Spiffing up your Campsite...

On making a

16th Century

German Faldestoel

by

Charles Oakley, Esq.

Gentle Lords and Ladies,

On the cover of this document is a copy of a photograph of the extant 16th century German Faldestoel from which my copy (pictured to the right of this text) was constructed.

The original models I made were constructed out of "1 by"

pine lumber for purposes of economy both in the construction and in the prototyping. Since that time, several have been constructed from oak lumber. The difference, other than cost, lies in the reduced flexablily of the lumber. While I have found the pine versions to be perfectly serviceable under most conditions, when the faldestoel is placed on a concrete or tile floor the feet of the stool have a tendency to "walk apart" a bit. This situation is not particularly noticeable on grass or carpet. While none of the stools I have made have ever failed... even under my weight in armor (and I currently displace something north of 200 lbs....without the armor) I have found that the extra expense of oak, for both appearance and stability, worth the extra cost. However... I would recommend making your first one from pine for ‘prototyping’ purposes. A pine stool should cost less than $5.00.... and less if you are adept at scrounging materials. This is a small price to test your construction skills before investing in oak or some other hardwood.

The Faldestoel

This particular folding stool or faldestoel is not particularly unique in history. Folding stools are represented throughout history and as far back as third millennium B.C. in Egypt. Examples can be found in Cretian and Mycenaean artwork and the sella curulis (folding stool) was spoken of as the ‘seat of honor’.

"In the Aenied (from c. 20 B.C.) Romulus, when acting officially, was seated on his sella curulis and had another curulis that carried scepter, crown and other regal ensigns, placed next to him for his dead twin brother Remus to indicate their common rule."1 Various denarius (coins) from early Rome are struck displaying the sella curulis replete with helms, wreaths, fasces laureati or other symbols of office.

Folding stools are not actually composed of legs per se. They are, instead, made from two interlocking frames that fold at a pivot point somewhere along the length of the frame. A seat of some type is added. Seats vary from leather or cloth slings suspended between the frames or by interlocking boards that are integral to the structure itself.

Frames may be simple or complex in their formation. The example to the left is an early 13th century faldistorium in walnut. An examination of the picture will show two frames that cross in the center. The frames are made rigid to themselves by the employment of ‘rungs’ at the top and bottom of the legs. A cloth seat is suspended between the two frames by means of attachment to the upper set of rungs.

An interesting note about the this example should be made. If you will note, each ‘leg’ is topped by a carving of a dog’s head. Period manuscripts dealing with coronations of kings are replete with examples these stools. It is not uncommon for the king to be seated on such a stool. bishops and popes are also often seen seated on dog headed folding stools.

But... what this document is interested in are the more complex versions of the simple folding stool... specifically the type displayed on the cover. Although the folding stool in this pamphlet is later period German, examples that are variations on this design can be found from the 13th century onward. Early examples (i.e. Roman empire era and before) do exist however these chairs have some subtle variations to them that make them uniquely different from chairs appropriate to the period of the SCA. Specifically, folding stools of the early period were not to be designed to be sat upon in the same manner we would sit our stools today. The Romans, Greeks, etc. would sit their fold stools as depicted in the picture to the right... in other words... 90 degrees off of the way medieval Europeans... or we today, would sit on such a stool. I can’t find any specific example or other information regarding when the manner of sitting changed but it still stands as an interesting footnote.


1: Sella Curulis - The Folding Stool; Ole Wanscher, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Coppenhagen, 1980; ISBN 87-423--337-0


On Constructing the Folding Stool

The folding stool has six unique parts to it:

  1. The leg
  2. The arm rest
  3. The short leg
  4. The bottom rung
  5. The seat board
  6. Dowel rods

For the purposes of these plans, all wood is assumed to be 3/4" in thickness (the thickness of a standard dimensional inch in modern lumberyards). The dimensions I will give are based on my reconstruction which was based on the photograph of the original chair. The dimensions assume a height from the floor to the top of the seat of 19". As the height from the floor to the back of my knee is 18" this makes for a very comfortable seat. You will find by measuring that most modern chairs tend to have the top of the seat somewhere between 16" and 18" from the floor.

