I had a few requests for plans for the cutler’s stool I built during Colonial Williamsburg’s “Working Wood in the 18th Century” conference over the weekend.
The Sheffield stool was a common sight in the factories and workshops of the tool-making city. And while the stools are rarely identical, they are similar enough to suggest they were made to a common plan. This version is a typical one, but without the incised rings on the legs.
My version is made from a single board of 8/4 red oak and is about 20” tall when finished. Here’s the cutting list:
1 Seat 1.75” x 10.25” x 18.5” 3 Legs 1.75” diameter x 22”
I shaved the legs round with a jack plane and then cut a 1.5” diameter x 2.25” long tenon on one end of each leg. I used a hollow auger in a brace and bit. I then used a tenon saw to cut a kerf in the end of the tenon for the wedge.
Saw the seat to shape and lay out the location of the mortises on the underside of the seat. The sightlines for the front legs intersect the location of the mortise for the rear leg, as shown on the drawing. Set a sliding bevel to 18° (the resultant angle). Drill all three legs using the sliding bevel as a guide. I used a 1.5” diameter “Scotch eye” auger, with a broomstick as the bar.
Then use a jack plane or a drawknife to bevel all the corners of the seat, adding comfort. Cut some oak wedges for assembly. Mine are 1.5” wide, and 2” long. The included angle of the wedge is about 2°.
Assemble the stool with hide glue, driving the wedges into the kerfs. You can then saw the legs so the seat is level to the floor. When the glue is dry, cut the protruding tenons and wedges flush with the seat. Do any “make pretty” that is necessary for a shop stool. Add a finish if you like. I used a beeswax and organic linseed oil paste.
Today I applied the finish to my latest Welsh stick chair and opted for a blend of linseed oil and beeswax made by Swede Paint Enterprises. During the last year it has become one of my favorite finishes for traditional pieces.
I had considered using a soap finish for the chair but opted for the linseed oil and wax blend because it will darken with exposure to light and oxygen. A soap finish would have preserved the light color – almost ghostliness – of the sycamore.
Note: Before you read another word, know that Swede Paint distributes our books in Canada. We got involved with them because of their fantastic finishing products and business philosophy. We do not benefit in any way from sales of their finishing products. But we do love their products.
The linseed oil and beeswax mix is a joy to use. It has the consistency of something between mayonnaise and peanut butter, but is surprisingly not sticky. It absorbs readily into bare wood and forms a matte and smooth surface that is superior to linseed oil alone.
Like all finishes that involve linseed oil and wax, it is not a permanent or highly protective finish. You will need to apply more finish in a few years. But it is easily maintained and repaired. I prefer this quality (repair-ability) over film finishes such as varnish or urethane that can be difficult to repair.
Two thin coats of finish produced a beautiful and touchable luster. It is an excellent finish for beginners who are inexperienced with finishing. Even though I’ve used everything from high-performance film finishes, shellac, pine tar, asphaltum, pre-cat lacquer, to you name it, this finish suits me. It’s simple, natural and easily renewed. Check it out.
One of the advantages (or curses) of studying a lot of old furniture is you can feel certain designs tug at you as you work on a piece. This weekend I got a little time to work on this Hall’s Croft chair and I could feel several other similar chair designs tug at my brain.
First, I abandoned the pine seat and switched to quartersawn sycamore for the seat, arms and crest. The spindles are hickory and the legs are beech. I selected the stock so I could use an oil and wax finish instead of paint or a dark pigmented finish.
I changed the seat profile slightly to make the front corners sharper. I altered the leg shape a bit. But the biggest change is going to be the crest rail. Instead of the “three holey mountains” of the original I’m going to use a different shape I’ve been experimenting with. It uses rived stock that is somewhat triangular in cross-section.
When I offer it for sale, I’ll give the customer both crest rails and let them decide which they prefer. Or they can swap them out when they are feeling sassy.
This chest is a close reproduction of a traditional joiner’s tool chest. Chris designed the chest and constructed the box portion during a course he taught with us several years ago. I (Jim Tolpin) finished it by building the lid and sliding till and applying the traditional milk paint. The hand grips (traditional sailor’s beckets of rope and leather) were made and donated by Keith Mitchell – a boatbuilder currently in Vermont. (You can follow Keith on his instagram feed @shipwrightskills). The chest is signed by Chris and me on the underside of the lid.
The box and lid are made from clear poplar boards. The box, the wrap-around skirt boards and the till’s corner joints are dovetailed and glued with hide glue. The bottom boards are set into rabbets and nailed in place with traditional cut nails. The lid’s frame is mortise and tenon, drawbore pinned with hewn, air-dried white oak. Chris and I did the work with hand tools beyond the initial surfacing of the stock to dimension. Dimensions are 20″ wide by 16″ high by 40″ long.
About the finish: Traditionally, these tool chests were always painted to protect the wood from moisture because they might occasionally be exposed to outside conditions. I went with three coats of black followed by two coats of red to create an “oxblood” hue. As you probably know, milk paint is one of the most durable paints available. I applied several coats of linseed/tung oil to build a sheen and to provide additional protection.
All the proceeds of this sale will go to the Port Townsend School of Woodworking youth-in-woodworking scholarship fund. A portion of the cost of this chest is tax deductible as the school is a 501 (C) (3) non-profit educational institution. To purchase, go to the auction site here on ebay.
I don’t sleep as well when I have French workbench in pieces in my shop. Even a little wood movement in the joints can make assembly a bear, or at least a ticked-off warthog.
Yesterday I fit the legs in their mortises. Today I got everything major assembled. Some specs for the curious:
The base is drawbored with 5/8” hickory dowel stock. The drawbore offset was a strong 1/8”, and I drove the pins in with a sledge.
All the joints are strengthened by Titebond Liquid Hide Glue.
This bench is 9’ long – the most common size called out in “l’Art du menuisier.” It’s more than a 1’ longer than my bench but seems a lot longer.
Height is about 31”, as per the customer’s request. A nice height – almost as nice as 38”.
Benchtop depth is 21”, one of my favorite depths.
Next comes the fun part. This customer asked for the full-on Plate 11 treatment. So it’s getting two Peter Ross holdfasts, the fully joined tongue-and-groove shelf, Peter Ross planing stop and iron bits for the vise, a dovetailed drawer, swing-out grease pot and tool rack at the back.
This will be the closest full-on Plate 11 bench I’ve yet built. The next closest thing involves a time travel machine, which Stumpy Nubs is currently fabricating on an X-carve in Baltic birch.