Woven Top Stool – Part 1


Woven Top Stool – Part 1:
Lee Stoffer tells us how to make our own comfortable stool.

Lee Stoffer tells us how to make our own comfortable stool

Having a comfortable seat for carving is a must for me. I find a stool is the ideal solution. Being both strong and lightweight, this post and rung ash (Fraxinus excelsior) construction with a woven willow seat works really well for the job and makes for a great introduction to green wood chair making.
I’ve used sections of a large 500mm diameter log as I was making a batch of frames, but a 500mm long length of 200mm diameter straight, knot free ash should provide plenty of material for this project allowing for a few spare parts/mistakes. Select ash which has between four and 12 growth rings per inch. Oak (Quercus robur), maple (Acer spp.) or sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) would make suitable alternatives to ash.

Things you will need
• Saw
• Pencil
• Club
• Froe
• Axe
• Drawknife
• Shave horse
• Tenon cutter
• Brace or power drill
• Mirror or helper

1. Cut the log slightly over the length of the longest parts, the legs. It’s worth making a quick measuring stick out of scrap material for this project; spare venetian blind slats work a treat!

2. Cleave the log into sections for the various parts, split through the pith (growth centre), try to keep an even volume of timber either side of the froe to keep the splits running straight. Cleaving will produce stronger parts than sawn timber as long as the first few growth rings around the pith are avoided

3. Set aside the billets for the legs (posts) in a cool shady spot and start rough shaping the rungs with an axe. The lower rungs or stretchers should be hewn straight, to approximately 25mm square

4. The top rungs should have an aerofoil profile, tapered at the ends towards the thicker edge where the tenons will be cut. Trim to length before hewing in the taper, leave at least 20mm square on the tapered ends at this stage

5. Clamping the parts in a shave horse, use a draw knife to refine the shape. The tapered ends can be reduced to a minimum of 18mm at this stage ready for the tenons to be cut

6. The top rungs will be covered by the weave so keep them plain and functional

7. The lower set can be more decorative if you like, square, octagonal or turned round on a lathe if you have one. I like to add detail to the stretcher that will feature in the front of the stool

8. After shaping, the tenons can be cut. A dedicated tenon cutter is very useful for this job. I use a Veritas 5/8in diameter version which can cut a longer tenon than required. To ensure all the tenons come out the same length, cut one full length on a piece of scrap timber, trim back so the remaining tenon measures 25mm to the taper, then pop the offcut back into the cutter to act as a depth stop

9. Before cutting tenons, trim all the rungs to the exact length marked on your measuring stick. Cut the tenons clamping the rungs in the shave horse. Left to right alignment is easy to sight, but up and down is more difficult, which is where the mirror (see photo) or an assistant comes in handy. Alternatively clamp the rung down to a level surface and use the cutters in built spirit level to gauge alignment

10. With the tenons cut, the rungs can be set aside to dry. Moisture content should be reduced to 10% or below before assembly

11. For the legs, mark a 40mm diameter to mark a guide size on one end of the cleft billet, a slice of bath waste pipe is useful here. Use an axe to remove the bulk of the waste. Work the billet square then knock the corners off to keep control of the shape

12. Refine the shape on the shave horse. Keep the marked (top) end close to the 40mm size and taper each leg to around 25–30mm at the opposite end. The taper is not essential but does keep the weight down and give a more pleasing appearance

13. Clean up the end grain on the top end and check for size using the slice of waste pipe again. Square, round or octagonal legs work best for ease of assembly later

14. The tenons, being the most important parts to be properly dry, can be used to gauge when it’s time for assembly; it’s fine if the legs have a higher moisture content at this stage. It’s an idea to make a spare of each element in case of issues in the drying process

Post and rung stool assembly

15. Take the four legs and wrap a bit of masking tape around each one for labelling, hold them together 2×2 and mark each pair of visible faces as either front, back, left or right then trim them to the finished length

16. Mark the highest mortice positions in the centre of the face opposite the front or back mark on each leg

17. Set up a drill press with 16mm Forstner bit to cut a 25mm deep mortice. If you went for octagonal or square legs they should sit nicely on a flat surface, round legs may require clamping or a holding jig. Drill the two marked mortices in each leg

18. Place each pair of legs and the shorter rungs along with some PVA glue, a club, a square and scrap timber on a solid surface

19. Brush some glue to one end of a high and low rung and into the receiving mortices. Tap the rungs into place in one leg, making sure the thinner edge of the high rung is orientated away from the ‘L’ or ‘R’ mark, i.e. towards what will be the centre of the stool

20. Glue up and add the opposite leg of the pair onto both tenons and use the scrap timber to protect the leg when tapping the joints home

21. Check for square and that the assembled side sits flat on the bench, if not, flex to adjust before
the glue starts to go off

22. Repeat for the other side frame then set both aside in a clamp or two until the glue is cured

23. Now mark the lower mortice positions on the faces opposite the ‘L’ and ‘R’ marks. Make sure there’s a large enough surface to support assembled sides so they sit flat under the drill press and bore the holes

24. You should notice that the lower mortice has taken a bite out of the high tenons; this will help to lock everything together on final assembly

25. Glue and fit the longer rungs into one of the side frames then glue up the exposed tenons and remaining mortices and carefully align with the mortices on the opposite side frame before gently tapping over each tenon in turn until all the joints are nicely seated

26. Clamp up and check for square by measuring across the diagonals. Set the assembled frame on a flat surface and check it sits nicely without rocking. If it rocks, correct this by placing the pivoting legs on some scrap timber and applying pressure to the opposite corners to flex the joints and achieve satisfactory level stance. Set aside on a level surface, preferably with some weight added to maintain position while the glue cures

Contact a local basket maker to buy some willow rods. We’ll be using around 50 x 6ft rods of the variety black maul for seating this project. If you’re soaking your own rods they will need to soak, submersed in water for 1 day per foot, so six days in this case, then allowed to ‘mellow’ in water for one day before use. 

In part 2, Lee Stoffer weaves his magic with the seat


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