Esherick Three Legged Stool #4: Stretchers Design and Joinery

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Blog entry by Tom posted 09-30-2020 12:43 PM 333 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Leg Turning and Seat Mortising Part 4 of Esherick Three Legged Stool series Part 5: Shaping the Seat and Assembly »

The Esherick stool has a simple stretcher shape that is easily turned on the lathe. They are joined into the legs at three different heights to avoid interference of the through mortises. Many of the regular stools that I studied used stop mortises on the stretchers, but most of the pictures for the Esherick stool seem to have through mortises with wedged tenons, so that is how I did mine.

I checked the distance between the legs at the stretcher height and decided that I would turn them longer than required. On my stool, I turned the stretchers to 18” long. I will turn the tenon ends extra long and trim them after they are fitted to the legs. I turned the fat part of the stretcher to about 15/16” diameter. The tenons are 5/8” diameter. Again, this is probably heavier than Esherick’s design, so you may want to go thinner if you are more daring. I turned the shape by eye, making sure the tenons were turned back far enough to fit between the legs.

One thing I actually struggled with was turning the stretcher tenons. The leg tenons are bigger and they had a nice fit in the seat mortise. But I had more trouble hitting the size for the stretcher tenons, I tended to turn them smaller diameter than I wanted. I had to scrap one of the stretchers because I turned the tenon down too far. So take more care with that if you are a rank amateur like me.

Next I had to bore out the through mortises in the legs. I really gave this a lot of thought, considering jigs and tools. This is what I did. First I located the center of the hole at the appropriate height. I started with the middle stretcher located 8.5” from the foot which is the center of the fat part of the leg. With the stool upside down on the bench, I measured down from the foot and marked the height on each leg.

Then I located the horizontal location on each leg so that the mortises were centered and in alignment. I used a folding rule with an extendable thickness gauge that was pinched between the extreme points on each leg at the stretcher height. Note that I am not taking a measurement, I am only trying to locate the high spot on each leg so that my holes are centered on the leg and in alignment. This may be overkill, but it worked well for me. This particular folding rule in the picture has fairly stiff joints and I could snugly fit it between the legs and mark the horizontal location. You can use some sort of pinch rods as well.

I marked each point with an awl, then I drilled a small pilot hole with a drill while carefully holding the drill in alignment with the mortise location on the second leg. The pilot hole has to go all the way through the leg. Then I drilled the pilot hole in the second leg. I used a power drill which worked great. You can also use an egg beater drill if you want to be unplugged, but you have to be very careful to stay in alignment. I found it was quick and easy with the hand drill.

The pilot hole will help to orient the leg in the vise and locate and guide the auger bit from both sides of the leg. You need some sort of pin in the pilot hole to orient the leg in the vise so that the pilot hole is vertical for boring. I used a machinist awl that had a gentle taper and I could wedge it in the hole. The awl handle has straight sides to reference the square. The pictures will probably explain it better.

Once the leg is positioned in the vise, its a simple matter to vertically bore the mortise half way on one side. Then flip and position the leg again with the awl, and bore out the rest from the other side. This gives two clean entry holes on each side and the pilot hole helps to guide the auger and keep it aligned. I used a sharp 5/8” auger to match the tenons.

I repeated this process for each stretcher. My stretchers heights are 1.5” apart, so 7”, 8.5” and 10” from the base of the foot. As I completed each stretcher, I dry assembled to confirm it was staying in alignment. If you have snug joints, there won’t be much flexibility in the assembly. Also, the assembly needs to be teased together due to the converging angles, so you need to take your time to avoid over stressing the joints. I numbered each joint on masking tape to keep track of the matching locations. They are fairly interchangeable, but I did tweak a couple with sandpaper to get a good fit. Also, I did have one or two that were not as snug as I would have preferred.

Next I will shape the seat, prepare for the wedging and glue up the assembly.

-- Tom

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