Moravian Stool

This traditional, lightweight stool is an excellent first step toward chairmaking.

By Christopher Schwarz
Pages 36-40

One highlight of a visit to historic Old Salem in North Carolina is the beautiful Moravian furniture and woodwork in the village’s buildings. My favorite piece in the town is a small stool that shows up in many of the buildings. It’s a tough little guy – the costumed interpreters sit, kneel, stand or even saw on reproductions of this stool every day.

This form is also common in rural Europe, especially in eastern Bavaria, which is close to the origin of the Moravians in the Czech Republic. In Europe, it’s also common to see this stool with a back – sometimes carved – which turns it into a chair.

But the best part of the stool is that it requires about $10 in wood and two days in the shop to build – and it has a lot of fun operations: tapered octagons, sliding dovetails, compound leg splays and wedged through-tenons. And by building this stool, you’ll be about halfway home to being able to build a Windsor or Welsh chair.

This particular stool is based on originals owned by Old Salem that are made from poplar. The stools are remarkably lightweight – less than 4 lbs. Like many original stools, the top of many Old Salem stools have split because of their cross-grain construction. Despite the split, the stools remain rock-solid thanks to sliding dovetail battens under the seat. I like to think of the split as just another kind of necessary wood movement.

Here’s how the stool goes together: The thin top is pierced by two sliding-dovetail sockets. Two battens fit into those sockets. The legs pierce both the battens and the stool’s top, and they are wedged in place through the top. This is the cross-grain joint that will make the top split in time.

The best place to begin construction is with the legs.

Geometry 101
The legs are tapered octagons. They are 15⁄8″ square at the top and 1″ square at the foot. The top of the leg has an 13⁄8″-diameter x 11⁄2″-long round tenon. To make the legs, first mark the 15⁄8″ octagon on the top of the leg and the 1″ octagon at the foot. See “Octagons Made Easy” at right.

With your octagons drawn, saw each leg into a tapered square – 15⁄8″ at the top and 1″ at the foot. I cut these tapers on the band saw, though I’ve also done it with a jack plane.

Web: Visit Old Salem’s web site and plan a visit there to see the town and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.
Video: See how the author lays out an octagon on a leg.
Blog: Learn how to level the feet of a chair or stool.
Video: See how to cut perfect wedges on the band saw.
To Buy: “Furniture in the Southern Style,” by Robert W. Lang and Glen D. Huey.
In Our Store: “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” by Christopher Schwarz.
Plan: Download a free SketchUp model of the “Moravian Stool.”

From the December 2012 issue #201
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