Chris Schwarz's Blog

Video: Level the Feet of a Chair or Sawbench


Getting the four feet of a sawbench, chair or stool all in the same plane is a challenge for some woodworkers. You can end up nibbling a bar stool into an ottoman if you take the wrong approach.

I’m sure there is some way to do this with the power of math, triangles and unicorn poo, but this is how I was taught to do it by chairmaker David Fleming. There is no math. No measuring. And it works every time.

The sawbench shown in the video was a birthday gift from a friend who ran out of time before he leveled the legs. The music is from freeplaymusic.com and is the song “From Little Rock to Glasgow.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to Make a Sawbench?
We filmed one of my classes in making a super-handy sawbench using 2 x 6 pine. The DVD is available in our store and is one of our best-sellers: “Build a Sawbench with Christopher Schwarz.

36 thoughts on “Video: Level the Feet of a Chair or Sawbench

  1. Sawdust

    Dear Sir or Madame:

    From the comments associated with this post, there has been a problem associated with this video for over a year and a half.

    @##&%&#, you own your audience, subscribers, etc. better service than this.

    Please get your s&#t together!

  2. quester666@yahoo.com

    I love video tips like this one, because I know that you should make you legs to long, then cut for level.
    I have not done it so many times it would make you cry and a video like this one just reminds me how much easier it is to do it right.

  3. DoctorJ

    Does it also work to use a circular level (about $1.50 at Sears) place on a flat board atop the stool? Seems like this would obviate the need to keep moving the level across multiple axes. I suppose that if the through tenons aren’t cut yet you might have a problem getting a good support for the board, though. Just a thought.

  4. Tom8021

    If the workbench is reasonably flat and three legs are on the bench. Use the workbench edge as a reference to mark the fourth leg that is draped off the side of the workbench. Works every time!

    I have actually sawed the leg with a flush cut Japanese saw using the flat surface as the guide.

  5. dmackinder

    Hi Chris,
    Love the blog … but can’t seem to play the “leveling a saw bench” video. It says “Oh noes! No playable files in the feed …”. But I’d like to …

  6. Carl Stammerjohn

    Great tip. Here’s one on leveling: Don’t place the level parallel and then perpendicular to the chair axis.

    Instead, place the level diagonally over two opposite legs. Level the bench in that axis. Then, place it perpendicular to the first location. Level the other two legs. Done. The leveling operations are independent of each other.

    The way you did it, one operation affects the other.

      1. cbf123

        You could put the level right beside the protruding tenons. As long as it’s parallel to the line between the tenons it’ll have the same effect.

  7. Harlan Barnhart

    Hi Chris,
    I actually created an account just to comment on your method. It certainly works. I have been using a much simpler method for benches and stools that has always worked for me.

    First I turn the stool upside down on a know reference surface (workbench). Then I cut a scrap as long as I want the stool high. I hold the scrap up to each leg, resting on the bench, and mark the outside corners. Connect the marks with a straightedge and cut away. No levels involved.

    Peace,
    Harlan Barnhart

      1. SlashDev

        Chris,

        Now you’ve done it. You’ve really done it. I’m gonna have to drag out the powdered wig and black robe. Hear ye, hear ye! Let it be known that:

        * Rockler and WoodCraft are out of Levelling Feet until The Effect passes.

        * The National Seismograph Array has picked up the echoing tremors of uncounted workbenches doing a Quixotic Dance to achieve Levelling Nirvana. Ommm.

        <gavel SMACK!> Members of the Jury, I submit for your consideration: an alternative to this practice — nay, this malpractice — TRIPLE-DOG NAY, this modus operandi ineptum.

        The Evidentiary List:
        * I have not achieved the iconic status of The Schwarz, nor do I own a chairmaking business.
        * I am not a professional woodworker, nor have I played one on TV… next to Roy.
        * I have been accused, on more than one occasion, of suffering the ravages of Woodworker’s Complexity Compulsion. I hereby confess and acknowledge such, and I hope this is the first step in my recovery.
        * I have attended the “Build a Sawbench” class.
        * I own a copy of the “Build a Sawbench” DVD.
        * Parts of me and my son appear in the aforementioned DVD.

        The hairs on the back of your neck must be standing up by now. “Not those guys!” Yes. Those guys. Those guys who had their sawbench legs marked and cut before the rest of the class.

        I remember when you were describing this process, like it was just yesterday… <flashback fade-in> My 17 year-old son looks at me like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears. With a furrowed brow and all the seriousness an adolescent can muster, he says, “We’ve got these nice, flat workbenches and table saws. Isn’t there some way…? Can’t we measure…? This is nonsense… ” <flashback fade-out>

        So there you have it. My teen-aged, novice woodworker said, “Nonsense.” Out of the mouths of babes. And if I can take a pair of gloves out of my waistcoat, please allow me to say, “I’ll see his ‘Nonsense’ and raise you a Fiddly-Wicketry, Extravagant Poppycock, and Gibbering Balderdash, Sir. Harrumph and Pshaw.”

