The Stick Chair Book by Christopher Schwarz

(Covington: Lost Art Press, 2021), 632

I've wanted to build a chair for awhile, and the opportunity to earn a Stick Chair Merit Badge was the nudge I needed to get started. I used the PDF Excerpt and a bunch of Lost Art Press blog posts to build my first chair. Then I got The Stick Chair Book and read most of it while sitting in my new chair.

The Stick Chair Book is now one of my favorite books: it is a beautiful book in both content and physical construction. I learned a lot and I can't wait to keep referring back to it as I build more chairs. Chris Schwartz tells you how it is and has fun doing so. So get some straight-grain wood and take the tools you have and go build a stick chair!



PDF Excerpt

Helpful Diagrams and Images

  • Chair anatomy (3-5)
  • Common diameters & thicknesses (40)
  • Arm jig (261)

My Favorite Chair Photos

  • 8
  • 240
  • 510
  • 514 (Six-Stick Comb-Back, the next chair I want to build)

Helpful Techniques

  • How to lay out octagons (175)
  • Cut octagons on the table saw (181)
  • Drill a 5/8" hole as your target for shaping the tenons (190)
  • Burnish your sticks with shavings (293)
  • Put glue on the top of a crack and vacuum on the bottom to suck the glue into the crack (362)

Preface: Commonplace Chairs

  • "Stick chairs are a close compromise between nature and the needs of regular people." (1)


  • Don't always follow the conventional wisdom: use any straight-grain wood, it's ok to glue up seats and arms, moisture content isn't a big deal (12)
  • "Vernacular" chairs: "use what you've got and use it to the fullest" (14)
  • Grain is grain, just make sure it's straight (14)
  • Chairs are more forgiving to build than cabinets (18)

Part I: Thinking About Chairs

For Those About to Rock, We Dispute You

  • "Unless you're an astronaut, I think chairs should be wood." (26)

Wood for Stick Chairs

  • If you have the money, get a moisture meter (38)
  • Basically just get straight grain boards and cut out the straightest components from them

Tool Kit for Stick Chairs

  • "Tools can be an immense psychological burden. Every edge tool comes with an obligation to sharpen it, oil it, and store it properly. Plus, I quickly realized that making tools dull is more fun than making tools sharp." (51)
  • Essential tools:
    • Jack plane - vintage Stanley No. 5, blade sharpened at 10" radius
    • Block plane - adjustable mouth, Lie-Nielsen No 60-1/2
    • Corded drill - 1/2" chuck, variable-speed trigger, side handle
    • Spade bits - no screw, surface-ground
    • Bit extender
    • Spokeshaves
    • Band saw - with magnetic task light and good blades (Wood Slicer 1/2")
    • Card scraper
    • Pencil gauge - homemade
    • Mallet
    • Dozuki saw - Gyokucho Razorsaw Dozuki
    • Rasp - half-round, 9"-12" long, #9—#12 grain
    • Sanding block - woven Mirka brand
    • Sliding bevel - butt-locking, Stanley No. 18
    • Divider - Starrett No. 92-6
    • Measuring - tape measure, 6" rule, combination square, yard stick
    • Level
    • Protractor
    • Travisher
    • Scorp/Inshave
    • Also: Moisture meter, Veritas dowel maker, acid flux brushes, Lee Valley Tools universal sharpener

Stick Chairs & Windsors: A Tiny History

The Sticktionary

  • Stick chair: sticks driven into a solid seat

The Black (no Red!) Book of Chairmaking

  • W. Patrick Edwards: "To die with a [woodworking] secret is a sin" (117)

Part II: Chairmaking Techniques

Make & Shape the Seat

  • ~16"x20"
  • Join with loose tenons and peg from the underside
  • Underbevel

Leg-to-Seat Joinery

  • Rake (front to back) and Splay (side to side)
  • ref The Chairmaker's Workshop by Drew Langsner for sightlines and resultant angles (150)
  • Most vernacular chairs have cylindrical mortises and cylindrical tenons rather than tapered ones (158)
  • Tapered mortises and tenons have the advantage of being more forgiving to cut, you can correct the angle while reaming (161)

