lamb’s tongue chamfered stiles

lamb's tongue & zig zag

It’s been quite a while since I made a joined stool with chamfered stiles, instead of turned ones. I think the last time was the early 1990s, when Jennie Alexander & I taught it at Country Workshops. This past season, I taught a class at Roy Underhill’s, and most students (wisely) chose to chamfer their stiles, rather than turn them. So I decided I needed a recent model for next time. Here’s how I do them.

I scribe the layout with an awl & square, defining the ends of the chamfer, just as I would if it were a turning. Then I mark the edges with a marking gauge, eyeballing the breadth of the chamfer. I think I use about ½” setting on the gauge, maybe a little less. This line is struck twice on each face of the stile – once from each edge.

I make one more mark with the square & awl, to define the ends of the “stops.” Then I chop with a chisel & mallet straight down into the chamfer just inside the stop. Bevel towards the waste. It sometimes takes a couple of blows to get to the depth I want.

stop cut

Then I chisel away the waste, down to the scribed lines. I prefer a chisel for a number of reasons, but you can use a drawknife and/or spokeshave too. I start with a chisel and mallet.  One end of the stile is propped up in the corner blocks, or “joiners’ saddles” as they are called in Moxon & Holme. The other is jammed against the bench hook.

I finish paring with a long-bladed chisel and hand pressure. Here’s one grip I use for this:

I like the weight of this chisel for work like this, and the long blade is easier to shave a flat surface with than a shorter chisel. Here’s another way to hold it, with your fingers under the stile, and your thumb pushing down on the blade, as your hand drives it forward. Very steady. It’s a slicing cut too, the tool is skewed to the stock.

Finish the chamfer by taking light cuts right up against the stop. Here I am using a smaller chisel & have flipped it down on its bevel again to get the last shavings off.

Once you have the chamfer itself defined, it’s time to make the stops. Now, using the smaller chisel bevel down, come in at the corner and just scoop a bit off, towards the chamfer. I keep this from cutting all the way down to the depth of the chamfer, which leaves a little demarcation between this scooping and the flat chamfer.

You can stop right there, and this is what I believe is called a “stopped chamfer.” I have seen these done many times on the framing of Plymouth Colony joined furniture.

stopped chamfer

For the stool, I prefer a “lamb’s tongue” stop, it’s only one more step. Now flip the chisel over, so you are using it with the bevel towards the chamfer, and start with its handle low, pare a tiny bit of wood, while raising the chisel all the way to plumb. You are making a convex shape at the transition from the scoop to the chamfer. It’s quick, so easy does it.

here’s the finished stop:


9 thoughts on “lamb’s tongue chamfered stiles

  1. Peter
    I prefer the tongue to be lower and consequently wider. A matter of taste I suppose. But all seem to agree that the so called lamb’s tongue resolves the end of the flat chamfer problem. You are a good man with the chisel . i shave
    stick chairs and chamfer stiles with drawknife.

    The first option is simply to chop down vertically to meet the flat chamfer. Ugly and too sharp. The second is to run the curved chamfer all the way down to the meet the flat. It is hard to make the curve and the flat meet smoothly. Try it. But not on your stile. The third option, the lamb’s tongue, avoids this difficulty and is a nifty decoration. Someone said, “Just because people are dead doesn’t mean they were dumb.” Solving a craft challenge with a pleasing easily made decoration is as good as it gets. If anyone knows the source of the quotation please let me know. Also does anyone know an early use of “lamb’s tongue’?

  2. In that early 90s Country Workshops thing, I made mine with “Essex County” squared vases. They had cushion capitals which required cross-wise cuts to finish them. I remember chaos broke out when some people elected to turn their posts. I’ll send you a picture of mine, if it ever stops raining so I can take it outside. I use it for a shop stool.

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