Esherick Three Legged Stool #3: Leg Turning and Seat Mortising

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Blog entry by Tom posted 09-28-2020 07:10 PM 443 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Dimensions and Techniques Part 3 of Esherick Three Legged Stool series Part 4: Stretchers Design and Joinery »

Esherick often used contrasting woods for the leg assemblies and the seat. I will do the same on mine. For the legs and stretchers, I am using oak turning blanks from the home center. Yes, they are pricey, but they are clear, straight grain and you don’t need much wood for this project.

For the seat, I am using a piece of wood that is a little bit special to me. When my uncle passed away, I found what appeared to me to be a 2” thick, large square blank of walnut in his workshop. It is perfectly clear grain and 16” square. I have no idea for what he intended it to be used. He was not really a woodworker, but he did like to build simple things. I can only imagine he was going to make an end table top or something like that. Anyway, it has been hanging around my shop for a couple years and I decided that it would make a nice stool seat. After working with the wood a bit, I actually think it is some sort of mahogany.

I will start with the leg turning. It is only three legs and it is a simple turning, which is great for me because I have limited experience on the lathe. These are the dimensions that I will shoot for. You can push the limits and go thinner if you are more daring than me.

Overall finished length: 27”
Turned tenon length: 3”
Tenon diameter: 15/16”
Foot diameter: 7/8”
Leg diameter at stretcher: 1-3/8”
Center of leg diameter at stretcher from foot: 8.5”

I first turn the tenon to 15/16” diameter and check it with a mechanics wrench. I then turn the diameter for the foot to 7/8”. I then work by eye to turn the leg shape from the thickest diameter at the stretchers to each end. I leave a thin shoulder at the seat so that the legs fit to the same depth. The 3” tenon gives some extra for trimming after everything is fitted. Here is a picture of the leg turning in process to give a bit more insight. I think my legs are still on the heavy side compared to Esherick’s which are borderline spindly. But I decided to stay conservative and on the safe side from a stability standpoint. I think it is good to push the limit here to get the best look possible. Taking off a little bit more can make a significant difference in the look and move it from looking thick to thin.

I am using a lathe for my legs, but you can also make these on a shaving horse or at the bench with a drawknife and spokeshave if you want to stay unplugged. I think the powered lathe is fun though.

With the legs turned, I move over to the seat mortises. Laying out the mortises is fairly simple on the underside of the seat. I find the center of my stock and draw a circle with the compass. On mine, the radius is about 5-1/2”. You might consider moving that in a bit tighter to get a more slender appearance to the stool.

This next part is difficult to explain. My piece of stock is fairly straight grained. I wanted to avoid having two mortises on the same grain line. In fact, I wanted the grain to run out of alignment with the mortises to give a more lively appearance. So I chose a point on the circle about 30 degrees from the perpendicular at the side of the piece and marked off three equidistant points for the mortises with the dividers. I actually marked off six steps and chose every other one. Now the grain runs out of alignment with any two mortise holes. From each of those three points, I draw sight lines to the center point of the circle.

Next I bore the holes with a brace and bit. I like the standard auger bit because the spurs help to cut a clean entry hole, even at the 10 degree angle. I am cutting a straight mortise and tenon without any taper. So I need to cut as precisely as possible and stay square and in alignment with the angle on the sight line. I use a bevel gauge set at 10 degrees and set along the sight line. I also use a square to continually check for vertical alignment. 15/16” is a pretty big bit, so I only take a couple turns at a time and I keep checking my bevel and square. If I am off, I back out half a turn and adjust. I keep boring from the underside of the seat until the guide screw pokes out of the top. Then I flip and finish from the other side, being careful to set the reciprocal angle from the top.

Then I fit the legs to the mortises. They are a snug fit, so I make small adjustments by sanding the tenons with course sandpaper until they fit up well. Since I am not tapering the mortise and tenons, I do not have any adjustment, but being careful with the boring gives pretty good results. On mine, the distance between the feet are 17” +/- 0.25”, which is close enough for a good look.

Next up is turning and fitting the stretchers…

-- Tom

2 comments so far

View kaerlighedsbamsen's profile


1349 posts in 2636 days

#1 posted 09-29-2020 06:27 PM

Well written and informative blog, have enjoyed reding so far. Keep up the good work

-- "Do or Do not. There is no try." - Yoda

View BigMig's profile


521 posts in 3536 days

#2 posted 09-29-2020 09:34 PM

Fun project Tom. Wish I had a lathe. Thanks for posting. Can’t wait to see upcoming installments

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

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