I hadn’t realised, when I wrote about Ai Weiwei’s Bang in my last post, that traditional three-legged Chinese stools had featured in Popular Woodworking a few years ago. Thanks to Mike for commenting and alerting me to the articles.
At the end of the piece on Ai Weiwei, I’d said how much I liked the design of three-way stretcher and added that I might make such a stool for the workshop. So it was extremely useful to have a warning that these stools aren’t as easy as they look.
I started by making a full size drawing for a stool with a final height of around 10 inches (top of seat above floor) and a 10º splay to the legs. This is around half the height of those in Ai Weiwei’s installation but I reckoned it would be big enough for any constructional difficulties to become apparent.
First I made the three way stretcher, leaving each of the pieces over length. This is straightforward mortise and tenon joinery, complicated only by the fact that angle at which the stretchers meet is 60º.
Then I marked out and cut the tenons at the peripheral ends of the stretchers. The popular woodworking articles say that these tenons need to be angled so that they point at the imaginary centre of the equilateral triangle that the stretchers make. I have to say that, although I followed this suggestion, I’m not completely convinced that it’s necessary. Would a Chinese carpenter making a utilitarian bit of furniture have gone to the trouble to do that?
Obviouusly, the marking out also needs to allow for the fact that the legs are splayed and don’t meet the stretchers at right angles.
Next I marked and chopped out the mortises in the legs, and fitted legs and stretchers together. It was only at this point that I noticed that each of the three legs and each of the three stretchers were identical to one another. Had I tumbled to this fact earlier, marking out would have been easier.
I’ve only got a baby-sized lathe, so I couldn’t make a round seat. Foolishly, I made it octagonal instead. It’s not a disaster but hexagonal would surely have been a better shape for something with 3 legs.
Here’s the stool assembled dry.
And here, after gluing and cleaning up.
I painted it with a warm grey undercoat, top coated with a flat white eggshell and finally cut it back with fine wet and dry paper to give it a slightly distressed look.
The stool is strong, stable and light but, at this size, not much use for anyone but a young child. However, I’ve learnt how to build one and I shall make the next twice the height.
Click on thumbnails below for larger versions of the photographs.