I spent this past week taking a staked chair furniture making class at Lost Art Press with Brendan Gaffney. This is the second furniture making class I’ve taken there and both have been amazing.

The class was five days, so I want to jot down some notes while they’re still fresh in my mind so that I can build a similar chair like this in the future.

Day 1

The first day we spent doing a lot of preparation work for the rest of the week. Brendan had already prepped the pieces of wood we would need for the class, which he said took 6 hours to do.

The pieces we had were:

  • Two 18” x 9” boards (for the seat)
  • Five 14” 0.75” octagonal spindles (to connect seat to crest)
  • Five 18” x 1.25” octagonal legs (to connect seat to ground)
  • One 15” x 4” block of wood (crest)

Prepping the seat

The first thing we did was glue together the two 18” x 9” boards to form the seat of our chair. We started by figuring out how we wanted the grain of the wood to look. I think the majority of the students put them together so that the trunk-side faced the grown and the grain formed a smiley face. After figuring that out, we drew a triangle across the two pieces so that we knew which way they’d fit together and then planed down the two sides that would touch so that they were flush together throughout.

I found that using a smoothing plane was the easiest way to do this since its surface covered the entire length of the side and I could take full strokes with it.

To determine if the wood is flush, we can put the two sides that will be glued on top of eachother and rub them back and forth from the front to the back. If there is a lot of friction there, we know we have a good surface to work with. If we are able to “rock” any of the pieces left to right, then there is a dip on one of them. To determine which board has the dip, move the top board halfway off to one of the sides and see if we can still rock it. If we can, then that means the dip is on the bottom board. If we can’t, move the top board so that the other half is hanging off the opposite end and see if it still rocks. If it doesn’t, then the dip is on the top piece of wood.

Once those surfaces are flush, put glue on both sides and clamp them together. Remove any “squeeze out” with water and a toothbrush once the clamps are secure.

Making our template

We made a seat template out of a 18” x 17.25” x 0.25” piece of plywood to determine where to cut out our seat and drill holes for the legs and spokes.

We started by drawing a line down the center of the template. We then measured a point 14” from the bottom and measured 16.25” across the entire board and marked both ends of this. These two points are where the front-most crests will end and I will refer to them as Points A further down this post. After those points are marked, we can draw a straight line from them to the front corners of our template. These are the sides of our chair.

After that we measured a point 2.5” up from the bottom, marked it, and then measured two points 6” on either side of the center line and marked those. These two points will be where we drill in our front legs.

Then we measured a point 12.25” from the bottom on that center line and marked out 4.5” on either side of that. These two points where be where the back legs go.

Finally, we marked a point 13.25” from the bottom on that center line and marked a point there. This will be where the back most leg is drilled in. This leg is optional, and David, one of the other students in the class, decided to omit this leg and make a four legged chair which turned out fine.

Cool, now we know where the sides of our chair are and where the five legs will go.

Using a fairing stick, we created the front-most arch of the chair by connecting Points A with a curved angle whose top was centered 15.75” from the bottom of the chair. We moved the top of the fairing stick up 1.5” and connected points 3” from the center on either side. This is the back most arch of the chair.

Finally, we made a mark 15.75” from the bottom of the chair and 2.5” out in either direction and drew a straight line from them to the points we marked for the back arch. This point creates the connection between the front arch on the back of the chair with the back arch.

Now that we have all the points and sides marked out, we have one final thing to do which is marking our sightlines for the legs. For the front legs, we draw a straight line from our marks to a a point 7.25” up the center line. For our back legs, we draw a straight line from our marks to a point 7.75” up the center line.

Once that was done, we cut out the template using a table saw and drilled holes where we marked our leg holes.

Completed Staked Chair Seat Template - Includes leg holes, sightlines, spindle holes, leg angles

Day 2

Our seats had completely dried by the second day, so we removed the clamps holding them together and made sure everything turned out correctly. If it had glued unevenly for any reason, now would be the time to plane down the seat to get a nice, flat surface throughout.

Cut out seat from template

Now that we have a nice flat surface throughout our 18”x18” board, we can position our template on top of it and trace around it and then cut it with a table saw to create our seat.

Plane front and sides of seat

With the body of our seat cut out, we can now shape to be more “seat-like” by creating angles on the sides and front of the seat. There is some room for creativity during this. I decided to make my sides and front have flat angles to give them a crisper feel but we could also round the edges if we want.

We used a square to draw lines one inch from the bottom corner on the front and sides of the chair which served as guides for how far to plane down. Then we put the seat in a clamp and used a block plane to remove the excess wood until we got to those lines. When that was done, we made a final pass using a smoothing plane.

Remember, the bottom of our seat is “bark-side-down” meaning the grain of the wood should be making a smiley face towards us.

If we wanted to go round, then use a block plane and make more passes on the tops and bottoms of our angles.

Planeing the front of our seat

Drill legs mortises

The next step is to drill our mortises for our legs. Lay our template down over our seat and put a bradawl through the holes we drilled to mark where our legs will go and the tips where our sightlines go. Connect the leg holes to the appropriate sightline on the seat.

Using a brace, 1/2” auger bit, a bevel, and a boring buddy, line up our auger bit so that it is parallel to our sightline and the angle of our bevel and drill down into the seat. Our job is to make sure the auger bit is aligned left to right with our sightline and our boring buddy’s job is to make sure it maintains parallel to the angle on our bevel.

Reaming our leg holes

Once the mortises have been drilled with our brace, use a large standard reamer to perfect where the leg will go. Use a non-tapered “dumby” leg to check the angle with our bevel as we ream.

TODO: Find our the exact angles of the front and back legs to share here.

