Ash & Walnut Stool

I made it home last night from Wisconsin after a solid two-day stool making workshop with Fabian of Fabian Fischer Handcrafts, with just a little sanding left to do and a final coat of finish to complete the piece. All told we spent about 18 hours in 2 days starting with the seat blank, 4 square legs, and 3 square stretchers. I didn’t grab lot of photos of all the steps but there’s a few to give you the idea of how it went.

We started with marking out the shape of the seat on the blank-I chose Black Walnut for mine-using a paper template that also included the center line and the 4 points where the legs would go. Once all the marking was completed on the blank, we headed over to the bandsaw and cut out the rough shape. From there we learned about the different angles of the legs, i.e. splay and rake and how we needed to bore those out using the drill press. Christopher Schwarz has a short and sweet blog entry that does a nice job of explaining those two terms. Essentially if you are looking at a chair or stool from the front, the side to side angle of the legs is the splay and if you look at it from the side the front to back angle is the rake.

What this translates to is drilling compound angles in the right directions for the left and right, front and back legs. It’s a little confusing and I’m guessing it takes some practice to get right. Fortunately I had a great teacher to walk me through the process. The next step prior to shaping was to set the depth of the seat using a cordless drill. We then used a large compass to mark out the arcs on the front and back of the seat where we would be creating different profiles and not scooping out.

Once all the holes were drilled the remainder of the 1st day was spent entirely on shaping the seat by hand. We started with the travisher set to a fairly thick, rough cut to scoop out the seat to the depth of two cordless drill marks. It took a lot of concentration and eyeing the seat to make sure things were symmetrical and even. Once the rough scooping was done we moved to a travisher set to a finer cut and smoothed it out as best we could. I should mention here that Fabian built a stool along with us so that he demonstrate on his own piece to explain what each step was in the process. This was extraordinarily helpful in visualizing each step.

Here’s the seat scooped out:

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Next up was to use the travisher to carve out the two spaces where one’s legs would rest, which are located at the top of the seat in the above photo. After I was happy with the sweep of the leg rests, I used a compass plane to smooth them off and then moved on to the spoke-shave to create a clean profile.

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With those steps done, I moved on to use a couple different scraper cards to really smooth out the tool marks. I had never used scraper cards before so that was a learning experience. There’s a bit of curve to figuring them out and then sharpening them is an entirely different endeavor.

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I then flipped the seat over and using a fore plane shaved off the bottom exterior edge to kind of lift the over-all profile. The next to last step on the seat was to then shave off the back angles on the top to create a nice, crisp profile towards the back. I’m guessing there are actual terms to describe these parts but I’m not quite there yet. And lastly I took a spoke shave to the outside edge and cleaned that up. I think one of the best parts of this process was not only the chance to sculpt curved lines, but to learn to be OK with not having everything perfect, and instead aiming for a more cohesive whole that overall is pleasing to look at and use and touch.

Day 2

With the seat done it was on to the legs and stretchers. I started with leg and stretcher blanks and after marking them, Fabian used a tenon cutter to create the tenons. That done, we then marked out the location for the front stretcher and taking into account the angles of the legs in the seat, marked where to drill. With the holes drilled it was over to the shave horse to rough shape the stretcher tenons with the draw knife and then use a hand-turn tenon cutter, making sure to make the tenon long enough so that it would stick through the mortise in the leg so that it could be later wedged. After shaping the tenon it was back to the shave horse with the draw knife and spokeshave to shape the stretcher. The last step here was to ream out the inner side of the mortise to properly accept the angled tenon. Once the first stretcher was done and dry fit it was on to the two side stretchers. I opted to angle mine down to the front of the stool just based on the way I usually sit on a stool and that I’ll be using it as my banjo/guitar playing stool. The side stretchers were a little trickier, again because of the angles. When I was done with those, it was on to shaping the legs themselves.

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After everything was shaped and dry fit, Fabian cut the slots in all the tenons using the band saw and cut the Black Walnut wedges to contrast with the Ash legs.

It was then time for glue-up, which is always my least favorite part of the process but having two sets of hands to get everything together and quickly and get it wiped down helped a lot. We then clamped everything together just get all the parts squeezed tightly together and let it sit.

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Once it was dry, I sawed off the tenons and spoked shaved the ones on the legs to smooth them out. For the top Fabian suggested using a gouge to create a rough-ish looking design on the top tenons. It was something that another student came up with and when I saw an example, I really liked it.

So with that done it was already 5:30PM on Sunday and time to head home. It was a whirlwind of a weekend but awesome all the same. It’s really satisfying to start with basically nothing and in two days have a completely finished (or nearly) product. I say nearly, because when I got back I did a light sanding of everything and applied a thin coat of my favorite beeswax and boiled linseed finish to the stool.

Here’s a few final photos of the completed project:

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5 thoughts on “Ash & Walnut Stool

  1. I am impressed, no grinders! Was the travisher difficult to use? I might try a stool on my own, what size is your seat? looks to be 16″x12″ from my side of the computer.

    • The travisher took some getting used to but having two, one for the rough cut and one for the finer cut helped immensely. And you were pretty close on the dimensions: 16″x13″

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