Project Timeline: Late June - Mid August
Project Duration: 100-110 hours including research and design
Total Material Cost: ~$700
Material: Cherry with chenille upholstery
- Comfortable Sofa - Arts and Crafts FurniturePeter J. Stephano, Wood MagazinePublished by Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2006Pages 59 - 74
- Build a Prairie Settle - Fine Woodworking No. 199
Published by The Taunton Press, Aug. 2008
Pages 40 -47
- No. 220 Prairie Sofa -Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture
Published by Cambium Press, 2002
Pages 44 - 47
I actually started off planning to build a Morris chair out of walnut, but after finding one on Craigslist for a reasonable price I shifted my attention to the sofa. It was the last piece of non Arts & Crafts / Shaker furniture in our living room and need to be replaced to complete the feel. I was attracted to the prairie settle because of its wide arms. Now I know that most people would cringe thinking about putting drinks on their wood furniture, but to be that is a main design requirement. I wanted something that fit the architecture and style and also provided built in side tables. The prairie settle was it.
I then began studying all the plans and photographs I could find, and picked and chose design elements that I felt needed to be part of mine. Traditionally, these sofas were either frame and panel or spindle style. The frame and panel seemed too closed in and made the piece feel more substantial. Our room is small and I didn't want it to feel overpowering. The spindles seem kind of busy and I wanted something simpler looking. So I compromised and chose to use a wide slat, as I had seen slats used in other types of Stickley seating.
I then moved on to plan the construction and estimate materials needed. I studied two full plans, one was a spindle type and another (FWW 199) was a wide slat, and got a feel for the general milling and construction process that would be required. I didn't follow either plans exactly because they deviated from the original L. & J.G. Stickley dimensions quite a bit. Instead, I created my own plans based on the spindle plans, wide slat plans and original plans to try to keep many of the original's dimensions. One newer detail that I did adopt was to cut a very slight curve at the bottom of each of the bottom rails. It gives the piece a more elegant and less boxy look.
I sourced locally grown rough cherry lumber from a guy that is starting his own mill. It was a good purchase and cheap, but the lumber was lacking serious figure that was looking for in order to embellish the piece. Craftsman furniture is all about the lines, joinery and natural wood figure. So additional figured pieces were purchase to use for the front rail and arms, these were very nice and also from Minnesota grown trees.
I milled and milled the rough lumber to produce boards, for hours and hours. This is a task that is tricky and time consuming without a jointer. But I made do with my table saw and thickness planer. After the milling and rough dimensioning, the joinery is all mortise and tenon. There are 60 mortise and tenon joints on this piece and 14 of those are pinned with dowels. I used walnut dowels to pin the rail joints, and provide some contrast against the cherry.
Just before construction I finish sanded all the pieces in a painstaking fashion. I power sanded using 80, 150 and 220 grit, then hand sanded with 320 and 400 grit. The assembly started with the two side frames and legs, then I assembled the rear panel and connected it all together to produce the frame. After the frame was setup I added the corbels and attached the arms. The finished result is an extremely rigid structure with reinforced joints. It's an all wood construction, everything is solid cherry except for the walnut dowel pins, and oak dowels that align and secure the arms to the corbel tops. Even the seat cushion frame and cleats are cherry.
After construction, I finished it with an oil-poly wipe on mixture. 1/3 tung oil, 1/3 boiled linseed oil and 1/3 wipe-on polyurethane. During the oil finishing, I totally closed the pores on the arms and front legs and rail by using 1000 grit sand paper to rub the oil in. It basically produced a fine oily paste with the fine dust it produces on the surface, and this slurry gets pressed into all the open pores of the surface. The surface it produces rivals that of polyurethane table tops, but maintains a more natural look and feel. This finish is perfect for using the arms as a side table.
The upholstery was an additional adventure that I had never attempted before. With the help of my wife Alpa and my friend Charlie, we wrapped the foam and batting and produced some nice looking cushions. The thing I like about the back cushions is that they are built on a plywood backing, which gives them a ridgid back surface. Well, combine that with proper dimensioning and you get a nice press-in panel that gets press fitted between the seat cushion and the bottom of the back rest. They look very tailored and I was very happy that they turned out even better than expected.
This was the first one, and possibly the last one I will build. But during the project I thought about how I would go about mass producing these. There are some fixtures I thought through and sketched up that would need to be build, and I also had made some templates for the rails and corbels. If the day ever comes, I could be ready to manufacture these.
This prairie settle is dedicated to my wife and unborn daughter, and will be an heirloom piece that will see decades of use. I am very excited about the new addition to our home.