This chair, the Gustav Stickley No. 369 Morris chair is one of the most iconic of his designs. I like it when complex things can be simplified, but I seem to like it more when something that appears simple at first glance is actually a combination of complex parts that require a certain sequence of assembly. Look at the picture at right of an original chair for a few minutes and think about how you would put it together. If you click on it, a larger version will appear, as will all the pictures here.
The arm is a focal point, and a bit of a puzzle. It appears to be bent, but that is too tight a turn to make by steambending, and if the two parts were mitered together, there would be an obvious joint that wouldn’t be very strong. Hmmmmm. There is a through mortise both front and back and if both of those aren’t the right size and the right shape and in the right location one of two things will happen; the chair won’t go together or if it does go together it will look like hell. So let’s assemble the legs, the horizontal rails and the vertical slats first, so we have something to fit the arm to.
That will give us time to think about the arm while we work on the easy part. Once again, what looks like the tricky part at first glance, the upper rail, turns out to be the easy part when we get started. One subtle appearing detail, the slight front to back slope of the lower rail sets off a chain reaction. That means the mortises for the slats are at an angle too. Which means that the vertical slats have angled shoulders on the tenons. That means each slat is a different length. You barely notice the angle. I missed it at first, as I mentioned in the guest blog I wrote for the official SketchUp blog about how I go about making a working plan from a photograph. I love puzzling these things out, first when developing the plan and especially in solid wood in the shop.
In the shop, there isn’t any “Undo” button that can make solid wood reappear after a lapse in judgment. Nice wood is too valuable to waste, but available time is even more precious.There never will be enough time to build everything I want to build. I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want to spend my time putzing around with the tool collection or doing things the hard way so I can say “it’s about the journey, not the destination”. This stuff is a lot a work, and I could use a nice comfy chair to sit in at the end of the day. I want it to be right, but I also want it right away.
“Process oriented” woodworkers miss the thrill of finding the easy way out of challenging situations. That’s the best part of woodworking for me; the moment when I smack myself in the forehead as I realize that there is a simple, straightforward way to do most things. That realization changes the things that seemed way beyond my abilities into tasks that are now manageable. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a journey. I still have to be careful, think things through and do the best I can.
But I’ve been on enough journeys to know that if I’m headed from Cincinnati to the beach in California, I don’t want to walk all the way. There are definitely places to slow down and enjoy the ride, but I’ll put on the cruise control to get across Kansas so I have time to slow down when I get to the Rocky Mountains. But I’m not going to linger in the mountains if there are poblano peppers stuffed with crab at the end of the road. It’s about the enjoyable parts of the journey.
So back to the Gustav Stickley No. 369 Morris Chair. It’s one of the projects in my new book “Classic Arts & Crafts Furniture: 14 Timeless Projects”. The book is a compilation of some of the project articles I’ve written over the last nine years for Popular Woodworking Magazine. Gustav Stickley had a few tricks up his sleeve when he designed most of the pieces in the book more than 100 years ago. I have a couple of tricks up mine if you like to build this kind of stuff for yourself.
Building a Morris Chair is a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s a great journey, a great destination and an ongoing reward. And it’s a journey you may repeat when the people (and the cats) you live with get tired of you chasing them out of “your chair”. The good chair.