Elegant Ottoman

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This article is from Issue 57 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Treat your feet to something sweet.

Design by Jeffry Lohr

Overall dimensions: 211⁄8"w × 211⁄8"d × 111⁄4"h

A few months ago, in Issue #55, I showed you how to build Pennsylvania craftsman Jeffry Lohr’s version of the beloved Morris chair. Here, I show you how to make the perfect companion piece to that chair. This ottoman serves as a handsome footrest or even a comfortable stool. Like the chair, I made this piece from cherry to give it modern appeal, eschewing traditionally used quartersawn white oak.

Note: Because upholstery is beyond the skill set of most woodworkers, I’ll provide a sidebar that briefly explains how the cushions are made along with my source for having them made and shipped. Feel free to use your own local source, drawing from the information provided.

When using a mortiser, plunge both ends of the mortise first, and then remove the remaining waste in intermittent steps.

Make the legs

1 Mill two pieces of 21⁄2 × 21⁄2 × 24" stock, which will yield 4 legs (A) while leaving the pieces initially long enough for safe feeding through your machines. If you don’t have 10/4 (21⁄2"-thick) material for the job, you can laminate 5/4 (11⁄4"-thick) stock to create the necessary thickness. (See sidebar opposite.)

2 Crosscut the legs (A) to the length shown in the Cut List.

3 Lay out the leg mortises, where shown in Figure 1. Note that you only have to lay out complete mortises on one leg, which you can then use to set up your mortiser or router fence. Only the ends of the mortises on the other legs need to be laid out.

4 Cut the mortises to 13⁄16" deep. I did the work with a hollow-chisel mortiser, as shown in Photo A.

Instead, you could use a router, rounding the edges of the tenons later to match the rounded ends of the mortises.

Grain-Matching Laminated Legs

For the best grain match on laminated legs, use straight-grained stock, and join the pieces using either method shown below.

Align the story stick with each stretcher’s center strip, and transfer the cutlines across the strip.
Glue the stretcher parts together using the offcuts from the center strip as spacers to create the openings. Use a carrier board to load the parts into the clamps.

Make the rails and stretchers

1 Mill enough stock to yield the rails (B) and stretchers (C), leaving the material 1" thick for now. Cut the rails (B) slightly oversized in width and length, and set them aside. Cut the stretcher (C) blanks to 31⁄8" wide by 20" long.

2 Draw out a full-sized pattern of the stretcher blank, as shown in the left-hand section of Figure 2.

(Although this isn’t strictly necessary, I recommend it, as it provides a crystal clear reference for the cuts.)

3 Mark a series of triangles across each blank for reorientation of the parts after ripping. Also assign a number to all the parts for each stretcher. Then, as shown in the first three steps of Figure 2, rip a 1"-wide strip from each outer edge, joint the sawn edges, and plane the center strip to 13⁄16" wide, removing equal amounts from each edge to preserve the grain match.

4 Make a story stick the same size as the center strip, laying out on the story stick the locations of the crosscuts to be made. Then mark out the cutlines, as shown in Photo B.

5 Cut the sections from the center strip, saving the offcuts. As I work, I make sure to keep all of the parts for each stretcher properly oriented on a carrier board to keep things organized. Make the carrier board 23⁄4"-wide so it can be used to place the parts in clamps during glue-up.

6 Glue up each stretcher, using the center strip offcuts as spacer blocks, rotating them 90° from their original orientation (Photo C). Immediately after clamping a stretcher, pop out the spacers, and use a wet toothbrush to scrub away any excess glue in the openings.

7 After the glue dries, joint one face of each stretcher (C), and thickness-plane it to 15⁄16". Do the same for the rails (B).

8 Edge-joint and rip the stretchers and rails to the widths shown in the Cut List. (Make sure to rip an even amount from each edge of the stretcher, as shown in Step 6 of Figure 2.) Then lay out and crosscut the parts to 19" long, keeping the stretcher openings centered along the length of each piece.

To keep the cutter well away from the rip fence when sawing tenon cheeks, register the workpiece against a stand-off block that aligns the blade with the tenon shoulder.
First glue up the two opposing side assemblies that include the mortised rails. Use plywood pads to protect against clamp damage.

Cut the joints and chamfers

1 Cut the rail and stretcher tenons to the sizes shown in Figure 1. I do the work on a tablesaw outfitted with a dado head (Photo D). Creep up on the tenon thickness by raising the dado head a bit at a time and then flipping the stock to cut into each face. After sawing all of the cheeks, readjust the blade height, and stand each piece on edge to cut the narrow shoulders on the stretchers and then the rails.

2 Mark out the ends of the 1⁄2"-wide × 2"-long slat mortises on the inside faces of two opposing rails (B), where shown in Figure 1.

Outfit your plunge router with an edge guide, and rout the mortises to 9⁄16" deep in two passes. Rout carefully to your layout lines, as there are no tenon shoulders on the ends of the slats to hide miscuts. Although it takes more time, you can set up stops for greatest accuracy.

