Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

One of the greatest, if not the greatest benefit of joining a local woodworking club or guild is the freely shared knowledge, experience and time. Where else could you find a mentored “class” in making a project from start to finish for $40? Need more reasons to seek out and join a local woodworking club? Keep reading.

The club I belong to, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, recently started what we are calling group builds. As part of these group builds, an experienced member of the club mentors a small group of other members through a project. We typically have several of these going on at a time so that everyone who wants to can get involved. The projects range from small tables, to boxes, to whatever else the membership and mentor(s) desire to build. This past weekend, a small group of us, led by member John Aniano, set out to begin work on one of these projects, a 17th century joint stool.

While this project was chosen before our mentor was aware of the new book by Peter Follansbee & Jennie Allexander, the book was a very valuable guide in our beginning stages as we chose and prepared our “trees”. The version that John and I are making is going to be a copy of an original in the Albany Institute of History & Art. The other members working on the project, Wilbur Pan & Frank Vucolo, have decided to use the original, and the works in the book, as inspiration and put their own spin on it to suit them. This is the great thing about being woodworkers. We don’t have to settle for what the catalogs feed us. We’re free to design and build to our own personal tastes and desires.

So before we could get started, we of course needed to get a tree. You might think that this fact makes a project like this impossible for you to consider, but you might be surprised to find that getting a tree isn’t all that hard to do. While our ancestors had to go out into the woods and cut down the perfect tree, we actually have an easier time. Seek out your local forestry service and ask them about obtaining a permit to cut firewood. In NJ, there is acutally a program where homeowners can cut their own trees down on state land for $20 per cord. There’s no reason you couldn’t use this program to get a log for a project like this. I’m sure there are many states with similar programs, if you just call the forestry service and ask. Another option is to seek out a local tree service. While these folks usually don’t have trees as nice as those from the forrest (tree services are typically removing unwanted or nuissance trees from more populated areas), you can still find some gems from time to time. Call a couple and ask around. You might be surprised at what you can find. A third option is the lumber mill. Many of the mills that saw and dry the lumber we commonly use for our other projects are very happy to sell you a green log. So call a few and ask. Believe me, this stuff isn’t as hard to find as you might think.

In the case of our project, John took us to see a local arborist and tree service owner (lumber sources – another great reason to join a local club). Dan was more than happy to let us stroll through his property and he showed us a nice group of freshly cut red oak that we found to be just right for this project.

Once we had our logs selected, Dan was kind enough to buck them to length with his 3′ chain saw, move them with the Bobcat and split them into quarters for us to make them easier for us to load and unload into Frank’s truck. Even split into quarters, these things were heavy. With 5 soping wet red oak logs, each about 24″ long and 22-26″ in diameter, loaded into Frank’s truck, we made our way back to John’s shop to go through the process of riving the oak down into smaller pieces and talk about next steps like working the leg stock to dimension and planning for a 2 piece top (unfortunately, none of the logs we were able to get was large enough for a one piece top). By the end of the day on Saturday, each of us had a good pile of red oak wedges, ready to be further riven into stock for legs, aprons and stretchers.

At home on Sunday, I took to the task of breaking down the wedges a little further, removing the juvenile wood at the center from the wedges that still had it intact from Saturday, and removing the bark and sap wood. This was really satisfying work and really was much easier than I had anticipated. I have done a bit of riving before, but never in wood that was this nice and well behaved. After working with this oak this weekend, I have a new found respect for it. I was never really a big fan of red oak prior to this, but after riving this stuff out, I have to agree with Follansbee. It is a real pleasure working with nice, straight grained green oak. It split beautifully, easliy and straight, using nothing more than a couple of steel wedges, a froe and a hatchet. After splitting everything down, I managed to split out 6 pieces for legs (I split out extra for when I screw up the turning) and tons of thinner pieces for aprons and lower stretchers. I have so much extra of these thinner pieces that I already have plans to make a couple of Peter’s carved boxes as well. All this from one 2′ section of a log. I’m really beginning to see why Peter likes this kind of woodworking so much. I think I’m really starting to like it as well :).

