Stickley Dining Chair

 

Stickley Dining Chair

Build accurate replicas
of a classic design.

By Seth Keller

Having built the Mission oak
dining table that recently appeared
in American Woodworker (Dec/Jan
2009, issue #139), my next project
was to build chairs to go with it. A
friend had a vintage set that I
admired, and she graciously loaned
me a couple chairs (one with arms,
one without) to inspect and measure.
These chairs were classic
Mission style, and although they
were a bit small by today's standards,
they were comfortable to sit
in. I was excited to find labels identifying
their manufacturer as the
Stickley Brothers Company, because
according to the magazine article,
the table I had built was also based
on a Stickley Brothers design.

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I did some research, using
Stickley Brothers Quaint Furniture
catalog reproductions. Tables and
chairs were most often pictured
independently, but in one catalog, I
found these chairs, identified as
#479-1/2, facing the table that I had
just built. That was it; these were the
right chairs for my table.

Including an arm chair as part of
a set is optional (see “The Arm
Chair
”), so in this story, I'll
focus on building the side chairs. At
first glance, these chairs look pretty
simple to build, thanks in part to
their rectilinear style. But closer
inspection reveals subtle details
that make them a challenging project.
Of course, they're made out of
quartersawn white oak, with the quartered faces presented on the
chairs' fronts and backsides.

I couldn’t disassemble the chairs
I'd been given, so I made thoughtful
choices about the construction techniques
I would use. Most of my joints
are fitted with loose tenons (Photo
1). In addition to creating strong
joints, loose tenon joinery is versatile—
a major consideration, as each
chair requires several types of mortise-
and-tenon joints. All of the loose
tenon mortises are routed with a
simple shop-made jig (Fig. A). I decided
to use traditional mortises and
tenons to assemble the curved rails
and back slats.

 

Make the legs

1. Cut lumber for the back legs to
rough size (Part A, Fig. B, below, and
Cutting List, below).

2. Make a full size pattern for the
back legs (Fig. C). Trace the profiles
onto a blank, nesting the second leg
behind the first.

3. Carefully cut the legs on the
band saw (Photo 2). Use scrapers,
planes or a sander to remove the
waste.

4. Cut the front legs (B) to final
dimensions.

5. Clamp the front and back legs to
each other in pairs to lay out the mortises
(Photo 3 and Figs. D, E and F). All
of the seat rail mortises and lower
mortises are centered on the leg
faces. Note that the seat rail mortises
are 3/8" wide. All the other mortises
are 1/4" wide. Whenever possible, orient
the legs so the mortises will be
cut on their least attractive faces. On
the curved back legs, use a square to
transfer the mortise locations to the
correct leg faces.

6. Mark the back legs for the crest
rail and lumbar rail mortises (Fig. C).
These mortises are not centered on
the leg faces and they run at a
skewed angle. They must be in the
same plane for the back assembly to
fit properly. To determine their locations,
you must line up two points on
the inside face of each leg: one at the
top edge of the lumbar rail, 1/4" in
from the leg’s front edge, and the
other at the top edge of the crest rail
1/8" from the front edge. Draw a
straight line between the two points.
Use this line to locate the crest and
lumbar rail mortises.

7. Rout all the 3/8" mortises for
the seat rails first, then rout all the
1/4" mortises—it's easier to change
leg pieces in the mortising jig than it
is to change router bits.

8. Set up to rout the leg mortises.
Clamp the mortising jig to your
bench. Attach an edge guide to your
router and install a 3/8" spiral bit (see
Sources, below). During operation,
the router rides on top of the jig; its
base straddles the edges and its
edge guide bears against one side.
Lay out a mortise on a test piece
that's the same size as a front leg.
Clamp this piece against the side of
the jig and flush with its top. Then
make test cuts to center the mortise
and set the depth. Adjust the edge
guide to center the mortise; adjust
the plunge mechanism to set the
depth. Rout to the layout lines to
establish the length.

9. Install each front leg and rout 1"
deep mortises for the front and side
seat rails (Photo 4). Start by plunging
1/8" deep; complete each mortise by
making successively deeper passes.