Make & Tenon the Legs

  • Shape (and taper if you like) your legs with a Jack plane (just wax the sole and have a curved iron)
  • Drill a 5/8" hole as your target for shaping the tenons (190)
  • Cut tenons before tapering the legs (194)
  • Cut ~1 1/2" kerf for wedges (200)
  • Don't worry: "I have yet to see an antique [chair] with perfect legs." (203)

Make the Stretchers

  • Most stick chairs don't need stretchers, it's more a matter of preference (205)
  • Direct drill the stretcher mortises (215)

Arms & Hands

  • Avoid short grain as much as possible in the arm

Check, Check, Check (★)

Drill the Arm & Seat for Sticks

  • "Use the Force"
  • Make an arm jig (261)
  • Backrest: 8º for formal dining, 14º for typical dining/desk, 20–25º for lounging (264)
  • Stick spaced every 2-7/8" to 3"

Make & Shape the Sticks

  • Buy dowels, or buy a Veritas Dowel Maker
  • He uses a fine saw to kerf the sticks rather than a bandsaw (302)

Saddle the Seat

  • Most vernacular chairs have little to no saddle
  • Shallow saddle, about 1/2" deep
  • Lay out the saddle with pencil, or route a shallow rabbet (306)
  • Rough it out with an angle grinder, adze, or scorp (311)
  • Smooth it with a travisher
  • Finish it with a scraper and sandpaper


  • Mostly oak or ash
  • "If there's one thing I learned in graduate school, it's that big words often hide sloppy thinking. Let your work speak for itself." (333)

Gluing Tools

  • modified acid flux brushes and old toothbrushes are your friends

Assemble the Undercarriage

  • glue it up and whack it all together

Assemble the Uppercarriage

  • "Handmade chairs should put up a bit of a fight when you knock them together." (353)
  • Live with your errors: "Mistakes that look huge in the afternoon usually look smaller the next day." (364)

Make the Comb or Backrest

  • The comb is one of the most important aspects of the design (367)

Level the Legs

  • Use Flexi-Felt woven wool pads (396)

Make Pretty

  • One small stamp for each "error" (403)

Chair Finishes (★)

  • re Wood finishing
  • Favorite finishes: linseed oil/beeswax, soap, paint
  • Using cheap/"durable" finishes is like cheap closing: looks great for a little while then have to get rid of it (406)
  • Good brands: Allbäck Linseed Oil Wax, Tried & True Original, Odie's Oil, Heritage BeesBlock, General Finishes Milk Paint
  • "Far East Wales" antique finish (423)

Chair Comfort & Design

  • Seat height is one of the most important considerations (most chairs are too high)
    • 17" for dining/working chair, 15–16" for lounging chair
  • Seat size: 14–16" by 20–24"
  • Armbow height: 8–9"
  • Backrest: 15–20º back, about 22" off the seat
  • Legs:
    • Front: 17º splay and 17º rake
    • Back: 7º splay and 15–20º rake
  • Use whole number ratios (i.e. 3, 2, 3)

Part III: 5 Chair Plans

Simple Irish-y Armchair

Curved Back Armchair

  • "In the Ohio River Valley, American black walnut was once so common that people built frame houses with it (then painted them)." (471)

Lowback Stick Chair

Reconsider Paint

  • use General Finishes Milk Paint: "Lamp Black"
  • Paint can be a way to focus on the design of your chair

Six-Stick Comb-Back

Comb-Back with Bent Armbow

Chairs & Crapitalism

  • What can we do about crap factory chairs? Make our own! (561)
  • "The best way to make the people around you appreciate (or even accept) stick chairs is to build some and put them in your home. Well, that's what I did. Every stick chair around our dinner table is unique. They aren't a matched set. They're made from different woods. Some are painted and some aren't. They all have different forms - tall comb-backs, medium-size comb-backs, a backstool with arms, and lowbacks. None of the chairs looks more important than another." (563)
  • He built "Hobbit chairs" for his kids (that they took to college) (564)


Commonly Asked Questions

2 Finish Recipes

Wood Strength Formulas

Sharpen Chairmaking Tools

  • Before you buy, first try to work with what you have on hand.
  • Avoid grinding chairmaking tools: focus instead on touching up edges after each use (605)

Topic: Woodworking, Chairmaking

Source: Lost Art Press


file:(2022-10-11-The Stick Chair Book)

Created: 2022-06-27-Mon
Updated: 2023-01-07-Sat