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11 thoughts on “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree

  1. I’m just now finishing the book, myself. Somewhat providentially, I just picked up some small oak logs on the side of the road, so I’m getting ready to build my own joint stools. I love salvaging logs in the neighborhood. Whenever I hear a chainsaw, I come running.

  2. Here in Maine, most of us have fairly easy access to the logs. I am anxious to see what you are are going to do with the wood. Are you going to build with it green?

  3. Bob,
    I’ve heard of Peter’s new book but haven’t read it. The caption for the last picture said you were getting ready to “seal” the wood. I’m guessing that means sealing the end grain to slow/stop the drying. Am I close? I’ve got a chainsaw but no red oak out here in Utah. Oh well, I hope you continue to enjoy working with that green wood. By the way, any pointers on what to get or avoid in buying a froe? Thanks, Mark

    • Yep. Sealing up the end grain so it doesn’t dry too fast and check badly. Paint, glue, whatever will slow the drying will do. As for the froe, it’s kind of hard to screw them up. Just look for something sturdy that tapers nicely. You want it to taper from top to bottom like a wedge. The Ray Iles is nice if you want new. One of the guys in our group brought one on Saturday and it was nicely made and had a good taper. If I didn’t find the Williamsburg made one first, I’d have gone with the Iles.

  4. Bob,
    Thanks! I’ll look at the Ray Iles froe. I did happen to have a chance encounter with a red oak tree that had fallen over the park road in Chickamauga Natl. Battlefield Park in Georgia. Being the first car in the park that morning and a good citizen, I thought it would be nice to move the tree before others came behind us. Unfortunately, I was unaware of what poison ivy looked like, and well, you can guess the rest of the story. I’ll follow your project with interest. Mark

  5. I just bought over 25′ of about 14″ diameter red oak this weekend for making Windsor chairs. It was great fun splitting and riving the up to 6 foot long pieces. I may have enough extra oak for some bow staves and maybe a joint stool. Besides green wood being much cheaper than dried boards, it is a lot of fun working with it.

  6. Bob. I was a member of the CJWA a few years ago, and haven’t gon in a while. However, after reading this article, and that the club is now doing group builds has peaked my interest again. No better way to learn than to actually do a project. I’m wondering what sort of group builds are going on with the club now? I don’t see the idea mentioned on the CJWA sire anywhere. Anyhow, it sounds like a great idea, and I think I’ll need to attend the next meeting to get some more information. Thanks for mentioning it in the post!

    • Hi John,

      The group builds are a fairly recent thing that started when the new president started his first term last year. To date, there has been one round of three different group builds that have completed which included 3 different projects; group one made a shaker style table, group two did an arts & crafts style table, and group three did (or may be still doing) a wall cabinet. There was a blurb about the builds a couple of months ago on the club web site

      We’re currently beginning the second round with two different groups; ours is doing the 17th century joint stool, and a second group is doing a veneered box. The group builds have been a real hit and a real success for the club and I can only see them improving as time goes on and the minor bugs get worked out of the process. So far though, they have gone very smoothly, gotten a lot of interest (the veneered box group had to have a lottery for participants because too many people signed up), and they’ve been a lot of fun. You should definitely come on back.

  7. Hey Bob, I got started in woodworking about six years ago by taking a windsor chair class. Today, I finished my 19th windsor chair. It is a fan back arm chair for my middle, 3 year old son. I do a lot of riving of both oak and maple. It has been my experience that by using a riving break, it makes riving a whole lot easier. You can use both hands to pull the froe on larger, thicker pieces. A riving break is very easy to make; all you need are some 2×8’s, two pieces of iron pipe (i used galvanized from the home center) and and some screws to make butt joints.
    But that is just my two cents. I haven’t got the book yet, but I am planning on it.

    • Thanks Duane! You’re right, a riving break makes things much easier. I used the split trunks at the base of the magnolia tree in my backyard as a break for some of the splits. For the most part though, the riving went pretty easy on these shorter pieces. For longer stuff, however, like for chair back bows or arm rails, I can definitely see where a riving break would not only be a convenience, but a necessity.

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