10. Install each back leg and rout 1"
deep mortises for the side and back
seat rails. For the side seat rails, clamp
the bottom half of the leg against the
side of the jig and flush with its top,
the same way you clamped the front
legs in Step 6.

11. Set up to rout the lower rail
mortises. Install a 1/4" spiral bit in the
router, adjust the plunge depth to 7/8",
and confirm that the mortises will be
centered.

12. Rout mortises for all the lower
rails in the front and back legs.

13. Mortise the back legs for the
lumbar and crest rails. These mortises
run at an angle, so use wedges to
hold the legs in the correct position
(Photo 5). Once the leg is wedged in
position, adjust the edge guide to
properly locate the mortises.

 

Front and back assembly

14. Cut the front seat rail (C) and
front lower rail (D) to final dimensions.
Mark the center of the lower
rail and strike a pair of arcs. Cut the
curves on the band saw and smooth
the edges.

15. Cut the back seat rail (E) and
back lower rail (F) to final dimensions.
Cut blanks for the crest rail (G),
lumbar rail (H) and back slats (J) to
final length.

16. Make a pattern to transfer the
curved shapes of the crest and lumbar
rails onto the blanks (Fig. G). Mark
the ends of these blanks, too, so you
can locate the mortises, which are
offset. These mortises are located
1/8" from the back face of the finished
part (not the blank), so they
won't cut through its curved front
face.

17. Rout 1/4" x 7/8" deep mortises
in both ends of the crest rail and
lumbar rail blanks (Photo 6).

18. Rout 1/4" x 7/8" deep mortises
in both ends of the front and back
lower rails. Mount these rails in the
jig vertically, the same way the crest and lumbar rail blanks were mounted.
Change bits and rout 3/8" x 1"
deep mortises in both ends of the
front and the back seat rails.

19. Mill loose tenons (K and L) to
fit the 1/4" and 3/8" mortises. Plane
lengths of stock to appropriate thickness
and rip them to width. Then use
your router table and a 1/8"
roundover bit to round the edges of
the 1/4" stock (see Sources). Make
two passes, one on each face. Round
the 3/8" stock, using a 3/16" bit (see
Sources). Use a pull saw to cut individual
loose tenons from each length
of stock. The tenons for the seat rails
are mitered on one end. I make my
1/4" tenons about 3/16" undersize in
width. This allows some adjustability
when I’m assembling the chair; it's
especially helpful for fitting the compound
miters between the side rails
and back legs.

20. Assemble the front legs and
rails without glue, to check the fit
and alignment of the joints. Do the
same with the back legs and rails.

21. Bandsaw the bow-shaped
crest and lumbar rails from the
blanks (Photo 7). Reattach the crest
rail offcuts with tape; then bandsaw
the crest rail's curved top and bottom
profiles.

22. Mark the mortise locations for
the back slats on the crest and lumbar
rails. Use the offcuts from sawing
to securely clamp these bow-shaped
rails in a vise. Then chop the 3/16"
wide x 1/4" deep mortises (Photo 8).

23. Mill 3/16" x 1/4" tenons on the
back slats, using a tablesaw tenoning
jig and a handsaw (Photo 9).

24. Assemble the slats and curved
rails to test the fit. Then assemble the
entire chair back to check the fit.

25. Finish sand all the parts and
ease the edges—I use a laminate
trimmer and a 3/32" roundover bit
for this job (see Sources).

26. Glue the entire back leg
assembly on a flat surface (Photo
10).

27. Glue the front assembly the
same way.

 

Make the side rails

28. The chair seat is wider at the front
than the back (Fig. H), and the legs are
slightly canted (Fig. D). This makes the
chair more comfortable and stable, but
it also means that the rails on the sides
of the chair are mirrored parts with
compound angles. A dual-compound
miter saw is the best tool for making
these angled, mirror-image cuts. I keep
all the rails (M, N and P) positioned as if
they were in the chair while I measure,
mark and cut the ends. (Photo 11).

29. Cut all of the front ends first (Photo
12). These are simple 83° miters.

30. Mark the length of each rail,
measured at the top outside edge.
This length increases with each successively
lower part (Fig. D). At the
mark, draw a 97° miter across the top
edge of each rail and a 92° bevel on
each outside face.

