Shop Stools

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Okay- dude; I can’t make this stuff up.

Another great day in the shop, sitting on my second prototype; and this is the one I think I’ll keep.

A brief history of my way of building:  I’ve never reproduced anything I’ve built.  Ever.  Not for friends, not for family, and not for paying customers.  Ever.

Until  now.

I saw this stool built by Chuck Bender in a magazine and had to have one.  And I must say it is the most fun I’ve had to date here in my own little ‘lee of the stone’, The Bronze Oak Leaf Shop.

This was originally going to be a lengthy piece on the construction of these stools, complete with 8 X 10 colored glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explainin’ what each one was  (for you fans of Arlo Guthrie), but I decided I would rather just put it out there and see what you thought.

I must say I can’t be more pleased with my results.  The first one, the prototype I mentioned in my last post, I was very happy with.  The second, the one upon which I now sit, sends me to the moon.

I happened to have a piece of walnut 1-1/2″ thick lying around, and I thought, “well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs”.  And break them I did.

I sawed it into four equal pieces and began my diabolical plan.

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I began with the article containing the original stool, but needed to come up with some measurements.  I contacted Chuck Bender of 360 Woodworking and asked for some guidance.  He graciously pointed me to a Sketchup model of his own design based on the work of Wharton Esherick, and wished me luck.

Having a Windsor-style chair under my belt, I figured this couldn’t be too hard.  Well, I struggled mightily with the angles and overall measurements of the type of stool I wanted.  Chuck was a big help.  I finally settled on a stool that incorporated some elements of a Windsor chair.  I didn’t want a stool with equilateral angles and measurements between front and back legs.  I wanted it to more closely resemble a Windsor chair; I wanted the back legs to be closer together in the seat and at a steeper rake (the front-to-back angle), so I broke out all the tools, a big piece of cardboard, and came up with this.  It took some doing, but I think I finally came up with what I was looking for.

The prototype was built from a birch tree I felled out on the back 40 (actually it’s more like 10, but who’s counting?).  Nice and straight; I was able to split some usable billets for legs and stretchers.  Remember; I don’t always work the easiest way here in the shop; I enjoy the process as much as the result.

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So I split some stuff, shaved it close-round on the shave horse, and began work on the lathe.  Any chairmaker worth his salt knows that if you split your pieces, you’ll follow the grain and have stronger pieces, allowing you to reduce their sizes and come up with delicate-looking but strong chair legs and stretchers.  Which makes for elegant, non-clunky-looking chairs or, in this case, stools.  This particular birch had a little twist to it, but not enough to worry me.img_0467

Well, I’m not that good on a lathe, so I got them close then finished them on the horse.  It’s a much more controllable way to remove stock, and one with which I’m a little more comfortable.  I was able to tweak the overall shape and the tenon sizes.  img_0456

I do, however, shrink the tenons before final sizing.  It ensures that the tenons are drier than the seat, so they soak up the moisture from the seat and swell to make a nice, tight joint.img_0463

Having the legs under control, it was now time for the fun stuff.  I bought a travisher from James Mursell from over across the pond, and was introduced to my new favorite pleasure: carving a seat by hand.

The very first seat I attempted was from cherry, and with a wicked-aggressive wheel for a 4″ angle grinder.  It worked o.k., but was much less controllable and made a lot of dust.

It took some convincing, but I pulled the trigger on this relatively small purchase, and couldn’t be more impressed with the performance.  I highly recommend this travisher.  Combined with standard- and low-angle spoke shaves, I was able to make quick work of shaping a seat entirely by hand.  I’m not a hand-tool-only romantic, but there is nothing, nothing, like whiling away the hours with sharp edge tools, producing piles of wood shavings at your feet.

Anyway, that was my first try.  The next one is the one I’m really fond of.  One of the pieces of walnut had some beautiful figure and some even more beautiful colors combined with a touch of sapwood.img_0528

How many colors can you pick out in this seat?

I also modified the frame on this one.  I wanted to try a taller stool, so I added three inches to the bottom.  I kept the distance from the stretchers to the seat the same because it was perfect.  Believe me, I had roughly a dozen rear ends on this stool, testing the shape of the seat and the comfort of placing the feet on the front stretcher, all while carefully observing how people sat on it.  They didn’t know it, but I wasn’t paying attention to their trivial conversation.  I was watching their posture, watching how much they fidgeted, seeing how long they could sit that stool until they had to move.  Happy to report: it was comfortable.

Secondly, and most important, I used white oak.  The birch was alright; straight-grained, tight-grained, and easy to shape; but I just can’t get past the beauty of white oak.  It was tough.  I had no white oak logs from which to split out the parts, so I had to saw along the grain from an air-dried plank.  White oak is hard, and even harder when dry.  I had to  sharpen lathe tools often, but it was worth it.

Making the stool taller, though, required some changes to the shape of the legs.  The measurements changed, and therefore so should the proprotions.img_0531

As you can see, the first stool has thicker feet.  But that thickness just didn’t look right with the longer distance from the feet to the stretchers.  My son pointed out that, with the feet at the same thickness as the original, the legs looked like baseball bats.

Well.

I took the feet from 1″ down to 3/4″ and went with a more gradual taper, and that did the trick.  I also thinned the overall diameter of the white oak legs, and what I came up with was the elegant and delicate look I was after.  Overall, it was the result I was looking for with the first stool.  If at first you don’t succeed…img_0529

I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten a lot of use from this stool, and so far have no complaints.

A friend of mine sniffed at the label of “shop stool”.  “A shop stool is some 2×4’s screwed together with a seat”.  Well, not in my shop.

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About Sam

Young, good-looking, manly--you get the picture. Novice woodworker with just too much rolling around upstairs to keep to myself. Random thoughts, philosophical questions, the occasional flash of insight or just dumb luck that needs to be shared with anyone who cares.
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