Morris Chairs

Morris chair and side table

This style of chair was first produced in England by William Morris, one of the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement in the mid-1800s.   It was later produced in the U.S. by Gustav Stickley beginning around 1905.  My chairs are based on the Stickley design.

This chair is made from sapele wood.  All chairs are finished with varnish and wax.

The backs of Morris chairs are adjustable.  The angle of the back is set by ajusting a wooden support using hand-cut pegs that fit into mortises at the back of the chair arms.

I put a spare peg out to better show what they look like.

There is a hidden mortise and tenon joint where the top of each leg meets the arm.   At the top of each leg is a large, thick tenon that goes about 2/3 of the way up through the arm.  I make these joints very tight, but since most people move these chairs around them by lifting them up by the arms, I put braces on to provide additional support.

In the lower left of this photo you can see one of these support braces.   I used three screws to secure them to the leg and the arm, and then make them inconspicuous by covering them with wooden plugs that I cut from the same wood I use to make the braces.


Morris chair detail
This chair uses contrasting woods, sapele and maple.  Sapele is an African hardwood that has a beautiful natural shine to it.  It is sometimes sold as "African Mahogany" but mostly because of its beauty; it is only distantly related to "genuine" (Honduran) mahogany.

This is one of two chairs I currently have in which I used through-tenons and wedges to secure the tenons.  The wedges are the white accents on the lower legs visible in the next picture. 

This is another sapele and maple Morris chair, accompanied by an all-sapele taboret table.  See the taboret page for more of these types of tables.

The joints on Morris chairs are critical.  They only have one board across the front, and another just like it in the back.  When people sit down or get up, they tend to push outwards on the arms of the chair, which over time can put strain on the joint between the front and back rails and the chair legs.

Morris chairs from 100 years ago are still strong, however, because craftsmen paid a lot of attention to this joint, and came up with a couple of very good ways to make it rock solid and secure. 

The most common method of securing tenons on Morris chairs is to use wooden pegs to physically "nail" the tenon to the leg and prevent it from working loose.  The pegs are either made to blend in to the wood of the leg, or else are made decorative by using wood of contrasting color.  The Morris chair at the top of the page uses pins.

The second method is to use wedges on through-tenons to secure the front and back rails.   

Wedged Through-tenon

Wedged through-tenon

Wedged through-tenons add strength and character to the chair.   I cut the test piece above to expose the entire joint.  

The technique is make the tenon come all the way through the chair leg, and then secure it in place with the wedges.  This requires making the mortise wider on the outside than it is on the inside where the rails (the front and back boards) join to the leg.   Typically the mortise starts straight, then is cut at a small angle, usually between 7 and 9 degrees, the rest of the way through the mortise.  

Wedges are then cut to match the angle cut into the mortise.  T
he wedges make the tenon wider on the outside than on the inside, making it impossible to loosen the joint or pull the tenon back out through the leg.

It is common practice to drill a hole in the tenon where the end of the wedge will go; this ensures that if small fractures develop in the wood from driving the wedge, it happens inside the mortise where it is still secure, rather than cracking directly along the line of the wedge where it could damage the chair. 

I generally make two different sizes of Morris chairs, but they can be sized to order.

Larger: width 23"; seat length 26"; seat-bottom height 13"; arm height 23";  overall length 38"
Smaller: width 20"; seat length 24"; seat bottom height 12"; arm height 22"; Overall length 36"

Pricing:  Smaller chair: $2500, Larger: $2700,  pinned tenons standard.   Joinery using wedged through-tenons is an additional $400.

Daniel Lee Woodworks
Fort Lauderdale, Florida