wainscot chair angled joints

test-fitting the crest

Last weekend was supposed to be Fine Woodworking Live – an annual event that many look forward to all year. My demo this year was going to be building a wainscot chair. I can’t build one in 2 1/2 days, so I had much of the stock prepped when the gig got cancelled. I decided to go ahead & build it, rather than stash the parts in the loft…here’s a post about the angled joinery on the sides of the chair.

This one uses square front stiles. That means the mortises for the side rails need to be angled – here I have a full-scale pattern of the seat plan standing at the stile’s foot. An adjustable bevel set to the proper angle gives me something to eyeball my mortise chisel to when chopping these. You have to plan ahead with the mortise layout so when you reach your desired depth you don’t chop through the stile’s outside face. I’ve done that.

Same approach for the rear stiles. These are easier, you’re angling into the stile, so no risk of blowout. Here, I’m chopping the mortise for the arm-to-rear-stile joint.

The arms’ tenons at the rear are then angled in two directions – they slope down slightly from the rear to the front. And they mimic the seat plan.

Even with careful setting out of all the angles, I end up test-fitting the joint, and scribing the shoulders for trimming. The rear shoulder is hitting too soon here, and keeping the front shoulder from closing.

The tenon on top of the front stile is the only time I make a tenon that’s not in the radial plane. The outermost pencil line here will be shaved down to, once the arm is pinned in place. Rather than plane the whole stile to meet that angle, you just shave off a bit right near where the arm joins the stile.

The roughed-out tenon.

All the decorative bits on the arms are cut after the joinery. Now it’s all cut & test-fitted, I’ll pin the frame, but not the arms. The seat fits down over the front stiles. then the arms go on.

Then after the arms are pinned, the side carvings on the rear stiles….a detail from an earlier take on this chair:

This project is not going to be part of my video series, we shot it professionally at Lie-Nielsen years ago. If you really want to make one of these…


7 thoughts on “wainscot chair angled joints

  1. Hello Peter, Hope you and family are keeping safe and distant. One question about the tenons..for such heavy/thick wood used in the chair..The tenon seems so undersized…I would expect it to be much beefier. Especially in a chair, which could have “racking” forces in use. maybe 1/2 instead of 1/4? Just wondering…..Thanks for taking the time all you posts.

    • Joe – Almost always 5/16″ joinery. Tables, stools, chests, chairs, cupboards. I sometimes see 3/8″. Rarely 1/2″. I use 5/16″ almost every time. I think the strength comes from the shoulders, not the thickness of the tenon. Drawboring is key.

  2. As I recall, you dislike the turned finials on the rear stiles, maybe because their tenons intrude on the mortise pockets. If so, why not make the crest applique full-width? I never could figure out if the urn-shaped Bowdoin finials are replacements, given the knob-like finials on the Peabody Essex Museum chair. Also, are the Easter Island figures just pinned on? How vulnerable are they?

    • Trent – it probably should have run all the way to the outer edge of the stiles. I might put one turned one in the middle of this crest. But yes, the outer two turnings either have the shortest tenons, or they blam down into the joint. Either is bad. The large figures are toe-nailed in a deep area of the carving. Two large nails. I think I pinned them too, like dowels between the stile and the applied carving. We’ll see.

  3. Hi Peter how damp are the stiles when you carve the decoration, and how wet/damp are when chop mortise? Beautiful work, you have taught me a lot thank you again!

    • Todd – it can vary. These parts were planed in January or early February. So by modern standards they’re pretty wet still, especially inside the thick stock like the front & rear posts. I want the surfaces to begin drying, to take more crisp detail in the carving (& turning) than if they were what we call “tree-wet” i.e. split out & planed right before I work them…BUT – if the stock gets drier, that’s usually OK too. Because I work such straight=grained stock, riven from the log – it is easy to work.

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