How to Build A Folding Camp Stool
HOW TO BUILD A FOLDING CAMP STOOL
Imagine the following scenario: You go to your friend’s house for a socially distant bonfire. Everything has been thought of. The food has been artfully and safely prepared; each seat has been placed 6 feet apart; and a myriad of lawn games are available. There is only one problem: the host miscounted, and they find themselves one lawn chair short. You immediately quell the mounting panic in their eyes with the following phrase, “no worries, I have a camp chair in my car.” It is patiently waiting for you, folded up in the trunk. You bring it out and everyone asks where you got it. You calmly answer, “oh this? I made it.” Everyone is amazed. You all have a place to sit and enjoy a wonderful evening. This is just one of the many possibilities for adventure that your new folding camp chair can bring you.
All that you need for this project are a few basic tools and a willingness to sew some straight seams. You can hand-sew the seat or use a sewing machine if it can handle heavy weight fabric or leather. You can also modify this project to have a wooden seat if you do not want to sew. This is a great introductory project if you have an interest in furniture building. The assembly of this folding stool requires fitting round tenons (dowels) snugly into drilled holes and securing them with wood glue. The key to success with this project is the adage “measure twice, cut once.” You may even want to measure three times. The measurements need to be accurate for the chair to fold properly. It is composed of two halves: a wider outer static half (this will be glued to the central axis), and a narrower inner dynamic half (the central hole will be larger than the axis and it will not be glued, allowing it to open and close freely). The stool will then be able to freely open to whatever width you sew the seat. Since this project is metal free, it may creak when you sit on it at first but is a very sturdy yet lightweight design overall.
TOOLS AND MATERIALS
- Saw of your choice, capable of ripping wood (sawing along the grain)
- Measuring and marking tools (I used a tape measure, pencil and a square).
- Drill with spade bits measuring ¾” 7/8” and 1” (Or whatever diameter dowel you use, and one spade bit that’s a size up from your largest dowel)
- Spokeshave and plane
- Rubber mallet
- Finishing saw of your choice
- Sewing kit and/or leatherworking tools
- Canvas, rip-stop nylon, or lightweight leather for the seat measuring 10” x 30”
- Heavy duty thread for seat. I used Dacron (used to make bowstrings)
- 4 hardwood leg pieces measuring 30” L, 1 ¾” wide and 1” deep
- 2 bottom brace ¾” hardwood dowels(1 at 13” and 1 at 14”)
- 2 top brace 7/8” hardwood dowels (1 at 14” and 1 at 13”)
- Central Axis 7/8” hardwood dowel, 14” long
- Wood glue
- Varnish or a drying oil
1. Prepare the Legs of the Camp Stool
The success of this project starts with even, straight grained legs. Rip the legs to equal widths on a table saw (following proper safety protocol), or with a rip saw if you are making an unplugged version. Cut the feet on each leg to the same angle (one of my stools has 30 degree feet and the other has 45 degree feet). The larger the angle of the feet, the lower and wider the stool will sit. Mark the center of the holes to be drilled, and label which diameter each one needs to be to prevent future confusion. Each leg will have three holes: the top braces (7/8” down from top and 7/8” diameter), the central axis brace (15” down from the top, 7/8” diameter on two exterior legs and 1” diameter on two interior legs), and the bottom braces (22” down from the top and ¾” diameter). It also helps to label which legs will go on the inside of the axis and which two go on the outside. Aside from the different size holes for the central axis, each leg should be identical.
2. Make 4 Cross Braces (2 top, 2 bottom) and Central Axis
Bottom Braces: Saw two ¾” dowels, 1 at 13”, and 1 at 14”. These will jut out a bit past the legs once assembled and will need to be trimmed.
Top Braces: Saw two 7/8” dowels, 1 at 13” and 1 at 14”.
Central Axis: Saw a single 7/8” dowel to 14” long
3. Drill Holes
With your drill press and spade bits, drill the holes marked on your chair legs, being mindful to center them properly. To avoid tear-out when drilling, drill until the center point pokes through the other side then flip the piece and drill from the other side using the center hole to guide you. If you do have some tear out on one side, it can be strategically hidden on the inside of the axis point (speaking from experience)
4. Chamfer and Plane Legs
Smooth the sharp corners by chamfering with the spokeshave or block plane. Go over the sides of each leg as well until they all have a smooth, even surface. If your grain is wavy, a cabinet scraper is a great way to even out the surface of each leg.
5. Fit Together the Frame (Minus Top Braces)
First, test the fit of each tenon and hole. It is very common for the dowels to be too large for the drilled holes of the same measurement. If this is the case, remove wood very carefully and evenly with the spokeshave from the final inch of each dowel. Sand to remove tool marks and re-test the fit. Each tenon should fit very tightly in its drilled hole.
When you are satisfied with the fit of each tenon, it is time to glue. First, fit together and glue the bottom brace tenon (14” long and ¾” diameter) and the central axis on one outer leg of the chair. Apply a thin, even layer of glue to the outside of each tenon and along the inside of each hole on the leg. A rubber mallet is a useful tool here. Clean up any excess glue. Add both inner legs to the central axis, checking that the feet are all going in the right direction. They should swing freely on the center axis.Repeat the gluing process for the bottom brace and central axis tenons on the other outer leg. Glue the bottom brace (13” long ¾” diameter) on both inner legs. You should have a stool without any top braces. Lay on its side to dry overnight.
6. Finish Frame
Once the frame is assembled, and the glue has cured, saw off any braces that extend beyond the legs and sand all joints and surfaces. Apply an even coat of the finish of your choice. If using anything other than oil, make sure not to get the finish too close to the dynamic joint of the central hinging brace. Apply finish to the seat braces as well, because these will be assembled with the seat on and will be hard to finish after assembly.
7. Sew Seat
While the finish dries and cures, sew the seat.
If using canvas or other fabric, add an inch of seam allowance to the width of your seat measurements before cutting. Iron a double folded hem for the non-brace edges by folding the edge over a quarter inch and ironing. Repeat, and sew in a straight line either with a sewing machine or hand-sewing a running stitch. Repeat this for the brace edges, with one slight change. Your first fold and press will be a quarter inch, but your second will be the seat brace circumference (4”). Sew.
If using leather, there is no need for a double folded hem, so simply fold over your brace edges to the correct length on either side (at least the circumference of the seat braces). The seatsfor my 30” tall chair were 30” long (accounting for a 4” fold over on either side). Punch marking holes with the smallest setting of your leather punch. Sew a straight seam with a running stitch. To increase the strength, sew back the other way, so the thread covers all the spaces between the punched holes. I sewed my leather seat with Dacron thread (it is used to make bowstrings and is very strong).
8. Assemble Seat
Slip the top braces through each sewn brace end of the seat. The width of thesewn seat should just meet the legs on the inner (dynamic) half and be an inch short on the outer (static) half. Assemble the seat braces to the tops of the chair legs. Since the chair is mostly assembled, and has verylittle bend to the legs, it is helpful to make the top braces slightly loose so that they slide through one side twice as far, giving just enough room to fit the brace into the other side. Even out the braces. Do not glue, so that they are removable for easy seat cleaning.
9. Go on an adventure, knowing full well you will always have a place to sit.