Classic Arts & Crafts Furniture: Best Seat in the House

369_0819This 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.

IMG_9701That 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.

IMG_9582In 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.Bob_369Chair 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.

Plans to build this chair are available as a PDF download or large format prints. When I teach classes for making this chair we use the PDF plans as they show step-by-step details and subassemblies.

–Bob Lang


Classic Arts & Crafts Furniture: Best Seat in the House — 7 Comments

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  2. Hi bob. I built the 369 chair from the mag article you wrote great project and so much fun . Thanks for sharing your skill and passion.

  3. I am planing to do a spindle version of this chair. Is there any tricks to be incorporated to make the design work.

    • I believe that the spindle version simply replaces the wider slats with a number of square spindles. It’s more complicated but doable. I would make mortise and tenon joints for each spindle, not plow a groove in the rail and insert little spacers between the spindles as you often see. That’s one of the techniques you often see published but it doesn’t look right, the spindles will likely rattle and it doesn’t save any time over doing it right.

      For what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of the spindles. In the original time period the spindles were only produced for a short period of time. Because magazine authors and editors tend to throw the spindles in everywhere most people think it is a defining detail. There are good reasons for it not catching on. For the maker, finishing the spaces in between the spindles can be a nightmare. For the end user, dusting those same spaces is an unwelcome chore. It does look cool, but there are consequences to consider.

      Bob Lang

  4. We are in the process of working through the design and quoting stage in our shop here for a customer who is requesting 3 (!) of these chairs and we are struggling with estimating the hours involved as we dont do as much custom furniture as we would like.. we have the talent and the know how but are unfortunately lacking the real world experience for this piece. Would you mind sharing how long this piece took you? Much appreciated!

    • Hi Becky,
      This is a tough question to answer. Part of me wonders if you should be quoting 3 of these chairs if you don’t have the experience to estimate the hours it will likely take. But another part realizes that it is a good opportunity to get that experience. I taught this chair as a class at Marc Adams a few years ago, and will be repeating that class in the spring. My time budget for building one of these, without the distractions of teaching or documenting the build is about 40 hours. The class is 5 days and most folks get close to completing the joinery, but there is then additional time for finishing. I recommend that your “guesstimate” be on the high side, and that you compare prices from other makers. Subtract your cost of materials and divide what’s left by your hourly shop rate and see if the result seems reasonable. Most of the time in this is in the mortise and tenon work so it might be worth while to practice a few of the joints, see what goes well and what bogs you down.

      Hope this helps,

      Bob Lang

  5. Pingback: Stickley No. 369 Slant-arm Morris Chair