How to Make a Vintage Spinning Wheel Chair

spinning wheel image by BONNIE C. MARQUETTE from

The turning mechanism of early spinning wheels was operated by hand until the nineteenth century, when the foot treadle was invented and added to the spinning device. As a result, years of stooping to hand-turn the wheel while feeding the fibre onto the spindle were over. Chairs that accompanied treadled spinning wheels consisted of a stool with a rounded seat about 13 1/2 inches off the ground with a narrow, high back attached to the top of the stool. Designs vary from intricate to simple, and the chairs have been proudly displayed in American parlour rooms throughout history.

Lay a 13-inch-diameter round cut of wood on a table top. Use a travisher on the centre of the seat to scuff up a thin layer of curved wood about 1/16-inch deep to allow for the buttocks to settle comfortably in the curve when the seat is completed.

Flip the seat over and lay a yardstick along the edge so that the curve above the yardstick sticks out 3 inches at the widest point. Measure in from one end of the yardstick 3 inches and place a mark. Measure in 3 inches from the other end of the yardstick and place a mark. Rotate the seat 180 degrees and repeat the measuring and marking on this new side.

Measure from the tip of a 1-inch drill bit up the bit 1/2 inch and place a small strip of artist tape around the bit at the 1/2-inch mark.

Drill into the four marks you made at a 15-degree angle on the bottom of the seat, stopping when your bit reaches the artist tape to ensure the depth is the same for each hole. If you make a mistake or poke through the top of the seat by accident, start again with a new piece of wood. Set these items aside.

Use a lathe on the ends of each of four pre-lathed chair legs so that the tips are 1/2 inch long and 1 inch in diameter, and angle from the line of the leg 15 degrees. This will allow the legs to angle outward slightly from the bottom of the seat to provide more support.

Turn the legs so that you are looking at the other end (the feet of the chair). Use a tablesaw to trim the end at a 15-degree angle in the opposite direction as the angle for the peg top of the chair leg. Set these items aside.

Take a wooden shelving plank and cut it into a thin trapezoid shape for the back of the chair. The top of the trapezoid measures 1 foot, the bottom measures 6 inches, and the distance from the top centre to the bottom centre is 3 feet. Set this aside.

Return to the seat, flipping it so you are looking at the top of the seat. Measure a rectangle along the back of the circular seat where you want the chairback to be. Lay the yardstick so that the curve that appears above the stick is 3 inches at the widest point and make a mark in the middle of the visible wood just above your ruler. Measure 3 inches to the right and 3 inches to the left of that mark and draw a line. Complete the rectangle by measuring up from the ends of the line 1 inch at a 90-degree angle and drawing a line at the top to close the rectangle.

Use a rotating circular saw to cut the rectangle out 1/2 inch deep. Use a chisel to remove the rest of the rectangle.

Slide the 6-inch edge of the back of the seat into the rectangle you made and secure with wood glue. Slide the legs into the bottom of the seat in the peg holes you made and secure with wood glue. Allow glue to dry.

Sand the chair completely to give it some tooth and apply several coats of a dark-coloured varnish to complete the antique look.

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