A Note on Stools, Forms and Benches in the Early American Colonial FurnitureThe History of the Origin of the Design Period Known as Early American Colonial Furniture

The story of these is simple after that of the chair. The essential part of the stool, form, bench or settle is a board or shelf or ledge on which one can sit. The settee and sofa may be regarded as similar, but with, upholstered seats, while the couch is lengthened to permit of a reclining position. We have all fairly clear ideas as to their different shapes and purposes :

  • The stool is a seat for one person. It has no back and is movable.
  • The form is a seat for several persons. It has no back and is movable.
    The bench is a seat for several persons. It is a fixture and is often placed against a wall which will form a back.
    The settle is a seat for several persons. It has a high back and may be fixed or movable, and may have ends to give shelter from draughts.


In the tracing of the origins of the style known has early American colonial furniture the present-day Swedish word for chair is "stol" (pronounced as "stool"). Originally in England a stool was a seat for one person. " Chair" is French and came in with the Normans, and only the exalted sat upon a chair. It is interesting to note how the names and uses of chair and stool have become so specialised. The stool was the seat of the common person, of the low estate. They are found in offices, in workshops, they were provided for underlings and subordinates, they were put to common uses, there were stools of penitence, and ducking stools, children sat upon stools, and finally they became most lowly, as footstools. A lengthened stool was called a form, a suitable seat for scholars in the mediaeval school-hall. In order of progress the boy sat on the first, second, etc., form and so classes are still called forms. In mediaeval courts of law every one stood but the judge, who sat on a raised bench. Today we speak of a magistrate as being a member of the Bench, and of the Bench of Magistrates, of the King's Bench, etc. The members of the bodies that control the examinations of lawyers (the Inns of Court) are called Benchers. The long seats in Parliament are still called Benches, and Members sit on the Government Benches, or on the Opposition Benches, etc. The Bishops, sitting together in the House of Lords, are called the Bench of Bishops. The old wooden seats in railway carriages, and which are still made for Continental railways, were termed benches.

The simplest stool is the milking stool. This type, with lengthened legs strengthened with turned stretchers, may still be seen in offices, workshops, shops, and as laboratory stools in schools and factories.

The other type of stool did not appear until the carpenter had gained a considerable degree of skill. They are sometimes referred to as fifteenth, or even fourteenth-century stools, but those few we have remaining more likely belong to the sixtenth century. They have solid ends with shaped feet the tracing of the origins of the style known has early American colonial furniture

The ends are tenoned through the seat and are slotted to receive the side rails. The ends were sloped to give a firmer standing and to lessen the risk of straining the pegs that held the stool together. These were of "trestle" construction. The long benches used with the trestle and hall tables were of the same con­struction. So soon as the joiner had fully mastered the use of the tenon joint, "joint or joyned stools" were made. These were for the use of heavy men in rough times and were correspondingly sturdy in make. They retained the "box" construction with stout sqared rails close to the ground. They were made of oak and the legs were turned. Either for sitting purposes or as footstools these have continued to be made down to the present day, following in miniature all the modes and fashions of the chair in decoration and in material.

Plate XXVIII
Stools in Tracing the Origins of the Style Known as
Early American Colonial Furniture

Stool

Egyptian Stool

Trestle Stool Medieval

Trestle Stool Medieval

Trestle Stool Medieval

Joined Stool 1600

Joined Stool Circa 1600

Joined Stool Circa 1600

A "William and Mary" Walnut Stool

A "William and Mary" Walnut Stool

Stool with Carved Stretchers Circa 1690

Stool with Carved Stretchers Circa 1690

Stool with Cabriole Legs Circa 1725

Stool with Cabriole Legs Circa 1725

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