31. At the line, cut 97°/92° compound
miters on the back end of all
the side rails.

32. Mark mortise positions on the
ends of all of the rails.

33. To align with the leg mortises,
the rail mortises have to be perpendicular
to the angled faces of the ends of
the rails. Make an 7° wedge to mount a
seat rail in the jig—the same wedge
works for both ends, because the
angles are complementary (Photo 13).
The end of the rail should be just above
the top of the jig.

34. Gently tap the end until the face
is perfectly flush with the top of the jig
(Photo 14). Double-check with a
square laid across the ends of the jig.
Then tighten the clamp firmly.

35. Install the 3/8" spiral bit in the
router. Set the fence and bit for correct
location and depth, and rout 1" deep
mortises into each end of both side
seat rails.

36. Replace the bit with a 1/4" spiral
bit. Then follow the same procedure to
rout 1/4" x 7/8" mortises in the middle
and lower side rails.

37. Finish sand all of the side rails
and ease the edges.

 

Assembly

38. Assemble the entire chair without
glue to test the fit. Use a sliding bevel square to make sure the angles
of the side seat rails match. You may
have to finesse a few joints by shaving
or trimming the tenons, so the chair
clamps up even and square.

39. Once you've fine-tuned the fit,
disassemble the chair and glue it
together (Photo 15).

40. Cut angled front and rear corner
blocks for the chair (Q and R). Orient
the grain to run lengthwise on the
blocks. Drill countersunk shank holes
for screws.

41. Clamp the corner block in place
temporarily, 3/8" below the top of the
seat rails. Then use the shank holes to
drill pilot holes into the seat rails.
Remove the corner blocks, apply glue
to the angled surfaces, and screw the
blocks in place.

42. Locate and drill 3/8" dia. x 3/8”
deep holes in the legs for the decorative
dowel pegs (S). The pegs flank the
crest rail, the front and back seat rails,
and the front and back lower rails.
Apply glue to 3/8" oak dowels and
insert them into the holes. Remove
any glue squeeze out. Saw or sand the
pegs flush.

43. Apply a finish. I used one developed
by conservator Kevin Southwick.

 

Upholster the seat

You can bring the chairs to an upholstery
shop, or you can upholster the
seats yourself. My cost for covering the
seats in leather came to about $50 per
seat (see Sources).

44. Cut the seat frame (T) out of
1/2" Baltic birch plywood (Fig. J).
Center the seat on the chair. Reach
under with a pencil and trace the position
of the seat rails. Glue and nail a
sub-frame (U), 1/8" inside the line
you've scribed around the bottom of
the seat frame (Photo 16).

45. Round over the top edge of the
seat frame with a 1/4" roundover bit.

46. Staple webbing across the seat
opening (see Sources).

47. Trace the outline of the seat
frame on 1/2" foam, 3/4" oversize in
width and length (see Sources). Using
the bandsaw, cut to the lines at a 45°
angle, for a smooth transition around
the edges of the frame (Photo 17).

48. Lay the foam on a clean work
surface, beveled side up. Spray adhesive
onto it (see Sources). Press the
seat frame onto the adhesive-covered
foam, upside-down and centered. Trim
out the corners with a scissors.

49. Lay muslin on the work surface.
Lay the seat foam-top-down onto the
muslin. Pull the muslin back over the
edges of the seat and staple it to the
bottom, at the intersection of the seat
and sub-frame. Staple the sides first,
then the back, and finally, the front.
(Photo 18). Keep the muslin uniformly
tight, but not so tight that it puckers.

50. To wrap the muslin at the corners,
carefully slice it diagonally
towards the center of the corner, and
staple the flaps into the corner. Trim
the excess material with a utility knife.

