Type 2A - Folding Stools

From Wayne's Dusty Box of Words
Simple Folding Stool (author)

Type 2A contains the simple folding stools. They are constructed of two identical leg assemblies intertwined and pinned through their centers. They are bound at the top and the bottom. The bottom serves as the foot and is frequently beveled to provide a solid base. The top binding on this type is too low to function as an armrest, it's just structural. The seat is made of small boards, one for each leg board, that pivot on one leg and is beveled to lay against the other side and are pinned through their centers. The result is simple, lightweight and sturdy. There are numerous examples surviving from the 15th Century onward and sufficiently clear depictions for reconstruction purposes from 14th Century onward.

Most of these stools are symmetric (or close to it) in that the width between the feet is the same as the top rails (almost always too low to be called armrests). This provides a very stable seat though one without the support one might want for the back or to lean to one side. This lack of support probably drove the creation of the Type 2B.

The number of leg slats and their widths vary. The most common number of leg boards is 4 per side. If the number isn't 4, it's usually 7 or 9 though, given the dubious knowledge of woodworking displayed by some 14th Century artists, it’s hard to read too much into that.

Livre des proprietes des choses (Le) (Paris, Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève, ms. 1028) 1380-1395

Surviving examples are all hardwood, which is no surprise as it's much more durable over the long run. However, with sufficient care taken for material selection, these could be made from softwoods as well. Trading longevity for reduced weight.

The type of the top/bottom rails also varies. Some are simple boards with the same dimension as the leg and seat pieces. In other examples, they are thicker and are carved or turned.

To the right we see a somewhat typical example from the late 14th Century France.

“Book Dealing in Brief of the Emperors", David Aubert. Vol I Folio 13V c. 1401-1500

We also see them in two variations. One as above in Figure 1 where the leg boards are oriented on their width front to back on the chair. The other variation is where the boards are perpendicular to that, as shown here at the left.

Stools using the leg boards on the flat will have fewer boards for legs, 3 or 4 are common. To make up the thickness for a useful stool (about 12”), stools with legs oriented on the narrow side will have more legs, 6 to 8 are common.

Note that the boards are cut down so the mortise into the arms and feet are square. This orientation is much stronger and a good choice if you will be using a softwood such as pine or fir. Since the boards are oriented edge-wise, you’ll need at least twice the number of legs/seat parts to make a chair of the same depth. So, if it’s not pine, it could be a lot heavier.


Seating is along the X.

Practical Matters:
Folding Stool by the author c.2019

That simple nature of the chair requires a minimal tool and skillset to produce no doubt contributes to its popularity both in period and in the SCA. You can use a common thickness and width for all the parts. In fact, except for the feet and “arms”, they all must be the exact same width. Simple mortise and tenon joinery connect the legs to the top and bottom rails.

The seat boards are beveled on the ends to match the profile of the leg assemblies when unfolded. You need 4 dowels or iron pins of sufficient length to pass through all the boards to serve as pivot points. Illustrations feature showy knobs on the ends of these. There isn’t any real back to front tension on these pin ends, you just need to keep them the end seat boards from falling out.

Construction Notes:

I have now made 3 variations of this form: a basic form to explore the geometry of the folding mechanism, then one with octagonal arm and foot rails and finally one with turned arm rails. I'll discuss each in turn.

Detail from the Twelve Apostles Altar at Stadtkirche St. Jakob, Rothenburg ob der Tauber by Friedrich Herlin (1466)

In almost all period illustrations, the stool is a minor prop at best and quite small in the scene limiting the potential for useful details. In the earlier images, you can't really count on either perspective or details to be very accurate. In the later period, we do have one exception. The image to the right clearly shows that the stool is made with pinned mortise and tenon joints. This is the logical joint for this sort of work, so that's what I used in these stools. But it's nice to have some evidence that I'm on the right path.

Period glues were all animal hide-based glue and not waterproof even when cured. But, if you drawbore and pin the joint, you don't need glue at all. That's an especially effective joint for wood that's green, as the drying process actually tightens the joint. Since I was using dry wood and 2-part epoxy, I didn't bother to pin these examples. Perhaps the next set.

Basic Version:

The lead photo on this page is my take on the basic folding stool.

This is the most simple version and the one we see most often reproduced in the SCA. It is an example of the edge on variation (the leg boards are oriented edge-on as viewed from the front). Stools of this variation have 3-5 legs per side in the illustrations I have found thus far. Stools of the face-on variation usually have more legs to make up for the narrower contribution to the seat depth this provides.

Step by Step details for the first prototype

Take the above link if you want the gory details.

Eydis's Maple and Purpleheart (2019)
Maple and Purpleheart Version:

This one was a variation of the first prototype. Eydis wanted one and of course, it had to be purple. I didn't have enough Purpleheart in stock to make the whole thing purple, but white and purple are the colors of her arms, so I went with that and the result is maple and purpleheart.

The other change I made in the name of a studier stool was larger arms/feet. Octagonal feet with faces of 3/4" had the advantage of perpendicular mortises and resting easily on the ground. Otherwise, the process was basically the same.

Step by Step details for the second prototype

Turned Arms Version:

For this variation, I wanted something that was more faithful to what I see in the period illustrations. About half of them have the leg boards in the edge-on orientation of the first two prototypes, the rest have this face-on orientation. So I wanted to try that. Using the wider boards gives the stool that gothic architectural feel. This would require more legs to make up the depth of the stool to give that minimal 12" seat.

Another change was the arms. Many, if not most of the stools in the period illustrations have turned arms. This is new territory for me, I have a lathe, but haven't used it in a project to date. So this seemed like a good time to dust it off and figure out how to make two regular cylinders.

The feet are another area of change. In most illustrations, they just aren't very clear. So I came up with a shape that made sense and looked like something in the pictures. I later found a picture of an extant Type 2E chair that has this exact profile, so I am going to score that a win.

Step by Step details for the round armed stool

Common Terms: Scissor Chair, Folding Stool, prekestoel (Dutch), Scherenstuhl (German), Faldestoel (German)

Side Note:
High Arm Folding Stool

Occasionally you will see a depiction of one of these stools where the leg assemblies continue to be straight but extend well above the seat line. A high arm version. As we see at the right.

This has two positive effects: the top rails are now at a good height for use as armrests and the seat is wider. This seems to be a good thing until you consider the one downside, in order to keep the seat at a reasonable height, the feet are now much closer together than the arms. And the arms are far to the sides. So, if you lean to the left or right you will discover that this is Bad.

While there's almost no way to sit a regular Type 2A stool that will not bring you to misfortune, leaning too far to one side or the other in these taller versions will dump you out. The seats also tend to be a little higher which also reduces stability in the back/front direction.

Having spent some time with a reproduction of this variation, I would recommend against creating this taller version. People who might be drawn to the wider seat tend to be…less nimble and therefore not able to safely exit the chair when it tips you out. This won't win people to admire your excellent craftsmanship.

The solution to this problem is the Type 2D (Savonarola) chairs (see below). By making the leg members an S shape, you can bring the sides up to arm height while keeping them close to the width of the feet maintaining stability.

Gallery of Period Illustrations and Extant Examples
Gallery of Period Illustrations and Extant Examples

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