To build the folding stool you will need sufficient lumber to cut the following blank pieces:

4 - Legs (32" x 2 ½")
2 - Arm rests (13" x 1 5/8")
2 - Short legs (25" x 1 ½")
2 - Bottom rungs (5" x 2 3/4")
6 - Seat boards (15 ½" x 1 ½ ")
4 - Dowels (11" x 3/8")

Tenons

The chair contains quite a few mortise and tenon joints. Because I chose to employ power tools in the manufacture of my chairs (yes... I can cut mortise and tenon joints by hand... but after you’ve cut several hundred that way the process tends to lose some of its charm...). To make cutting the mortises and tenons as simple and painless a process as possible I made all tenons 3/8 of an inch in thickness and 1/4" in length. This allowed me to set up a jig to cut them on using a dado blade on a radial arm saw. However... even if you choose to cut your tenons by hand I would suggest standardizing the length and thickness of them... it will facilitate laying them out and help to ensure a more accurate job. (The mortises were cut using a 3/8 hollow chisel mortising attachment for my drill press...)

Step 1: The Legs (4 each)

All four legs are cut exactly alike. Take a piece of material 32" by 2 ½" and lay out pattern as is shown in the illustration. While the decorative cuts at the bottom of the leg are obviously not specific in nature, one inch of material should be removed from the top of the leg to a point somewhere around 20 inches from the top. All legs and seat boards must be cut to the same width... in this case 1 ½". You could make them narrower, say 1 1/4" or wider... say, 15/8"... these changes will not affect the working of the stool just the overall width of the seat and the stool itself. However, because the frames interlace, the width of all legs must be the same regardless of what width you choose.

Once you have cut out the legs, cut a tenon at the top of the leg (the 1 ½" inch end...).

DO NOT BORE THE HOLES YET.... As the placement and alignment of the holes for the dowels is critical to having a chair that opens and closes properly it is recommended that at the proper time all the holes be drilled during a single process where a jig may be used to ensure the accurate placement of the holes.

The Short Legs (2 each)

Take the 25" x 1 ½" pieces and cut a tenon at each end.

The Arms (2 each)

Take the 13" x 1 5/8" pieces and prepare them as is depicted in the next illustration:

Remove the material where the shaded areas are drawn in. Again, the exact shape of the arm rest is not critical and artistic license may be employed here. The important thing is to make sure that there is sufficient room for all of the leg pieces to join into their respective mortises.

Each arm rest is cut exactly alike.

Mortises should be centered on the bottom of the piece and cut the width and length of the tenons you have cut on each leg piece.

Before proceeding to the next step it is helpful to ensure that each of the mortises fit their respective tenons at this point. Dry fitting each piece is recommended.

The Seat Boards (6 each)

At this point the only process that you should perform on the seat boards is to round one end of them...if your working width is 1 ½ " then describe an arc of that diameter at one end of each piece and cut it accordingly. This is a decorative element only.

The Bottom Rungs (2 each)

Each bottom rung (the 5" by 2 3/4" pieces) should have a mortise (1/4" deep by 3/*" wide by 1 ½" long) cut in the top of it. Take care with the grain of the wood so that the grain runs between the legs of the chair and not "up and down".... this will make the piece stronger. The mortise should be centered on one 5" side of the rung.

In addition to this mortise, you should cut two tenons... one on each of the 2 3/4" sides. Again, the tenons should be 3/8" wide and may be the length of the piece. However, given the length of the these tenons, I would trim them so that they are no longer than

1 ½" long. This is a more usable length and will require less mortise work.

Fitting the rungs...

Taking two legs, a short leg and an arm rest, again dry fit these pieces together. Take one of the rung pieces and place it so that the mortise aligns with the tenon on the end of the short leg. Mark where the tenons on the rung lie along the outer legs...

