Joined stools are among my favorite things to make. The seat poses a real challenge, it requires pretty wide stock, radially riven. Takes a big tree to get the width. As it happened last year, I built a bunch of stools, but could only finish one because the logs I had were not big enough to give me 11″ wide radial stuff. MacIntyre brought me up a seat blank of red oak that he split in Maryland so I worked on it some Saturday.
Here is the riven section; including some sapwood. Usually I remove the sapwood, but here it is sound. You can usually judge it by its color. If the white is grey and mottled, then the wood has begun to deteriorate, and should be discarded. There was enough width so that I could ditch all the sapwood, but the wood near the center of the tree, the “juvenile” wood, was a little twisted, so I chose to keep the sapwood on, and trim the twisted grain out of the juvenile stuff.
So the way I proceeded is the same sequence for most any stock – check with winding sticks, and then plane one face flat. The winding sticks are quite helpful for checking that the board is flat; but Alexander & I have never found period evidence for them however. Moxon does not mention them, nor Randle Holme. We use them anyway. (later I will dig out the only early engraving we have seen that shows a pair of sort-of winding sticks in use…it’s one of Alexander’s favorites. )
For this sort of stock, I usually do much of the planing across the board. working with the stock shoved against a bench hook, I need to make sure each stroke of the plane is aiming at the bench hook, or the workpiece whips around.
After finishing this face, then planing one edge, I hew away the excess off the 2nd face. The stance and positioning are important from a safety perspective. Note that my right leg is slid back, away from any glancing blow of the hatchet. Also the workpiece is positioned across the stump, not the near edge…
Then back to planing. Here’s a shot of the fore plane, and the 2nd face in process. It’s hard to see in this photo, but I planed a small bevel on the forward edge of the board, to minimize tear-out at that edge.
The stool seat has a thumbnail molding around its four sides. To create it, I first plane a rabbet. Here I have a fence secured down with two holdfasts; (the 2nd holdfast is hidden here by my hands). The rabbet plane rides against this fence.
I also use a moving fillester plane; it eliminates the seperate fence. There is only one reference that I have seen to fillesters in the 17th century, and it doesn’t describe them at all. Randle Holme just says, oh yea, there is a fillester plane too. the nicker helps score across the end grain, making a clean cut of things there.
Right now, the seat has a pretty high moisture content, so I decided to leave it at this stage for a while. It’s roughed-out, and has a shallow rabbet all around. Next week I will go over it with a sharp plane, finish the molded edge, and peg it to the frame. If it were summertime, I wouldn’t bother waiting; the stock would dry more slowly then. But in winter, the shop’s heat is on, and the stuff can dry too quickly, sometimes leading to distortion or cracking. It will still be pretty wet by modern standards; but will behave a little better with some drying time. This is one of the tricky parts of this aspect of green woodworking. I try to be aware of the general humidity levels in the shop at any given time; and act accordingly…with a little practice, it’s not a problem.
Completely unrelated to the above, I got a severe case of book lust at the public library recently. Silent Spaces: the Last of the Great Aisled Barns by Malcolm Kirk (Boston, Bulfinch Press; 1994) What a beautiful book…the barns are from England, Netherlands, Germany, France and maybe more besides. Nicely photographed… visitors to my shop often comment about 17th-c carpenters, saying they do the “simple” stuff, and my carved furniture is the real craft. I always respond “nonsense” – a good look through this books shows carpentry at its peak…earlier that 17th century, but what a treat!