A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 4


There is nothing quite so terrifying as drilling into a seat you have just completed. Getting the leg angles right is a one-shot deal with little opportunity to correct mistakes. And if you are not careful with the drill, it is possible to blowout chunks from the exit side of the mortise, leaving a ragged mortise on the show face of the workpiece. Still, a little mind numbing terror is good for the soul, right?


Vesper small bevel and North Bros brace from 1923. The perfect combination.


Determining the leg angles (rake and splay) for this chair is something entirely new to me. After combing through my collection of photos for the original chair, and drawing multiple sketches, the angles on the original chair look very close to the leg angles Chris used in his three-legged backstool in the Anarchist’s Design Book. As I’ve got enough parts for a pair of chairs, I decided to make the first version using the sightlines and angles from the Anarchist’s Design Book, (adjusted slightly to fit the dimensions of this stool), assess the appearance of that chair against my photos and sketches, and make any necessary adjustments for the second chair.


Rounding the leg blanks with a scrub plane

I drilled the mortises out with a 1 1/8″ Woodowl bit in my 1923-era North Bros brace, guided by a Vesper small bevel set to the resultant angle and taped firmly to the sightline on the underneath of the seat. The seat in turn was clamped to a sacrificial scrap of plywood to prevent the exit side blowing out – I won’t be saddling this seat and didn’t have too much thickness to work with if I have to do too much clean up around the mortises. The sacrificial board did its job and I was rewarded with three clean mortises which require very little dressing.


Thanks to Chris Williams for this tip on how to round parts comfortably and swiftly

The legs taper from 1 1/8″ at the tenon down to 7/8″ at the foot, and I started out with oversized blanks measuring just over 1 1/2″ square. There are a number of ways to shape the tenons and legs, depending on the tools available to you and personal preference. For this chair I want the legs to have plenty of facets and texture. I started by turning both the tenon and very tip of the foot to final diameter on the lathe – this ensures a good tight fit between the tenon and mortise, and provides a helpful visual guide when rounding the leg by hand. I then hogged off the majority of the waste using the Lie-Nielsen Scrub Plane – I keep finding new uses for this plane and it is much more versatile than I was anticipating. For these legs the scrub is perfect – it is lightweight enough to balance on the short legs, and the 3″ radius on the blade means that as the leg becomes more rounded material is taken from a very localised point without flattening the face of the leg. I worked down each corner of the square leg blank in turn, starting at the aris and then across an increasing arc as the corner became more curved. Once the leg was very close to the curvature of the tenon and foot, I swapped the scrub for my No.3 smoothing plane and took finer cuts to remove any tearout and the most noticeable facets.


Refining the shape of the legs with a wonderful plane made by Jim McConnell

Refining the final surface of the leg was done with a sharp block plane. Jim made me a Krenov-style block plane in Padauk last month, and I’ve been looking for an opportunity to press it into use. Being light weight, and small enough to hold comfortably in one hand, it was perfect for this operation. I also tried some of the tips I picked up from Chris Williams when we were shooting the “Make a Chair” section of the John Brown book earlier this year. The end of the leg was braced against a scrap held in the vise, and the other end of the leg supported in my off-hand. This allows for the leg to be rotated after every stroke of the plane, encouraging a pleasing rhythm which isn’t interrupted by constantly clamping and unclamping the workpiece. When refining the leg I wasn’t looking to remove the facets or texture, just to take off any sharp corners and remove any unsightly flats. The end goal was a leg that looks round, but has a pleasing texture and isn’t perfectly uniform. If you wanted a smoother texture then you could sand the facets out, but I like the way these legs feel straight off the plane.


Three completed legs. A tight fit on the mortises, and plenty of texture for the Apprentice to enjoy

A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 3

Once the glue had cured I flattened and shaped the seat blanks. Flattening did not take much time as I’d made sure that the glue joints were square to the face of the seat, and so some gentle traversing passes with the jointer plane cleaned up the glue seam and flattened the top.


Scrubbing the underside of the seats flat and to thickness

The underside of the seats needed a little more work to bring the seats into a consistent thickness, and for this I used a scrub plane from Lie-Nielsen. This is a new addition to my tool chest, and the first time I’m used it on a project. Although more compact than a jack plane, the scrub has a much more pronounced (3″) radius to the iron which means that it can take a much deeper bite; perfect for rapidly removing material when processing stock. Taking traversing cuts with the scrub rapidly levelled the underside of the seats, and left a scalloped texture. For show faces I would remove this texture, but for the underside of chairseats or drawers it is a wonderful surprise for exploratory fingers, not to mention proof of the handwork process. So I left the seats as they were. My initial impressions of the scrub is that as a rapid stock removal tool it functions perfectly, and as a very simple tool (no depth adjustment mechanism or lateral adjuster) it may also be a great tool for children or beginners. My original reason for buying it was to assist in preparing the timber for the oak Roubo bench (coming later this year!) and I expect it will do well at that task.


