Katharina: Remove you hence: I knew you at the first. You were a moveable.
Petruchio: Why, what's a moveable?
Katharina: A join'd-stool.
Petruchio: Thou hast hit it: come, sit on me.

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1592)

 


 Overview

 The focus of this project is a joined stool based on a style developed in England in the late 16th century. I chose this type of stool for two reasons:

  • its small enough to haul to events
  • it combines the disciplines of both branches of Elizabethan woodworkers, the joiner and the turner.

An original stool (see right) is made of English Oak and built between 1580-1600. The open construction of the legs, the apron (the horizontal rail below the seat), and the stretcher (the horizontal rail at the feet), is made possible by the use of mortise and tenon joinery. The seat of the stool is joined by driving pegs through the seat into the apron below it. The legs have been turned on a lathe, then decorative carving applied.

 

Material

Although the original is made of English Oak (Quercus robur), this material is difficult to purchase in the US. Of the two species of domestic oak, my second choice would have been White Oak (Quercus alba) since its smaller pores are more suited for turning. Unfortunately, I could not get White Oak in 8/4 (two inch) billets without a custom order. Therefore, I used Red Oak (Quercus rubra) since it's similar to the original and I could get it readily in the required size.

 

Method

I began by making a measured drawing of the stool. I chose the dimensions based on the measurements of my own body.

After purchasing the wood, I ripped all the pieces to length and width on a bandsaw, then turned the legs on a motorized lathe. The design of the leg was influenced by the Doric column. To make the annulet, I designed and ground a custom beading tool.

The most popular lathe of the Elizabethan era was the spring-pole lathe (see left). A drive cord was wrapped around the work, with one end attached to a foot treadle and the other end attached to a spring pole. By pressing down on the treadle, the work rotates, allowing the turner to apply various types of chisels to remove wood. At the completion of the downstroke, the turner releases pressure on the treadle and the spring-pole reverses the rotation and returns the treadle to the upright position.

The spring-pole lathe was not an efficient method for turning because the wood can only be cut on the down-stroke. This led to the development of the flywheel lathe as drawn Leonardo da Vinci (see right). With this type of lathe, the treadle spins the wood continuously. In addition, it drives a heavy flywheel, which helps to keep the wood spinning.

To make the mortices, I used a drill press with a forstner bit remove the bulk of the waste and then used a chisel to clean up the edges. To make the tenons, I used a table-mounted router. During the late Renaissance, the mortice and tenons would have been cut by hand using planes, chisels and saws.

After joining the base, I built and attached the seat. Since very wide boards are difficult to obtain and prone to warp, I joined two boards using several dowels. Then following the example of the original chair, I joined the top to the aprons using pegs. After assembling the top, I routed the edge moulding using a round-over bit. On the original piece, this would have been done using a scratch plate or a moulding plane.

After the joinery was completed, I used power sanders to remove any tool marks. In period, this would have been done using planes and scrapers.

The subject of stains and finishes is problematic. There are frequent references to varnish in Il Libro dell'Arte (circa 1437) by Cennino D'Andrea Cennini, but whether it was used on furniture is speculative. In On Divers Arts (early 12th century), Theophilus writes of reddening doors with a mixture of ground minium or cinnabar and linseed oil, however this is an almost singular reference to stain. Most likely, the dark patina we see on existing furniture is due to hundreds of years of dirt, oxidation, and re-applied post-period finishes, not as the result of a stain. If furniture was treated at all, it was probably with a combination of oil and/or beeswax. I have applied linseed oil, a product of the flax plant.

 

References

Alberti, Leon Battista. De re aedifacatoria. 1450. Translated by Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor as On the Art of Building in Ten Books. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996.

Amman, Jost and Sachs, Hans. The Book of Trades (Ständebuch), originally published 1568. New York: Dover Publications, 1973.

Cennini, Cennino D'Andrea. Il Libro dell'Arte, circa 1437. Translated by Daniel Thompson as The Craftsman's Handbook. New York: Dover Publications, 1960.

Chinnery, Victor. Oak Furniture, the British Tradition. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors' Club Ltd., 1984.

Da Vinci, Leonardo. Il Codice Atlantico, circa 1480.

Theophilus, On Divers Arts, Early 12th Century. Translated by John G. Hawthorne. New York: Dover Publications, 1979.