapered tenons, cylindrical tenons are far more common in the historical record and are easier to make, especially if you own a lathe.
The tenons for this stool are 1″ in diameter and 2-1/4″ long. Turning them on the lathe is straightforward. If you want your tenons to be dead-on accurate, I recommend you purchase a bedan tool with a sizing attachment. A bedan tool is basically a wide parting tool with its sides relieved (like a traditional mortise chisel) to allow it to maneuver in the cut without binding. The sizing tool is an attachment that clamps to the tool and allows you to set the diameter of the cut.
To use the bedan tool and sizing attachment, first drill a test mortise and gauge the exact diameter of the bit that will drill your mortises. Set a dial caliper to that measurement (lock it) and use the caliper to set the bedan tool and its sizing attachment.
Bore the Mortises The leg mortises are bored at an 21° resultant angle. The sightline is 0° and runs directly into the centerpoint of the seat. Set a sliding bevel to 21° and tape it to the sightline. Clamp a backing board below the seat to reduce (but probably not eliminate) any splintering.
With this stool, I’m using a 24 mm bit from WoodOwl that is supposed to leave a clean exit hole without splintering. It does a pretty good job, though no bit is perfect (hence my backing board). These particular bits work best in an electric drill.
Drill the four mortises. Then put the legs into their mortises and have a gander at how accurate you were.
Rotate the legs in their mortises and orient them so their attractive surfaces face out. Then meaningfully mark the legs and the seat so you can get the legs back into this ideal arrangement.
Now it’s time to bore the mortises for the side stretchers. These are positioned about 4″ to 4-1/2″ up from the floor. Here’s how to mark them out. First, level the stool like you are preparing to cut the legs to length. Shim the feet until the seat is level all around. Then cut a 4×4 block of wood to 4-1/2″ long and place it on the bench. Fetch the half-pencil (it’s a pencil planed to half its thickness). Mark the location of the mortises for the side stretchers on the legs.
To bore the mortises, flip the chair upside down so the seat is on the benchtop. Place a couple sticks between the seat and benchtop to let the tenons poke through the seat. Then take an awl and mark the centerpoint of each mortise on each leg. I do this by eye. Measuring always seems to make it worse.
Chuck a 5/8″ Forstner bit into a cordless drill. I drill the 7/8″-deep mortises in the legs entirely freehand, using the seat and the marks on the legs as a guide. Rotate the leg in its mortise so you can get the drill and the bit in position in line with the leg. The drill and bit should be aligned with the mortise on the opposite leg. The photo [“On the tip of disaster”] shows how this works.
If you lack confidence because this is your first rodeo, have a spotter give you some directions. They should be able to tell you if your drill bit is in line with both mortise locations in the legs. Drill the blind mortises, stopping before the bit explodes out the backside.
Make the Stretchers The stretchers are 1″ x 1″ material that has been planed octagonal. After preparing the overlong stock for the stretchers, you need to determine how long they should be for your stool. To do this, fetch two skinny scraps. Pinch them together and press the ends into the bottoms of the mortises. Make a pencil mark across the two scraps. Remove them from the mortises. Reassemble them with the marks aligned. Measure the overall length, and that’s the finished length of the stretcher.
Do this for both stretchers. Mine were slightly different lengths. If you are cutting the tenons on the lathe, then add 2″ to the calculated length to give you some room to work without running your tools into the headstock and tailstock of the machine. (I wrote this sentence to remind myself to do this next time.)
Cut the 5/8″-diameter tenons on the side stretchers using the same techniques outlined for the legs. Yup to the bedan tool and the sizing attachment. After turning the tenons, saw the stretchers to their final length and install them in their mortises.
The medial stretcher is easy. Mark the centerpoint on each side stretcher. Use the same 5/8″ Forstner bit to drill a 5/8″-deep mortise in each side stretcher. Once again, I drill these freehand. Keep the bit 90° to the stretcher and parallel to one of the facets of the octagonal stretcher.
You know what to do next. Get the skinny scraps and use them to determine the finished length of the medial stretcher. Cut the stretcher 2″ overlong. Turn the tenons on the ends with the bedan tool. Cut the medial stretcher to finished size and fit everything. If the stool doesn’t explode, you are ready to glue it up.
Assembly Before you disassemble the dry-fit stool, mark where the wedges should go in the legs’ tenons. I use a Sharpie for this to avoid confusion. Disassemble all the parts and mark them up so you can assemble them in the same orientation with glue in the equation.
Kerf the legs to receive wedges. Use a band saw or a handsaw for this. You want the kerf to be of significant thickness. Make some 1″-wide wedges for the legs.
Right before assembly, clean up all the tool marks left on the legs, stretchers and seat with planes and spokeshaves. This is quick work with sharp tools.
Here is the sequence for assembly. Learn this and you’ll be ready for a full-on chair in your future. Glue the medial stretcher to the side stretchers. Twist the parts until the assembly sits flat.