Cleaning up the bandsawn surface of the tapered sides

The seats topped out at 1″ thick, which for a chair aimed at 3-5 year olds should be plenty thick enough. Chris Williams tells me that John Brown’s childsized chair seats were in the region of 1 1/8″ thick, while the historic chair I’m following on this build had a hefty 1 5/8″ thick seat which was beveled down to 1 1/8″ at the edges. I didn’t have material in stock thick enough for a 1 5/8″ thick seat, although I may try that approach on my next child-sized chair. But as I say, the 1″ thick oak I’m using for this pair of chairs will be fine.


A sawbench under the seat helped hold them steady in the vise

The seat is trapezoidal in shape – 17 1/2″ wide at the front and 15″ wide at the back giving a 1 1/4″ taper on each side, and 12″ deep. I jointed the front edge and then gauged the back edge off that. When orientating the seat, I placed the glue seam as deep into the seat as possible so that it lands away from the three leg mortises. With the front and back edges jointed and down to dimension, I then laid out the sides. There wasn’t much meat to remove from the sides, and on a workpiece of this side sawing off thin slivers at the saw bench is awkward work, so I cut down my layout lines on the bandsaw to remove the excess, before cleaning up the edges with a low angle block plane. The face vise on my Sjoberg bench has all the holding power of cottage cheese, and planing such a large amount of end grain with any meaningful pressure encouraged the seat to rotate in the vise. Setting a saw bench underneather the workbench to support the seat held everything secure while I worked the edges.


A drawing bow helps layout consistent curves

The final element to the seat shape is the rear edge, which has a gentle convex curve. From my collection of photos of this chair, I judged the centre point of the curve to be 1/2″ higher than the corners of the seat, so that’s the curve I went with. A drawing bow tensioned to give the right curvature made easy work of laying out the curve, which I traced with a marking knife before cutting on the bandsaw (although a coping saw would have done the job just as well). To fair the curve I used a combination of spokeshave, 9 grain cabinet maker’s rasp, and a 13 grain modeller’s rasp.


The versatile rasp

The seats are now ready for the mortises to be drilled. After that I will be able to round the front corners of the seat (whch are currently looking rather sharp). Laying out the mortises requires having definite corners at the front of the seat, which is why I didn’t round them at this stage of the build.


Cleaning up the curved back with a spokeshave

Campaigning for completed stools


Shellacked, waxed, and ready for drilling.

I don’t often have two projects on the bench at the same time – I find it easier to concentrate on seeing a build all the way through to completion before thinking about the next project. That being said, moving between the Campaign Stools and the Apprentice’s Stick Chair has been straight forward, and allowed me to continue to get productive bench time during natural breaks in each project. Yesterday I finished the campaign stools, so over the next couple of weeks I will be able to focus solely on the Aprentice’s Stick Chair.


A simple cradle holds the legs in position when drilling.

On Tuesday the tribolts arrived for the campaign stools, which meant I was now in a position to complete that project (with the exception of ordering another pair of leather seats from Jason). Chris’ book suggests that you apply your finish of choice before drilling holes for the hardware, presumably to avoid clogging the holes with traces of finish. The ash and maple legs each received two coats of a 2lb cut of blonde shellac, while the sapele legs had a 2lb cut of garnet shellac, all of which were applied with a rubber. After leaving the shellac for several days to harden I lightly rubbed the legs down with 320 grit abranet to de-nib it and get a smooth texture. The ash and sapele legs were then treated with a coat of Liberon “Tudor Oak” Black Bison wax, while the maple legs had a coat of Osmo. These are my favourite finishes for those specifes of wood – the black wax enhances the grain and character of porous wood, and stops the garnet shellac in particular from becoming too orange. For lighter tones timber such as the ash and maple, the blonde shellac adds a gentle lustre and enhancement of character but without yellowing the paler colour of the wood. Both colours of shellac were mixed using Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood.


Positioning the leg before drilling – when the story stick and the laser lines up, you’re good to go

After the wax had been buffed out it was time to drill the holes. Cylindrical workpieces can be difficult to hold in place, so I first made a simple cradle by drilling a 1 1/4″ diameter hole through some scrap sapele, and then cutting the scrap in half on the band saw, giving a semi-circular cradle the same diameter as the legs. This supported the workpiece and made positioning it on the drill press very easy. All of the hardware holes need to be in exactly the same position on each leg, so instead of measuring the location I used my story stick to ensure that I was drilling in the right place. Lining up the leg and story stick with the lasers of the drill press identified the location which needed to be drilled, and sighting down the length of the leg while the drill bit was lowered verified that the drill bit was passing through the very centre of the leg and not off to the side. I then drilled each leg, stopping once the tip of the spur had broken through to the other side of the leg, and flipping the leg over to drill from the return side, to avoid any ragged exit holes.


Drilling the traditional way

The leather seat is attached to the legs by way of a 35mm long No10 screw through the end of each leg. While the holes for the tribolts successfully drilled, I then placed each leg in the vise and drilled the pilot hole for the screws, using my gandfather’s old egg beater drill, and following the mark left by the lathe’s drive centre. All three sets of legs were then fitted with the tribolts.


