By Jennie Alexander & Peter Follansbee
When it comes to exploring the shadowy
history of how 17th-century furniture was built, few people have been as
dogged and persistent as Jennie Alexander and Peter Follansbee.
For more than two decades, this unlikely pair
– an attorney in Baltimore and a joiner at Plimoth Plantation in
Massachusetts – have pieced together how this early furniture was
constructed using a handful of written sources, the tool marks on surviving
examples and endless experimentation in their workshops.
The result of their labor is the new Lost Art
Press book “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree: An Introduction to 17th-century
Joinery.” This book starts in the woodlot, wedging open a piece of green
oak, and it ends in the shop with mixing your own paint using pigment and
linseed oil. It’s an almost-breathtaking journey because it covers aspects
of the craft that most modern woodworkers would never consider. And yet
Alexander and Follansbee cover every detail of construction with such
clarity that even beginning woodworkers will have the confidence to build a
joint stool, an iconic piece of furniture from the 17th century.
Joint stools are a fascinating piece of
British and early American furniture. Made from riven – not sawn – oak,
their legs are typically turned and angled. The aprons and stretchers are
joined to the legs using drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints, no glue. And
the seat is pegged to the frame below. Because of these characteristics,
the stools are an excellent introduction to the following skills.
• Selecting the
right tools: Many of the tools of the 17th century are
similar to modern hand tools – you just need fewer of them. “Make a Joint
Stool from a Tree” introduces you to the very basic kit you need to begin.
• Processing green
oak: Split an oak using simple tools, rive the
bolts into usable stock and dry it to a workable moisture content.
• Joinery and
mouldings: Learn to cut mortises and tenons by hand,
including the tricks to ensure a tight fit at the shoulder of the joint.
Make mouldings using shop-made scratch stocks – no moulding planes
Though some joint stools were decorated with simple chamfers and chisel-cut
details, many were turned. Learn the handful of tools and moves you need to
turn period-appropriate details.
Joint stools are surprisingly durable articles of furniture. Why? The
drawbored mortise-and-tenon joint. This mechanical joint is rarely used in
contemporary furniture. Alexander and Follansbee lift the veil on this
technique and demonstrate the steps to ensure your joint stool will last
400 years or so.
Many joint stools were finished originally with paint. You can make your
own using pigments and linseed oil. The right finish adds a translucent
glow that no gallon of latex can ever provide.
“Make a Joint
Stool from a Tree” is also the long-awaited follow-up to Alexander’s 1978
book “Make a Chair from a Tree,” which has been out of print for many
years. “Make a Chair from a Tree” inspired generations of woodworkers to
pick up hand tools and the skills required to use them. That book was one
of the essential sparks that ignited the resurgence of handwork we are
This new book –
Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” – is sure to inspire many more and give woodworkers
a fuller understanding of how furniture can and should be made with hand
Like all Lost Art
Press books, “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree” is printed in the United
States on acid-free paper with a sewn binding. This 128-page book is in
full color, with more than 200 photos and a dozen illustrations. “Make a
Joint Stool from a Tree” is in an oversized 9” x 12” format, covered in
dark blue cloth and has a full-color dust jacket.