(What’s the) Story Stick (Morning Glory)?

The biggest technical challenge in turning the legs for the campaign stools, for me at least, will be achieving a consistent form across each batch of three legs. The shape itself is very basic (which is one of the reasons that I’m using this project as an opportunity to notch up some more hours at the lathe) so getting one good looking leg should be achievable. But three legs which are not only good looking, but have a consistent shape? That’s where the challenge sets in. So I’m trying to make this as easy for myself as possible.

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A piece of scrap the right size, sharp marking knife, and combination square are all that is needed to make a useful story stick

One of the areas of risk is laying out the proportions for each leg by measuring. Every time you reach for a ruler you run the risk of making an error. Across the twelve leg blanks I have waiting to be turned, that’s a lot of potential errors. So for this project I’m ditching my nice rulers and going for a pre-industrial method of capturing all of the information I need for the project – a story stick. For the uninitiated, a story stick is simply a piece of scrap which records all of the dimensions and transition points for the leg, so that I don’t have to do any measuring at the lathe.

My scraps bin yielded a nice 1 3/4″ wide, 3/8″ thick piece of oak which would do perfectly. After cutting the story stick to the length of the leg blanks, I then laid out each of the key points of the leg pattern on the stick with a 6″ combination square and sharp marking knife. The foot, where the leg taper starts, the position of the hole for the tribolt, the decorative elements (coves, grooves, etc), each of these were marked as knife lines across the full width of the story stick. A 0.3mm mechanical pencil then filled the knife lines in so that they are easily seen, and I also wrote the various diameters at each of the transition points.

Now, when I come to turn the legs, it is a simple matter holding the story stick against the leg blanks and checking off the details which I need to turn. No more measuring means a reduced risk of errors which would lead to inconsistent leg profiles.

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Another dirt simple measuring device – go blocks sized for the three thicknesses of the stool legs

While I was at it, I prepared a go-block with each of the diameters to which I will be turning elements of the legs (full thickness, ankle, and foot diameters). This was simply a scrap of 3/4″ thick oak into which I cut holes matching the three thicknesses I need to turn to. So when it comes to turning the legs, the go-block will slide over the various sections when I am at the correct thickness. Again, no measuring with callipers, and the potential to make an error when reading off a scale. Dirt simple measuring which will help to keep the focus on turning a consistent profile (which will be a challenge enough). I’ll report back on whether these strategies helped when turning my first sets of stool legs!

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The finished story stick, with all the key dimensions and details laid out.

9 thoughts on “(What’s the) Story Stick (Morning Glory)?

    • Isn’t that the truth! My go to rulers are by Sterling Tool Works – one side has inches in 1/8 divisions, and the other side has a much finer division. That way I can flip the ruler over so I’m just seeing the divisions I need.

      • Funny thing about rulers… our big hardware stores tend to sell cheap pine yardsticks… love to take those and just plane the marks right off, perfect story sticks. I’m sure an offcut of two-by would be cheaper, but there’s something delightfully ironic about doing it to a ruler 😉

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  3. Just another thought, based on turning a number of pieces to match. If you have a pleasing design in mind, or from a particular pattern you can make a pattern that is really easy to follow. Several times when I’ve been shooting for consistency I’ve used a similar sized bit of scrap to draw out and cut out a pattern. Then position it somewhere behind the work and follow the pattern in the background, sort of a by eye duplicator. Makes it pretty simple to get fairly close matching profiles across a run of parts. Also if you aren’t trying to match a given pattern but want your work pieces to match, turn your first finished spindle and make your profile pattern from that. Probably too late to be of use, but maybe helpful later or to someone else.

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