3 Using a 45° chamfer bit, rout a chamfer on the inside top edge of each rail (B), where shown in Figure 1.

Make the slats and mortises for the buttons

1 Mill the slats (D) to the thickness and width shown in the Cut List, but leave them slightly oversized in length for now. Also rip a narrow strip of straight-grained stock to about 1⁄8" thick by about 201⁄4" long to create a “spring stick” for measuring the necessary slat length.

2 Dry-fit the legs (A), rails (B), and stretchers (C) together, and flex the spring stick into two opposing slat mortises. Trim the length of the stick until it’s about 1⁄16" shy of the internal dimension. Then cut your slats to that length. 

3 Round over the edges of each slat with a 1⁄4" round-over bit. Then disassemble the legs (A), rails (B), and stretchers (C), and fit the slats into their mortises. Number each for proper reassembly during glue-up.

4 Sand the legs through 180 grit, and then lay out the locations of the 3⁄8" button mortises, where shown in Figure 1. Cut them on the mortiser or drill, and chop them out.

To rehearse the final glue-up, slip a side assembly onto the stretcher tenons, and then pivot it onto the rail tenons while working the slats into place.
Rout the notch in the top of each leg using a 1⁄2"-dia. straight bit, guiding the router against jig fences set up for a cut that’s flush to the faces of the rails.

Assemble the ottoman

1 In preparation for assembly, rout the exposed edges of the legs (A), rails (B), and stretchers (C) using a 3⁄16" round-over bit. Sand a 1⁄8" chamfer at the bottom of the legs, and smooth all parts through 220 grit.

2 Dry-fit the legs onto their stretchers and the mortised rails to check joint fits and to rehearse your clamping procedure. Then disassemble the parts, apply glue to both the mortises and tenons, and glue up these two opposing assemblies (Photo E).

3 After the glue cures, perform a complete rehearsal of the final assembly (Photo F). Then, with your preset clamps at the ready, apply glue to only the mortise-and-tenon joints (not the slats or their mortises), and clamp the whole unit together. Finally, stand it on a dead-flat surface, and adjust the clamps if necessary to bring the unit into square.

Apply a dab of glue to each button mortise before tapping the button in place with a smooth-faced hammer.

Rout the cushion recess

1 Make the routing jig shown in Figure 3. (Exact dimensions aren’t critical. Just ensure that the faces of the clamp board and platform are flat and truly square to each other.)

2 Clamp the two jig halves onto adjacent rails, carefully aligning the top of each platform with the top of a leg and parallel to the top of the rail. Outfit your plunge router with a 1⁄2" straight bit, and adjust each jig fence so that the perimeter of the bit barely touches the inside face of each rail with the router subbase riding against the jig fence.

3 Routing in subsequently deeper passes, cut out the notch in the top of the leg to a depth that sits flush to the tops of the slat mortises (Photo G). Repeat for the other legs.

4 Again using the jig in the same fashion, but with a 45° chamfer bit in your router, chamfer the notch edges to align with the rail chamfers. Then clean up with sandpaper.

Buttoning up

1 To make the buttons (E), mill a 20" length of walnut to 3⁄8 × 3⁄8". Sand a small 1⁄8" chamfer on each end before crosscutting off a 3⁄8"-long section with a handsaw. Repeat the process to yield at least 16 buttons. I sand the chamfers by eye on a disc sander. Alternatively, you can use a jig, as shown on page 16.

2 Install the buttons as shown in Photo H.

3 Apply your favorite finish. My technique is to first flood the surface with boiled linseed oil and let it soak in for 10 minutes to pop the color and grain. I then wipe the piece dry and let it sit for 5 days before applying 5 or 6 coats of wiping varnish 24 hours apart, rubbing the dried finish with 0000 steel wool between coats.  

Cushion Upholsterer:

Ann Brandenberger, Renaissance Upholstery,
658 Pennfield Dr., Hatfield, PA 19440
renaissanceupholstery.com, (215) 362-5642


Making the ottoman cushion upholstery begins by cutting the leather (or fabric) pieces to size and sewing them together, leaving an open square on the underside. A patch of complementary material is sewn into the open square with a zipper to accommodate the stuffing. The stuffing consists of 3"-thick high-density foam, which is first wrapped in dacron to soften any hard edges, and then with muslin to maintain the integrity of the foam. The corners of the cushion are also stuffed with loose dacron to fill out the shape. Finally, leather straps are sewn to the bottom, providing a way to tie the cushion to the slats. If you don’t want to take on the upholstery, hire it out. You can use my upholsterer if you like.

About our Builder/Author

Mentored by renowned craftsman Jeffry Lohr, founder of the J. D. Lohr School of Woodworking in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, Robert Spiece is an established furnituremaker and woodworking teacher at the school. He also designs and builds furniture for sale. For more on the school, go to JDLohrSchoolofWoodworking.com.


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