Stiles for joined stools

splitting stiles
splitting stiles

I split some stock today to make the stiles for some joined stools I am building lately. These finish out at 2″ square, so I started with stuff a bit larger than that. This blank I am splitting is 2 feet long, and will yield about 6-8 stiles. In the photo, I used a wedge to knock off the juvenile wood at the heart of the tree. This wood is usually too twisted and fibrous to be useful. Once that’s split off, the following splits go easier and cleaner. The next step is to use a froe and club to further split out the stock. In most cases, I split the stock evenly in halves, this time I cheated it over a bit, because there were five stiles spread across the outermost section of the bolt. With  a short piece of straight-grained timber like this, sometimes it works to split an odd number of pieces. It’s a gamble. Today I won. Sometimes the log wins.  

riving stiles with a froe
riving stiles with a froe

 The hewing is quick work, aimed at removing the bulk of excess stock. I use a broad stance, with my right foot well behind me, and holding the stock in the middle or even the foreward portion of the chopping block. This way, any errant blow of the hatchet has a chance at hitting the stump, or at worst, missing my leg.  Notice that I have choked up on the handle as well. I’m not removing too much stock, so very heavy blows are not called for.

I first plane two adjacent faces straight and true, and square to each other. I use two planes, a “fore” plane, by some called a scrub plane – and a jointer to finish the surface.

planing with jointer
planing with jointer

After the first two faces are planed, then I mark the thickness and width of the stock, and hew away the excess before planing the next two faces. Here are some details of the hewing process; the first step is called “scoring” the stock. I have made a mark, in this case with a marking gauge, sometimes with a chalkline. The stock is held at an angle, and beginning towards the bottom, I chop into the stock to a depth just above the marked line. These are light cuts, intended to break the fibers of the oak. The next step is to hew them away, preparing the stock for planing. For this step, the stock is shifted a bit, making it more vertical than before. The hatchet is swung and/or dropped to chop away the scored segments of oak.



finish hewing
finish hewing


So there is a good deal of back & forth; the sequence is splitting, hewing, planing, then marking the finished size, more hewing & more planing. It takes longer to describe than to do it, thankfully. I position the hewing stump, or “hacking stock” as one seventeenth-century record calls it, right beside my bench, and the hatchet hangs on the wall right beside that. So I can shift easily between planing at the bench and hewing at the stump…after photographing making one stile, I timed one without pictures and it was a little over 10 minutes from the riven stock to the finished planed stile. Not too bad…

8 thoughts on “Stiles for joined stools

  1. Peter, do you use the sapwood in parts or do you split it away when you are blanking out parts? My oak stock usually sits outside too long to use the sapwood. I usually have to use it for panels and stool tops to get the width I need.

  2. Peter,
    I like the aggressive curve or camber on your converted foreplane. Do you stick to the 17th century when it comes to sharpening? I have an old sandstone wheel that I am considering remounting to use for reshaping tasks (like regrinding a plane iron to a heavy camber), but have never had the opportunity to try one. Interested in your approach. Haven’t visited here in awhile, but I have enjoyed catching up with all of the inspiring information you have been so kind to share.
    Dave Fisher

  3. Dave

    for many years I used an old sandstone grinding wheel, foot-treadle & all. the problem I had with that particular one was cracks and voids in the stone. I dressed it down a number of times, and the cracks were quite deep. I finally caved & bought my only power tool, a Tormek grindstone. I thought long & hard about it, but decided to give in. I’m glad I did, it’s a great asset.

  4. Thanks, Peter. I have haven’t been able to find a sandstone wheel in decent shape either, even though I live about an hour away from Berea, Ohio where, reportedly, the finest grindstones in the world were quarried. In the 1800s, they shipped 400 tons of berea sandstone each day — mostly grindstones! Couldn’t they have saved one for me! If anyone is interested, there is an article and photos here

    The one I have access to now is probably not going to work out either (My brother-in-law found it incorporated into a planter). At least if I decide to give up the search it is good to know I’m in good company and that you’ve had a good experience with the Tormek.

  5. Hi Peter

    I love reading your posts…they are so helpful. Ive been in touch with John Alexander who has also assisted in explaining things.

    I am working on an early colonial history show for schools… The importance of the lumber trade has rekindled an old love of wood working from my New England roots (Maine). Im still learning the ins and outs of green woodworking but its just a heck of a lot of fun.

    My latest project is a timber framed/wattle daub display. And your info on hewing out the wood has been very helpful.

    Andrew Young

  6. Hello Peter,
    I just passed by searching about woodworking stuff and i found very helpfull things.Can say, greeeeat site and great job.BTW, i am into traditional archery and i discovered how any woodworking stuff can save nerves from daily problems, politics,stress and anything that’s price of modern civilization.It is something like a prayer.
    I am really impressed by the way you do wood trimming and specially ornaments.Great.Thank you for good job,it gives me good ideas for some other things in woodworking.Wish you good luck.God bless you.
    Greetings from Serbia

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