The Woodworking Guru make a traditional high stool that incorporates both Windsor chair and Arts & Crafts styles.
Making a stool can seem quite complicated and in a sense it is. It incorporates a series of joints in legs that splay at an angle, which creates problems, and seat shaping that looks a big challenge, although it is easier than you think. All-in-all, it’s a satisfying project if you can get your head around it. Once it’s built, it’s a very sturdy structure and the seat is comfortable too, without adding any padding, which is why the Windsor chair seat is such a winner. The Woodworking Guru thought it would be good to meld both Windsor and Arts & Crafts styles together to see what happened and we’re pretty pleased with it – it’s just a fight as to who gets to sit on it at tea break time!
1. The first job is to make up the top blank from four layers of 12mm birch (Betula pendula) ply to form a good thick top. A homemade grooved glue spreader will make even application very easy here.
2. You’ll need plenty of clamps to press the ply boards together. If the width were any larger, a batten on each face packed underneath in the middle to exert extra force would be necessary, as the clamp pressure wouldn’t go far enough into the middle of the seat.
3. While that is drying, choose the oak (Quercus robur) section for the legs. These will be square but chamfered on all the arrises corners.
4. Rather than resorting to using a router and bevel cutter, Woodworking Guru decided to use my T5 technical Jack plane with its flat-across cutting edge to do all the chamfers. Mark the position by eye at the start and finish of each leg and cut these overlength for trimming later on.
5. You should now have a set of four chamfered legs, and in our case, an experimental one where the chamfer was tapered. In the end, we decided not to pursue that idea as we weren’t convinced, but it is an alternative shape.
6. 24 hours later and the seat blank glue will be dry and you can then think about the shape for it. We already knew we wanted a traditional Windsor pattern top, i.e. sculpted to ﬁ t the human derriere. We used a bent steel ruler to create a curve for the rear of the seat.
7. Once that is drawn out on paper, use a tin to create the front corner curves. Draw the paper shape around and flip it to give a mirror image; this can then be used at both front corners of the blank. You now need to cut the seat blank to shape on the bandsaw close to the drawn lines and finish to the final shape using a disc sander, which is invaluable for creating crisp shaping work.
8. It was now over to Woodworking Guru to create the basic seat shaping, using a couple of gouges and a carving mallet. By outlining the shape, you can then work inside these to create the familiar Windsor seat pattern.
9. In our case, in order to speed up the process, Woodworking Guru swapped to a powered shaper disc with its rasp-like curved face. It creates a lot of dust so proper face protection is essential. At this stage, your uneven seat should be taking on a ‘watered silk’ appearance. The next job is a thorough random orbital sanding.
10. Round the underside edges using a block plane followed by abrasive, which will look better and feel good too.
11. Your finished result should look something like this before fitting it to the leg frame, which still needs to be made.
12. The first job is to mark the leg locations in a rectangular shape. These need to be near enough to the edge to maintain balance but far enough under to look correct.
13. We decided the best bet was to make a simple angle jig for drilling freehand with a Forstner bit. By aligning the drill to a sliding bevel set at an angle of 5°, you can make a hole through the jig and this in turn clamps over each leg location and stop-drills into the seat underside.
14. 5° is the chosen angle throughout for this project, which means that each leg will splay outwards in both directions by 5° and equally, the rails will meet the legs at 5°. You should keep the sliding bevel locked at this setting.
15. Each leg needs to be marked as to where it is in relation to the seat front, which will help to avoid any mistakes. Next, mark the correct tenon shoulder angles on the outside faces of each. However, on our stool, we marked them incorrectly on some of the inside faces, as shown here. It was corrected but it is an example of what you might call ‘mitre blindness’.
16. Use a sharp chisel to pare down to the already sawn tenon shoulder line. The tenon needs to be cut parallel so it will enter the socket correctly.
17. To avoid unclamping each leg from the vice to check the ﬁ t, use a hole cut in a scrap of MDF as a gauge. This also avoids damaging the receiving mortise by doing too many trial ﬁ ts.
18. Now the stool needs a ply skirt between the legs. You need to mark these out according to the distances shown drawn on the seat underside. Angle the ends at 5° as used elsewhere. Next, insert the legs into their respective mortises, ensuring they are in the correct position and all splaying outwards. You can then clamp the ply skirt pieces in between and mark the dowel positions at the corners.
19. Drill the legs and the skirt pieces to take 8mm diameter dowels, using tape on the drill to show the approximate depth. The drill angle must match in both joint halves to ensure the dowels sit straight.
20. Set the leg rails at two different heights, with the front and back higher so they are comfortable to rest your feet on. Clamp the oak stock in place and mark the lengths as well as the position; this will ensure they fit in the right place again.
21. The front rail will have a stopped chamfer added for the feet to rest on easily without damaging the rail. Complete the ends curves using a half file, then chisel along in between.
22. Dowel the rails in place rather than the more laborious method of setting out and cutting mortise and tenons. For strength, use standard 12mm dowel.
23. Next, sand everything before assembly except for the positional marks. Glue the front and back parts of the frame and clamp as sub-assemblies rather than trying to put the whole thing together, which could be problematic.
24. Finally, you can put the whole thing together with plenty of clamps all round, which will ensure tight joints and glue squeeze out.
25. In our case, because the legs were uneven in length, we upturned the stool and marked the desired length against each using the bench top as the datum. You then need to mark across each pair of legs to get the correct angle for cutting. Inevitably, when our stool was stood the right way up it wobbled slightly, so a minor cut taking advantage of the fine kerf pull-cut of a Japanese saw, corrected the problem. Use a block plane to bevel the leg ends before a final sanding and apply several coats of Danish oil, which will help to bring out the colour of the oak and seal the ply effectively.
26. The completed high stool with its ply top and skirt and oak legs should look something like this. It’s sturdy and comfortable and yet quite stylish too.