Joined stool stiles; planing

Picking up where I left off the other day, I will detail some of what I do to plane the 2″x2″ stiles for joined stools. After splitting and hewing them to shape, I set one on the bench with one of its radial faces upwards. I check this face with winding sticks and a straight edge, then work with a “fore” plane as it’s called in the seventeenth century. This plane has a curved iron; good for quick roughing-out work…I adapted this one by converting a modern German smooth plane. I put quite a curve on the iron, and the mouth is very wide…big, thick shavings can fly out of this plane easily.
PF fore plane
PF fore plane
beginning of fore plane stroke
beginning of fore plane stroke

With this short length stuff, the planing is really from one stance. I begin with my weight on the rear foot, lean into the toe of the plane, and shift my weight onto the front foot as I plane. The finish has the pressure on the plane shifted to the rear…as I come down onto my front foot, arms extended.

finish of plane stroke
finish planing stroke
I finish the surface with a jointer plane. Here I hold it slightly askew to the stock, this is mostly helpful with wider stock, but habit has me using this method on almost all surfaces. The iron does cut a little easier at an angle; but the body of the plane is in better contact with the stock this way too.
jointer plane
jointer plane
after doing the first two faces square to each other, I hew away any excess wood, then plane the final two faces.
In the stool, these faces are not critical. All that really matters is that they are 90 degrees, or less, to the first two faces. OR LESS is the key element. 
See the photo below, of exposed joinery on a table made in Plymouth Colony, c. 1650-1700. It looks pretty beat, but it isn’t. This is the foot of the table, worn down to the stretchers. It looks like the rails’ faces are not flush with the faces of the stiles, but there is a rabbet at the lower edge of the stretchers, that is just sh0wing up dark. The slide is here because of the shape of the stile, the inner faces are clearly less than 90 degrees to the outer faces. Works fine.
Plymouth Colony table M&T
Plymouth Colony table M&T
Lastly, I plane a chamfer on the inner corner of the stile. I sit the rear end of the stile in a V-block, which both Moxon & Holme call a “joiners’ saddle” and shove the other end against the bench hook. Then just plane a chamfer…
This orients the stile without question, especially helpful when you’re building several stools at once. While you are first planing the stile, you are aware of which face is which, but if you don’t mark them somehow, when later on you get to mortising, you need to re-examine the stile again to determine where the mortises go. With the inner chamfer, you can quickly grab this piece and see/feel which way is in or out. Thus layout of the mortises is simple to begin…
planing chamfer on inner corner of stile
planing chamfer on inner corner of stile

3 thoughts on “Joined stool stiles; planing

  1. I had assumed that joiners may have paid a little more attention to the lower joints on stools and tables because most pictures don’t show any gaps on the inside of the joints. It is amazing to me how tight the lower joints on falling leaf tables are after 300 years. The legs and rails are the same thickness stock and the joints looks tight on both sides, and this is material that supposedly had relatively high moisture content when made. Some of the Turkey-work and leather chairs have really rough work in them, but the joints look good. Just some observations.

  2. Steve: As Peter has noted, In 17th-Century joinery, the joint of choice had an undercut inside tenon shoulder or no inside shoulder at all. The period table Petter pictured is an example of the usual situation. The joint is easy to make and it works. Even if, the surfaces of one joint are not in the same plane, assembling the frame straightens things out. Frankly, if the surfaces of an asembld joint are not in one plane (the stile usually sags), I put them face down on the bench and pound on the rail until the joint’s exterior surface is flat. The rail’s tenon has slid down the drawboring pins, straightens up and all is well.
    Jennie Alexander

  3. Peter
    I just discovered your site and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading through and seeing your work. Excellent! I’ve very impressed with the quality of the work itself as well as your attention to period detail. I look forward to reading more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s