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. Chris K.

    Thank you for spending your firday night and standing your wife up for some time to take these pictures and share them with us all. I am enjoying these posts even more than the magazine articles.

    Thanks again

    Chris

  2. Bill Fleming

    Bob

    This was great and really appreciate the comments and analysis that went along with the visit and photos.

    Definitely keep up this type of work – I haven’t purchased the plans from http://woodstore.woodmall.com/missofandcha.html for the A&C Mission Sofa but do wonder how the flat top was attached in the originals, how did it hold up, etc. I am not sure how the contemporary plans show this but probably one or a combination of glue, biscuits and/or pocket screws.

    And finally I have always liked Thomas Moser’s furniture from early Shaker days to today’s evolution – I consider his work to be a future "Stickley" – good clean designs, quality materials, produced in a factory setting by craftsmen. Any chance you could provide some review, analysis and comment on some of his pieces. I am currently working thru a "Moser stool" but would love a take on his more contemporary take on A&C furniture.

    Cheers – Bill

  3. Brad Ferguson

    Bob,
    I’m an avid maker of arts and crafts furniture, I love the detail pics and the discussion. Please keep it up, not everyone has access to original pieces and while the internet is a wonderful resource you can’t always get pics of every detail. Thanks.

  4. Ed Everett

    I’ve sent you several emails within the past few months asking very similar questions about your prairie chair and Morris recliner plans. You have been very gracious in your answers, but it’s always nice to see pictures, too. Like many posters above, I often fret over minute details that nobody but myself really cares about. Being a hobbyist, I guess taking the extra time to get it "right", i.e., doing it the way the original guys did it, gives me an extra level of satisfaction from the added authenticity. I look forward to future posts. Thanks.

  5. Ronald R. Palmer

    I utterly enjoy the details you have indicated about these chairs, and their construction. These ideas are very helpful for aspirering woodworkers. It’s like going to woodworking school with masters.

    Thanks, Ron

  6. Bill Andersen

    As others have said these details are very important and it’s great to see the various choices you have if making these chairs. I would also like to see the same sort of articles on many other projects.Very helpful.

  7. Scott Greenwood

    Thanks for a great feature — articles of this nature seem so rare, and it’s great to find someone as geeky as myself willing to share his "expert’s eye view" with the rest of us. It’s also reassuring to see that even the so-called masters must have said at some points, "Good enough is good enough."

  8. John D. Williams, Jr.

    Thanks so much. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate the photos. I’m visually oriented so reading a discription doesn’t quite do the job for me. The details are always what I’m looking for. As for being 75% geeky, there’s nothing geeky about woodworking, or appreciating classic woodworking (like the bottom west wing of the Phila. Art Museum). If you could only have gotten your wife to pay for dinner, that would have been a perfect Friday evening.

  9. Bill Dalton

    This is one of the best articles I’ve seen posted. I love arts and craft and shaker furniture, the detail is what always make the difference in quaility work. I really agree with Chet about spending to much time trying for perfect, and this shows while they did quailty work they also used practicle solutions and didn’t waste wood. It has taken me a long time to get over being so critcal of my own work and get it out there for others to enjoy without having to listen to a lament of all the flaws of the piece. Great job Bob please do more.
    Bill

  10. John Montgomery

    Thanks for the photos. Like the other guy said, we see so much perfection in the magazines that it is comforting to see the way the real guys did it.

    Thanks

    John

  11. David Mathias

    Great post, Bob. It’s good to see a reminder that while these guys were craftsmen they also had to make a living.

    So which chair did you buy?

    David

  12. Ted DeWitt

    As others have said, this is what we have been waiting for. I just finished two Morris chairs and used a combined plan from 3 sources to achieve what I wanted. None of these plans had the some of the details you did. I wish you would have published them a little earlier. Now with the chairs in the living room, my wife wants two side tables to match. Aw, gee, now I have to go and buy more quarter swan white oak. LOL. Keep these type of articles coming and thanx for this one.

  13. Bill Manton

    This is exactly the type of information I love to obtain. These sort of details are left out of most books and unless you have the opportunity to examine the originals you will never know. Thank you for this and please keep this up.

    Bill

  14. Chet Kloss

    Bob,

    This details are SUPER helpful. The simple wedge solution on the arm bend is a perfect example of several things:
    a. It’s a detail that I likely wouldn’t have thought of
    b. It’s something I wouldn’t have believed if someone "told" me this was how Stickly did the detail
    c. It provides a wonderful "grounding" of these practical craftsmen.

    Well done – keep them coming.

    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Chet

  15. Alex Moseley

    Hi Bob,

    This is exactly what I’ve been hoping to see from you. I’d love to see this type of content as a recurring theme, either in print or online. The details of construction, the variation in approach – these are great, both for the historical perspective and for the way they fill the creative well.

    Thanks,
    Alex Moseley

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