        No, I don’t care how many generations of chairmakers have leveled their floors, their benches, their playing fields. You can be different. You can do what my whippersnapper son came up with. Just. Grab. A. Stick.

        That’s right, A Stick. Grab a stick and mark it with the desired height of the bench, chair, table, whatev. Turn your finely-made WhatEv upside down on your flat surface, place one end of The Stick on the flat surface, and transfer the mark from The Stick to a leg of your WhatEv.

        Do this as many times as you like. Clamp a straightedge across the legs if you like and connect the dots.

        If you’re up-and-down challenged, or if you’re worried that being 1/4″ out-of-plumb on an 18″ stick will make one leg 0.002″ shorter (there’s some Math for you), do what we all do: put a try square on the flat surface so you can be sure. Or use The Thick Stick With A Square End. Or put a mark on a framing square or a level on end (ironic, no?).

        If your legs are completely under the top of the WhatEv, you’re in luck. Subtract the thickness of the top from your stick and use the underside of the top for your flat surface. Then you don’t even need a flat workbench.

        If the underside is curved, inaccessible, or non-parallel, clamp straightedges to the legs (overhanging the top if necessary)and adjust it until both ends hit the mark on The Stick. Mark the legs.

        If the top of your WhatEv is supposed to be inclined (e.g., a chair seat), make two marks on The Stick. Can’t do that with a level, can ya’? Unless you put a shim on top of the chair, too. Shim-ma-neese! Stop the Shimmadness!

        Esteemed Jury, I submit that The Stick method is much, much quicker and just as accurate. No Maths, measuring, no shimming, no levelling, no cutting scraps, no poo, from Unicorns nor Hamsters. Being a proud father, having been my own lawyer, and realizing that I have a fool for a client, I hereby rest my case.

        With respect and consideration for your considerable
          writing and woodworking talents,
            I must disagree and hope that others
              will see the folly of levelling.

        Stickin’ it to da’ man,
          but still a big fan,
        SlashDev

        ————-
        P.S. I see the Honorable Mr. Barnhart has beaten me to the punch… in beating you with The Stick. :) Although you mention the two faces of the top not being parallel, you have ignored the tilted seat problem. Abstain from levelling shimmery. Save some time. You already have a reference surface. Grab. A. Stick.

        1. Christopher SchwarzChristopher Schwarz Post author

          I understand the stick method. Swear.

          Consider if the faces of the legs are not in the same plane. That is the case with the legs in the videos. Clamping a straightedge to the legs to transfer marks would be almost impossible.

          1. Anon

            The measurement to transfer isn’t along the leg, it is perpendicular to the level plane of the seat.
            Also, your bench would have to be level, and plane (or flat) for the method in the video.
            Additionally, leveling a plane on four legs is non-trivial. To get it perfect you should start by leveling a side containing the highest corner (not the middle like in the video) then a perpendicular side, then the remaining corner.

          2. SlashDev

            …oh fer cryin’ out loud…

            Do what I did on my kitchen chairs, which have two different splay angles: clamp the straightedge to one leg, then put a clamp on the other leg to act as a ledger. Rest the straightedge on the clamp, adjust, mark, etc., etc.

            “But what if the top is an amorphous blob, and I have to mark 42 fur-covered bent lamination legs?”

            sigh. Find a portable sawmill, grip the upside-down abomination with hydraulic clamps, set the horizontal bandsaw height to your desired measurement, and push “Play.”

            Maybe some other folks will chime in… wait, I sense a disturbance…

                    1. SlashDev

                      :)

                      Ok, I better lay off, lest I become like Lucio in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure: “I am a kind of Burr, I shall stick.”

                      Seriously though, keep up the good work!

                      Cheers,
                      /dev, who’s having entirely too much fun poking Chris… with a stick. ;)

      2. cbf123

        Assuming the top surface of the workbench and the top surface of the bench/stool are both flat, Harlan’s method will result in the top surface of the bench/stool being parallel to the floor. This is generally what you want.

        Harlan’s method has the advantage of working even on out-of-level workbenches.

    1. TJH

      I concur with Harlan’s approach. The reference plane (in this case, the workbench top) does not need to be level – just flat.

      Both Harlan’s and Chris’s methods assume that you want the top of the saw bench parallel to the floor when you are all done.

      If the top were uneven (such as a contoured stool or a chair with a back), you would need to use a different reference – perhaps the bottom side of the top. In this case, you might have to resort to Chris’s level trick.

  8. Niels

    Nice video and great trick!

    I am not a fan of any technique that involves maths, but I reckon a little unicorn poo can never hurt! The problem seems to be getting the real thing these days. Most commercially available “danish unicorn poos” don’t actually contain any poo. Caveat emptor.

    1. MikeZ

      “Most commercially available “danish unicorn poos” don’t actually contain any poo. Caveat emptor.”

      Now THAT is funny. Sounds like something Charles Neil would say.

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