Disassemble the pieces and create mortises in the legs that will align with these marks and receive the rungs... (Note the construction on the example on the cover of this pamphlet...) Test fit the entire assembly.

A discussion about Drilling the holes

To best understand where to drill the holes, I would like to present the basic geometry of an ‘x-chair’. This geometry holds true for all examples of folding stools or chairs that have seats integral to them and that are designed to fold.

If you examine the illustration to the right, you will note that the 4 holes identified as A, B, C and D describe a triangle whose apex (A) lies on a centerline AB and forms the central axis around which the chair folds.

If the distance between AB is equal to the distance between BD and CB then the angle E is 45 degrees. If the distance AB is greater than CB and BD then the angle E will be less than 45 degrees... or, more up and down... (i.e. a narrower chair).

The distances between CB and BD must be equal to each other and the distances between CA and DA must also be equal to each other for the chair to fold properly. Other than that... there is a lot of latitude as to proportion.

Drilling the legs

Now... as for drilling the holes for the stool described in this pamphlet.... as shown in the illustration on page 5, the holes in the legs are drilled 5.75" and 16.25" from the upper end of the legs... these distances include the tenon on the end of the leg (assuming a 1/4" high tenon... naturally, if you use a longer tenon the distances will change). Drill all of the legs exactly alike. I find that setting up a jig on my drill press is extremely useful in this operation. I also recommend using a drill press for this operation as it will ensure that the holes are drilled perfectly vertically through the legs and that all the holes will line up properly when you insert the dowels.

Drilling the seat boards

For the purposes of the stool described in this pamphlet, the holes drilled in the seat board will be at 7 7/8" and 14" from the square end of the seat board (locations B and D on the illustration on the preceding page). Again, use a jig to ensure that all holes are placed accurately and drilled vertically through your material. Drill all six seat boards identically.

Beginning the assembly

At this point you should have completed all of the ‘machining’ operations required to make the stool except for one... this operation will put the angled cuts on the ends of the legs and the seat boards. To do this with some degree of success you must be able to figure out what that angle needs to be and then transfer that angle to your work pieces and... the easiest way to find that angle is to partially assemble your stool.

Take two legs and insert a dowel through them both at hole A. Insert dowels through hole D/C respectively on both of the legs. Put two seat boards on (holes D/C respectively)... make sure that the seat boards are fitted to the outside of the legs... as you haven’t removed the excess material on the square end of the seat board yet it won’t fit flat into place and you need to put a dowel rod through hole B to make this step work....

Now.. If you have managed to decipher the above instructions properly you should have all four dowels placed in their respective holes.... and you should be able to take a pencil and mark on the square end of the seat board where it overlaps the leg. This will also give you the angle you need to remove the excess material on the seat board. All of the seat boards will be cut the same. This is also the same angle you will use at the bottom of each leg so that the stool will sit level on the floor....

Staining and finishing...

At this point in the process I like to add a couple of coats of tung oil to the pieces... be careful not to put any stain or finish on the tenons or into the mortises... this could reduce the glue’s ability to hold. Sand and finish the pieces as you choose.

Proceeding apace...

Once you have finished the cuts... you can begin final assembly. If you have gone throught the process described above for finding the angles then assembly should be reasonably self evident.... the only thing additional steps is adding the bottom rungs and the arm rests. These should be the last pieces added and should be test fitted, adjusted as necessary and then glued and clamped into place.

The final step is to trim the dowel rods... I like to leave about 1/8th of an inch on each side sticking out.... you might want more or less.. You might want to glue ‘buttons" on the ends... its all up to you. I have found that, because of the width of the boards involved I don’t bother doing anything other than trimming the ends... it all seems to work pretty well.

Next day...

With any luck by this time the project should be complete and, after the glue has had 24 hours to set and dry you may remove the clamps from the project.

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