The Apprentice loved sitting on the completed stool

Although I had originally planned to use the burgandy leather seat with the sapele legs, the combination of ash and burgandy leather was too good to resist, so I assembled the ash stool, and took it out to the garden for some rigorous testing. The Apprentice loved the stool, and it’s a good job I made enough legs for three stools as I doubt I’ll be getting this one back any time soon! When I did manage to evict her from the stool, I found it very comfortable and a pleasant height for garden lounging. So, soon I will order a pair of seats from Jason to finish off the other two stools – tan leather for the sapele legs and black leather for the maple. Having a couple of campaign stools to hand will be perfect for enjoying good weather in our garden, especially when we have guests. This project has been a lot of fun, and making a set of matching Roorkee chairs is definitely on my to do list!


One completed campaign stool in ash and burgandy leather

On ending the tyranny


Issue 273 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now being posted to subscribers (I received my copy today) and will no doubt be on newsagents’ shelves very soon. This issue includes “Rasps – ending the tyranny of straight and square“; an article good friend Richard Wile and I have co-written as an introduction to using rasps in furniture making (and which features Chris Williams’ hands in a surprising cameo). Also featured in this issue is Nancy Hiller’s fascinating article on the Wooton desk, and the second in a series of articles by Steve Cashmore on WoodRat techniques. Finally, Derek’s Leader and article on batched production proves that “octagonalisation” is now a valid part of the lexicon, so I feel fully vindicated!

A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 2


Sticks, legs (including one spare) and a seat gluing up in the background.

While I wait for the campaign stool tribolts to arive from Lee Valley, I’ve started work in earnest on the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. The seat is 12″ deep, and the oak I have did not quite yield a board big enough. That’s no problem – jointing two boards and gluing them up is a simple task, and always good practice. As I was about to start work on preparing the seat, I remembered a blog post in which Chris talked about the benefits of building two of a project instead of one. I checked my timber stock and figured I’d have enough oak to build a pair of these chairs. It didn’t take much longer to prepare a pair of boards for the seat of the second chair, and I jointed both sets with my No.8 before gluing them up with Old Brown Glue.


Cleaning the face of each board, and then jointing with the No.8

With the seats clamped up and set aside, I turned my attention to preparing the sticks for the chair back. The historic chair I’m recreating had five 1/2″ diameter sticks, and I had a board of straight grained oak set aside for exactly this purpose. While I love my handsaws, for ripping thin strips off a wider board I much prefer the bandsaw, and after only a few minutes I had ten slightly oversized sticks which will rest for a week or so before being shaped. Unfortunately the oak I’d picked up for the legs did not fare so well – the leg blanks I cut out a couple of weeks ago are all fine,  but when I lifted the spare material down from my timber rack I found that it was riddled with shakes and deep splits, making it entirely unusable. That’s not a disaster (I’d rather material failed on me before I use it in a project!) as I had some nice maple left over from the Staked Work Table which will make for very nice legs. Although maple is not a traditional timber for Welsh stick chairs, that doesn’t bother me too much. These chairs will be painted, so the different species will not be noticeable. More importantly, stick chairs were traditionally made using whatever timber was to hand, including rescuing curved sticks from the firewood pile for combs and arm bows. So the spirit of using suitable timber of whatever species is readily available, is consistent with the ethos of stick chair making.


This was my first experience of using Old Brown Glue (previously I’ve used Titebond Liquid Hide Glue) but so far I’m impressed.

The two seats are glued up, and next will be to clean them up before laying out the leg positions and drilling the motises. In the meantime, I’ve been spending more time going through photos of the original chair and teasing out the design details. The more I look at this chair, the more I find it utterly charming. The proportions are very eye catching, with the comb almost twice as high from the seat as the seat is from the floor. The rear leg has a bold rake compared to the more upright front legs, and the seat slopes back just a couple of degrees for comfort. Decoding this chair has become a wonderful study in proportions, angles, and construction techniques. One of my favourite details, and one which I will definitely be recreating on my chairs, is a decorative pair of shallow gutters along the top of the seat, either side of the sticks. These seem to be shallower than you’d find on a Windsor chair. While it is just a simple detail, it seems clear to me that the original maker wanted to add some understated decoration to their chair.


Another 30 second sketch of the chair, from a different perspective. I just hope I can build it better than I draw it…

The one detail which I have been mulling over is the leg profile. The original chair had a tapered cylindrical leg, which looks very nice. But as a recovering octagonalisation addict, the siren call of facets has proved difficult to resist. This is where I get to take advantage of building two chairs simultaneously. The chair with oak legs will have the same tapered cylindrical profile as the original, while the maple legged chair will have a tapered octagonal leg to the same dimensions (maple holds crisp details wonderfully). This will be an interesting opportunity to see what impact changing the leg profile has on the overall form.