Put glue in the mortises in the legs. Wipe off any excess and put the stretchers’ tenons into the legs in the mortises. This will be an ungainly thing, like a baby goat. Rotate the legs until the assembly is stable. Set it on the bench.
Paint the interior of the mortises in the seat with glue. Do not skimp or get in a hurry. Take a deep breath.
Navigate the legs into their mortises. This might require some grabbing and bending. That’s OK as long as the seat doesn’t split. The goal is to get the tip of each tenon into its mortise.
Tap the legs down, working around the stool’s four legs until the legs are seated. Small taps are better than big ones.
Flip the assembled stool over. Paint the wedges with glue and drive them in with a hammer.
Let the glue dry overnight. The next morning, saw the tenons flush to the seat. There are (at least) 50 ways to level your tenons. When your seat is flat and not saddled, the fastest way is with a Japanese ryoba saw. We took a hardware-store saw and stoned the sides of its teeth with a diamond plate to remove the set of the teeth. It now barely scratches the seat in use.
After sawing off the tenons, plane the seat to remove any toolmarks.
Level the Feet As shown in other sections of this book, there are lots of ways to level the feet. Picking one method depends on how your head works. Here’s how I did it for this stool. I first leveled the seat using wedges underneath the four legs.
Then I determined the final seat height (16″) and made a block of wood to guide a pencil. The height of the block represented the amount of leg I needed to saw off to achieve the final seat height. In this case, the block was about 1″ high. I placed this block on the benchtop and used a half-pencil. Then I sawed off the legs to their finished lengths. I then chamfered the feet to prevent the feet from splintering out when the stool is dragged across a floor.
And then you are done with construction. Finishing these stools can be as simple as a coat of linseed oil and wax. Or you can dive into milk paint, soap finishes or the Wild World of Wiping Varnishes. Do your best work – you don’t want to be accused of polishing a turd. (And you thought you’d get away without a single stool joke.)
This is an experiment. A fair number of readers have asked us to restock the full-size chair wooden templates for the Staked Armchair from “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” We carried these templates for a couple years and discontinued them after sales cratered.
The templates are $49 and come with six full-size laser-cut templates for making the four-stick Staked Armchair. Unlike our earlier templates, these are made from 1/8” Baltic birch so they will be more durable.
These templates are great for any beginning chairmaker. And many of the parts are compatible with the armchairs from “The Stick Chair Book.” The seat and arm shape is the same, as are the leg locations and stick locations. So the templates are a good place to start exploring chairmaking.
(FYI, we also carry full-size paper patterns for the five chairs in “The Stick Chair Book.” These need to be adhered to your own wood and cut out.)
The templates are laser cut in Ohio. If you want a set, don’t tarry. We might not stock these permanently.
Our storefront on Willard Street in Covington, Ky.
We are offering some new classes and old favorites at the Lost Art Press storefront during the first half of 2023. All these classes take place in our bench room at our Covington, Ky., location.
Our storefront is located in the center of the city’s Main Strasse village, and we are surrounded by lots of places to eat, drink and stay – all without ever using your car. The bench room is a nice place to learn handwork. Every student gets a heavy workbench, the bench room is filled with natural light and the floors are oak, which is easy on your back. Oh, and the class size is small: a maximum of six students.
Registration for these classes opens at 10 a.m. Eastern on Sept. 26 through our Covington Mechanicals classes page (where you’ll see “Register Now” buttons on each class – but you can’t until 10 a.m. Eastern on the 26th). Classes tend to fill up fast, but there is some turnover. So we encourage you to sign up for the wait list if the class you want is full.
Here are the classes for January to June 2023. (And we may add another class or two in the weeks to come – if so, they’ll be announced here.)
Comb-back Stick Chair with Christopher Schwarz Jan. 16-20, 2023 Build a comb-back stick chair, an excellent introduction to the craft of chairmaking. Students will construct a comfortable chair using mostly bench tools and just a few specialty tools. Students are encouraged to customize their chair by combining different hands, arms, stretchers and combs. This class is open to anyone who can sharpen their own hand tools.
Build a Sawbench with Megan Fitzpatrick Jan 28-29, 2023 Build a traditional sawbench as you learn fundamental hand-tool skills including how to lay out your cuts, use handsaws, chisels, bench planes, router planes and more. Plus, you’ll learn how to properly use cut nails (without splitting the wood). Sure, you’ll get a nice sawbench out of it, but the real joy is in the new techniques you’ll pick up.
Anarchist’s Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick Feb 6-10, 2023 In five days, we are going to build traditional full-size English tool chests – a.k.a. “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” from Christopher Schwarz’s book of that title – using hand tools. If you don’t like dovetails, this is not the class for you. If you’d like to learn dovetails (while you build a sturdy chest that holds about 50 hand tools…which is to say almost all the hand tools you need to build furniture), this is absolutely the class for you – you’ll get plenty of instruction and practice.