Cutting our leg mortises with a brace

Day 3

Preparing our legs

To make the legs for our chair, we planed them down and put them in a 1/2” tapered tenon cutter. Just plane and shave, plane and shave until the tenon of the legs pokes through the reemed holes we drilled earlier.

Once the tenons are poking through, we will mark a line parallel to the front of the chair for our wedges. We will also draw a line around where our legs are poking out on the bottom of the seat so we know how far down to saw on that line. We should saw about 3/4 of the way down. It is also important to number our legs and corresponding holes to make sure we are putting them back in the right order.

We then put our legs in a vice and saw down the middle of our tenons where we will hammer in our wedges.

Legs in seat

Making our wedges

Using a table saw, cut out some wedges to be put in our legs. They should be the width of our mortise hole on the top of the chair.

Glueing our legs

Now that our legs are prepared, it’s time to glue them in. We apply a layer of glue to the tenon and inside of the mortise on our seat, put the leg in, and then give it a few hammers to secure it. Make sure the cuts where our wedges go are still parallel to the front of our seat.

Inserting our wedges

Apply glue to both sides of the wedges we created, line them up with the hole we sawed in our tenon and hammer it in!

Clean up

Now that our legs are glued and wedged in, use water and a toothbrush to wipe off any excess glue that came out from our parts and let the glue settle in the chair.

Wedged Legs

Day 4

Drawing our spindle holes

Using the template that we made earlier, we marked the points for our spindles. We first measured a point 14” from the bottom and marked out spots 4.25” to the left and right of it. Then we measured 14.75” 14.75” from bottom and marked another point. Finally, we marked two points 16.5” from bottom and 2” on the left and right sides. We drilled through these points on our template and marked them on the seat in pencil.

Preparing the crest

The crest of our chair is going to have five spindles attaching it to the seat. So we are going to drill five holes into it.

Before doing that, adjust the surface of your table saw to be on a slight angle and cut across the long edge of your crest. The widest bottom of the board will be the bottom of your crest and the narrower top will be the top. This slight curve in the crest will allow your back to lay comfortably on the back of the chair.

Now we can mark out where we are going to drill our holes for our spindles.

Start by marking a spot directly in the center of the crest for the middle spindle. From there, use a straight edge to mark out two points 4 3/8” on either side of the center. Finally, mark out a point 2.5” from the last holes you drew for a total of five holes.

Drilling our spindle holes

Now that we know where our holes on the seat and crest go, we can drill through the crest. This is probably the most technical and challenging part of building this chair.

In order to do this correctly, we braced three dividers that were about 3/4 the length of our spindles (sorry, I didn’t get the exact measurements). Once this was setup correctly, we braced a piece of wood underneath the crest where we were going to drill our first hole to prevent any blowout.

Then we lined up the drill. The driller is responsible for making sure they are correctly lined up left and right so that the hole in the crest lines up with the point on the seat underneath. A boring buddy and guide stick is used to make sure the angle between the crest and seat are aligned.

After drilling through the crest, get out a 1/2” long drill bit, put it through the hole in the crest that was just drilled, and drill it into the seat of the chair above 1/4” in.

Do this for all five legs. The spindles closest to the center seemed to be the most difficult to align but everyone in the class did a great job getting it right.

Setting up dividers Boring buddy

Preparing our spindles

We started out doing a very manual process for our spindles that required planing down our pieces and twisting them into a 1/2” hole in a block of wood. We eventually switched back to using our tenon cutters with the blade pulled out slightly so that it would produce a straight 1/2” hole two inches down the spindle.

Make sure everything is fitting correctly by putting the spindles in the crest and in the holes in the seat that you cut out. The spindles should go through the crest of the chair and stick out slightly. When they are positioned in there, use a pencil and draw a line parallel to the front of the seat for the wedges and number them, just like we did for our legs. Then trace around the spindles underneath the crest of the chair.

Once that’s done, remove the spindles and saw them down the wedge lines we drew about 3/4 of the way to the bottom of the crest line. Do that for all five spindles.

Fitting spindles

Glueing our spindles

Now that our spindles are ready, we blue them up and reassemble them like we had them before sawing slits for our wedges. Make sure that spindles are put back in the same way they were originally.

Once the are inserted, glue up your wedges and hammer them into the tops of the spindles.

Day 5

Cutting the legs

Now that the chair is all glued up, the final carpendry to do is to cut the legs so they’re flush to the floor. Because we want a front legs to be slightly higher than the back to give some comfort, we put two 1” to 1.5” blocks underneath the front legs.

Then we will use a level to measure the floor. Despite trying our best, sometimes the floor is not actually level, so this step is important. Once we check that, put the leveler on top of the seat and make sure that it matches the floor. If not, put some wedges underneath legs until it is even with the floor.

With that done, we put a flat pencil on a 2” block of wood and trace around the legs to get a flat line perpendicular to the floor. This is where we will make our cuts.

Placing a leg in a vice, saw through the legs along the lines we just drew. I found it a lot easier to orient the line on the leg so that it ran perpendicular to the floor in the vice so that I could make I wouldn’t have to angle the saw weird.

Once the legs have been cut, use a file to soften the bottoms of the legs to prevent tearout when moving the chair around your floor at home.

Finishing up

Make the final passes on the piece using some fine grit sandpaper around all the edges of the chair.

We finished our chair with a mixture of beeswax and other polish. Apply a thin coating to the entire chair, let settle for about a half hour, and then wipe over with a cloth to get any of the excess finish off.

Chair with stain

Conclusion

I had another amazing time participating in a furniture making class at Lost Art Press. I think that the five days was worth it and I walked away with a great experience and a deeper knowledge and understanding of hand tools and woodworking.

I was able to find an article that Brendan wrote in Popular Woodworking about him making his chair. Check it out here.

Class photo