Camp Stool

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This article is from Issue 107 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Leather and logs make for one sturdy seat

Designing this folding camp stool spurred a conversation with a fellow woodworker about whether it was a campaign stool or a camping stool. Campaign furniture—those dressers and trunks we envision being carried on the backs of elephants in colonial India or adorning Civil War era military headquarters tents—needed to be rugged, easily transported, and stylish enough to befit the military officers it served. Camping gear has similar requirements. It, too, should be quickly and easily knocked down, lightweight, and yet stout enough to survive frequent re-encampments. Though few of us travel to camp sites by elephant these days.

In the end, this stool fits into both worlds. It’s rugged owing to the straight-grained, rived legs and its thick buffalo hide leather seat. The clever tri-bolt lets it fold up but still hold plenty of weight. And it’s stylish enough for either a general’s tent or a late-summer campfire.

Order of Work

  • Cut seat parts
  • Stitch pockets
  • Rive leg stock
  • Finish and assemble

Hewn legs and sewn seat

Constructing the stool is straightforward thanks to the clever tri-bolt (See Buyers Gude, pg. 60), but stitching pockets on the leather seat and riving legs from green lumber may expand your skill set. The leatherwork uses a few inexpensive specialty tools, along with a few woodworking tools you probably already have. And if you don’t feel like riving your own legs, you can buy dowels or turn your own from oak, ash, or hickory and use them instead.

Hide and seat

Maximize the strength of your seat by choosing at least 6 oz. leather (an ounce tends to be about 1/64" thick). If using a whole or half hide, cut seat parts from the edge nearest the spine of the animal, which stretches less. Choose a waxed leather that has been tanned with either an aniline or semi-aniline dye. The waxed finish gives the leather added durability and water resistance, while the dye brings out the natural grain. As you use the stool, the leather will develop a beautiful patina as it ages. Make patterns and cut the leather parts with a hobby knife, then punch holes as shown. Sew the parts together using either waxed linen or polyester thread. At the end of the seams, tie off the threads to keep the pieces from coming undone. Linen thread requires a knot such as a double or square—I used a surgeon’s knot, if you know your knots—at the end, while poly thread can be tied off, snipped, and melted using a lighter. With the pockets sewn, touch up the edges with fine sandpaper, then apply beeswax to seal and waterproof them.

Cut the hide. Slice through the leather with a sharp hobby knife. If you’re making more than one stool, it’s worth making the patterns from plywood or heavy cardboard. 

Punch the holes. Lay out the stitching lines 1⁄2" from the edge of each piece with dividers. Then punch holes along the lines with a stitching fork and rubber mallet. Punch the same number of holes in both the pocket panels and around the corners of the seat panel—mine took 48 holes for each corner.

The Saddle Stich

Clamp the pieces together with binder clips. Thread and tie a needle on each end of a 72" thread and push one needle through the first hole so half the string is on each side. Drive the left-hand needle through the second hole from left to right. Then, drive the right-hand needle through the same hole from right to left. Continue stitching, pushing each needle through the same holes and pulling the stitches tight as you go. Tie off the thread at the end of the seam.

Split the log. Split the log in half using a froe and mallet. Use a splitting wedge to capture your progress as you drive the froe. Then split one half into three triangular billets, each of which will become a stool leg.

Logs to legs

Start with a straight-grained log about 26" long and 8" in diameter. Hickory, ash, and oak are great choices, but black locust and even sugar maple will make sturdy legs as well. Your local tree removal service or firewood seller may be able to help you source logs. Split the log in two using a froe, and/or splitting wedges and a sledge hammer. Repeat the process to turn each half round into three wedge-shaped billets. Trim off the corners with a hatchet, then turn to a drawknife and spokeshave to refine the shape. If you don’t have a shaving horse, you can hold the legs by securely clamping them to your bench as shown. Make the leg diameter between 7/8" and 1-1/8" to fit the tri-bolt, then cut the legs to length and round over each end. Drill a hole in each leg for the tri-bolt. Sand and finish the legs with a suitable protective coating, then give the seat a rub with saddle soap or baseball glove oil to keep the leather supple and strong before assembling.

Round the legs. After trimming away the corners, securely clamp the rough leg blank to your bench and mark the ends with the final leg shape. Round it with a draw knife and spokeshave. If desired, smooth away any facets with a concave cabinet scraper.

Drill for the bolt. Cradle the legs in a V-block clamped to your drill press table. Drill a 5⁄16" diameter hole at the midpoint of each leg.

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