Plus, we’ll make handsome and (almost) bomb-proof raised-panel lids, and cut the mouldings, skirts and lids by hand. And though we will have time to build only the outside of the chest, I’ll discuss how to divide up the interior for efficient work, and show you some options.
Staked Backstool from the ‘Anarchist’s Design Book’ with Christopher Schwarz Feb. 18-19, 2023 This contemporary side chair is a two-day introduction to many of the operations involved in chairmaking, including drilling compound angles, making tapered mortise-and-tenon joints and creating short sticks. This class is open to anyone who can sharpen their own hand tools.
Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick March 3-5, 2023 This handsome tool chest is a great three-day introduction to several bedrock hand-tool joinery techniques: dovetails, dados, rabbets and more. Plus you’ll learn how to cut a fingernail moulding, raise a panel, use cut-nails and rules for carcase construction. By the end of Day 3, you’ll be able to pop all your tools in your new chest (which fits in the back of almost any car) for your drive home.
Lowback Stick Chair with Christopher Schwarz March 20-24, 2023 Build a lowback stick chair, a fairly simple chair that involves a good deal of cutting and shaping compound curves. This is a great dining chair and offers excellent lumbar support. This class is open to anyone who can sharpen their own hand tools.
Dovetailed Shaker Tray with Megan Fitzpatrick April 22-23, 2023 Make a classic Shaker silverware tray in this introduction to hand-cut dovetails. In this two-day class, you’ll learn: dovetail layout using dividers; how to saw to a line with a backsaw; how to wield a coping saw; how to pare and chop with chisels; how to fit dovetails;cut and fair curves and more.
Staked Sawbenches with Christopher Schwarz May 13-14, 2023 During this weekend class you’ll build a pair of staked sawbenches, which are essential for any shop that uses handsaws. During the process of building your sawbenches, you’ll learn about compound-angle joinery, making tapered mortise-and-tenon joints and leveling the legs to the floor. This class is open to anyone who can sharpen their own hand tools.
Dutch Tool Chest with Megan Fitzpatrick May 19-21, 2023 This handsome tool chest is a great three-day introduction to several bedrock hand-tool joinery techniques: dovetails, dados, rabbets and more. Plus you’ll learn how to cut a fingernail moulding, raise a panel, use cut-nails and rules for carcase construction. By the end of Day 3, you’ll be able to pop all your tools in your new chest (which fits in the back of almost any car) for your drive home.
The following is excerpted from “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” by Christopher Schwarz – it’s a short sidebar from the chapter on building a staked sawbench (the sawbench, which also works as a stool, is more than a handy shop accessory; it’s a great introduction to making staked furniture of all sorts, including chairs).
There are historic furniture forms out there that have been around for almost 1,000 years that don’t get written about much. They are simple to make. They have clean lines. And they can be shockingly modern. This book explores 18 of these forms – a bed, dining tables, chairs, chests, desks, shelving, stools – and offers a deep exploration into the two construction techniques used to make these pieces that have been forgotten, neglected or rejected.
You can build an entire houseful of furniture using these two methods – what we call “staked” and ”boarded” furniture. They are shockingly simple for the beginner. They don’t require a lot of tools. And they produce objects that have endured centuries of hard use.
But this isn’t really a book of plans. “The Anarchist’s Design Book” shows you the overarching patterns behind these 18 pieces. It gives you the road map for designing your own pieces. (Which is what we did before we had plans.)
Once you own a pair of sawbenches you will wonder how you worked without them. Even if you don’t do much work with handsaws, sawbenches are handy platforms for projects in progress, stacking parts and sitting on while you work.
But most people use them for handsaw work. Here are some tips on sawing with them. If your sawbenches are different heights (even slightly) then work on the tall one and use the shorter one to support your work. If you work on the shorter one, your saw will constantly get pinched in its kerf.
When crosscutting on a sawbench, your legs are the clamps. Bend your off leg and rest it on top of the work on the sawbench. Pull your dominant leg up to contact the work (if possible) so the work presses against your leg.
Now you can saw the piece and it will remain stable. Your off leg supplies the downward pressure. Your dominant leg prevents the work from sliding laterally as you saw toward yourself.
I’m not a fan of ripping on sawbenches. I prefer to rip at the bench. If you do need to make long rips on the sawbench, I find it best to have three sawbenches: one to work on that is between a second that is infeed support and a third that is outfeed support.
One style of French ripping has the worker sitting on the work on the sawbench. Note that the saw’s teeth are pointed away from the operator.
I use my sawbenches for many other operations. One of my favorites: I place an assembled carcase on two sawbenches and brace the carcase against the workbench. I can then easily plane the carcase to level its dovetail joints or whatever is sticking up. Or, if that doesn’t quite work, the sawbench can be a spacer between the carcase and the bench.