Stickley Morris Chairs — A Close Look at Details

If I had a life, I would probably have something better to do on a Friday night than go to an auction preview of Arts & Crafts period furniture. But this was a chance to see some authentic pieces up close so off I went, camera in hand. (For the record, I did take my wife out to dinner after leaving the auction, so I think that makes me only about 75 percent geeky.) The auctioneers were very nice, so I have some pictures to show authentic details that answer some common questions. Today’s topic is the Morris chair.

Woodworkers worry a lot about details like leg construction when using quartersawn white oak. I’ve written in Popular Woodworking about two methods to make legs that show quartersawn figure on all four sides of the leg. Most recently, (November 2006) I showed Gustav Stickley‘s method of laminating two pieces by face-gluing and veneering the edge to cover the joint. In April 2006, I came up with a new method for creating Leopold Stickley‘s quadralinear leg. Here is a picture of a Gus Stickley leg, coming through the arm of a Morris chair.

You can clearly see the joint in the end grain between the two laminations on the leg. If you look closely, the center of the lamination isn’t centered in the through mortise, and while the grain is similar, it isn’t an exact match. If you want to be authentic, don’t worry about how the end grain appears – Gus and the guys working for him didn’t. If you look just below the end of the arm, you can see a crack in the veneer, right in line with the glue joint. It isn’t an awful crack, and this chair is more than 100 years old. It may have been out in the barn or in a damp, creepy basement for most of those years. I’ve seen some sort of cracking in about half of the original chairs I’ve come across. The reason for this is that the quartersawn white oak expands and contracts in thickness as the seasons change.

Above is a picture of one of the simplest solutions to a perplexing problem – making the bend in the end of a bent-arm chair. Rather than trying to miter the end of the arm, a wedge-shaped piece is sliced off the top of the arm, and glued on to the bottom. The crack you see in the arm (it runs uphill from right to left in line with the bottom of the arm) reveals the glue joint. It isn’t as noticeable as this picture suggests, and again, this is an old chair and who knows where it has been.

Another place where the brothers used different techniques was at the back of the chair. This picture is of a typical Gus Stickley back. There is a series of holes in the inside of the arm that hold a pair of stout wooden pegs. These support the uprights on the chair back and allow you to adjust the position from semi-alert to nearly comatose. In early chairs, these are square with rounded or beveled corners in the exposed part of the peg. Shorter pegs at the bottom act as hinges, and you can see wooden washers between the back and the leg of the chair. These parts often get lost, and the hinge pegs in this chair are replacements.

This is how younger brother Lee handled the back adjustment. The cross bar that supports the back has mortises in the underside that slip over the square pegs on top of the arm.

If you enjoyed this look at these details, let me know, either by leaving a comment, or by e-mail. I think it’s important to know these original details even if you choose to use a different method.

- Bob Lang

29 thoughts on “Stickley Morris Chairs — A Close Look at Details

  1. Sawdust

    Bob – I really appreciate the close-ups. The auction catalogs rarely provide that kind of detail. And as they say, “The devil is in the details”.

  2. ptwobwinslow

    Robert,
    I definitely enjoy looking at the details for the Stickley-Morris chair. In fact, your article about it in Apr11 was what convinced me to subscribe to PWM. Though I have yet to build one, I’m still collecting ideas and putting projects in front of it, so when I do finally build it, it will be (hopefully) perfect. First, I’m almost finished with Matt’s Krenovian cabinet (modified to hold my German beer steins – so the dimensions are slightly larger). Then it’s off to practice mortise & tenon by hand on the living room table… then with that practice, I will tackle the Stickley-Morris chair. Until then, I definitely stay attuned to your details, so please keep them coming.
    (BTW, my first project was your 21st-Century Workbench).

  3. Paul Gray

    That is one of many things I love about Stickley’s – its balance of beauty and practicality.
    I frequent a woodworking forum — where the cheif topics of discussion are how you HAVE to have this that or the other whiz bang tool. And I admit to being a gadget freak myself –

    PLEASE keep posting articles such as this to remind us that REAL craftsmanship is not about the tool – but the talent and the skill and creativity of the craftsman.

  4. Ted Humber

    Fascinating stuff. If you have more facts and pics I would love to see them. Detail like this is so hard to come by – especially in the UK. Thanks, Ted.

  5. Gary Kueppers

    This is the type of information we cannot get thru any other means. You have done a great service to the furthering of our hobby/craft of woodworking. I appreciate the details you have pointed out and feel like "I can do it" now.

    Thanks for a great job!

  6. Mike Skees

    Enjoyed the photos and explanations of how things were really done. This is information that can be of practicle use. Answered some questions for me.
    Thanks

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