51. Repeat this process to install the
upholstery material. Then install the
seat in the chair (Photo 19).

Cutting List

Fig. A: Mortising Jig

Fig. B: Exploded View

Fig. C: Back Leg

Fig. D: Side View

Fig. E: Front View: Back Assembly

Fig. F: Front View: Front Assembly

Fig. G: Crest and Lumbar Rails

Fig. H: Top View

Fig. J: Seat Frame

Sources

(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Freud, freudtools.com, 800-334-4107, 3/8" Up-Spiral Bit, #75-106; 1/4" Up-Spiral Bit, #75-102; 1/8" Roundover Bit, #34-104; 3/16" Roundover Bit, #34-108.

Eagle America, eagleamerica.com, 800-872-
2511, 3/32" Roundover Bit, #156-0112.

Rochford Supply, rochfordsupply.com, 866-681-
7401, 1/2" x 24" x 72" Foam (enough
for 3 chairs), #331950; 2" Elasbelt
Webbing, #9141; 3M Super 77
Adhesive, #0192.

Van ***'s Restorers,
www.vandykes.com, (800) 558-1234,
3/8" x 36" Oak Dowel, #206624, $1.50.

Leather Unlimited, leatherunltd.com, 800-993-
2889, Light Weight Upholstery
Leather, Full Hide, #AD1100
(should be enough for 6 seats).

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2009, issue #143.

August/September 2009, issue #143

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. This chair assembles primarily with loose
tenon joinery, which is a variation of traditional
mortise and tenon joinery. This
method simplifies the complex joints
between the legs and rails.

2. Start by sawing out the back legs. To get
the most from your lumber, nest them
together. Remove saw marks by sanding,
scraping or planing to the layout lines.

3. Lay out the rail mortises on the back legs. Clamp the legs together so the mortises are perfectly parallel. Use a square to transfer the back rail mortises to the legs' inside faces.

4. To rout the mortises, clamp the leg
against the side of the jig and flush with its
top. The router’s edge guide bears against
the side of the jig when you rout, so the
mortises are parallel to the edge of the leg.

5. The mortises for the crest and lumbar rails
are skewed, rather than parallel to the front
face of the back legs. To skew these mortises,
install a wedge between the leg and the
edge of the jig. Measure to ensure the mortises
are coplanar.

6. Rout offset mortises in the ends of the
crest and lumbar rail blanks. Draw on the
rails' curved shape, so you can locate the
mortises. Clamp the blank vertically, so it's
end is flush with the jig's top.

7. Saw out the crest rail in two steps. First
saw out the bowed faces. Then reattach the
offcuts to saw the curved top and bottom
edges.

8. Chop mortises for the back slats in the
crest and lumbar rails. Drill out the centers,
then use chisels to remove the waste and
square the corners.

9. Use a tenoning jig to cut tenons on the
back slats. Shave a small amount off both
faces of each slat, to create the cheeks. Then
use a handsaw to cut the shoulders.

10. Glue the back of the chair together. Make sure all the joints are square, and measure diagonally to ensure the assembly is square. Follow the same procedure to glue the front assembly.

11. To measure and mark the side rail blanks,
orient them as if you were standing behind
the chair. This keeps all of the important
angles facing the correct direction for cutting
on the miter saw.

12. Cut the ends of all the side rails. The front
ends are simply mitered, but the back end
angles are both mitered and beveled. A
dual-compound miter saw handles this
operation with ease.


13. Use a tacked-on wedge to position the
side rails for mortising. The wedge levels
the rail's mitered face across the top of the
jig, so the mortise will align with the corresponding
leg mortise.

14. Lightly tap the clamped rail with a mallet,
to level its face with the jig from end to
end. This two-step method works to position
both ends of the rails—mitered and
compound mitered—for mortising.

15. Glue the chair together. Use a sliding bevel square to make sure both sides widen at the
same angle.

16. Glue and tack a sub-frame to the seat
frame. The sub-frame fits between the
chair's seat rails, so the seat frame partially
overlays the top of the rails.

17. Saw the foam that covers the seat frame at
a 45° angle to create a tapered edge, so the
seat makes a smooth transition from the
top to the side.

18. Wrap muslin around the seat frame and
staple it where the seat frame and the subframe
meet. Carefully cut the muslin to
wrap the corners. Repeat the process with
the leather upholstery.

19. Install the completed seat. It's a friction
fit, so no screws are necessary.