Bench Stool Proportional Layout

Welcome! Forums Project Series Bench Stool Bench Stool Proportional Layout

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    Greg Merritt

    I’m hooked on proportional, whole number design. Once you have a design done this way it is very easy to change the size of the project. Smaller or larger makes no difference. All of the parts will be resized to match. You only need one controlling dimension. After that is established, everything else is done with dividers. This method is not for everyone though. Working with no dimensions takes some getting used to.
    Anyway, here are the drawings. Take a look, play with it a little and shoot me some questions if you have them.
    Interestingly, I laid this out full scale based on the 27.5″ height. It matched @Paul-Sellers design within an 1/8″. This speaks highly to Paul’s eye for design and proportions.


    Thanks Greg, nice job ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Paul Sellers

    Greg, Thanks for all the wonderful drawings you contribute to the forum. And the other input too. It enriches the whole concept of selfless care-and-share that we try to uphold in our efforts to train the new-genre woodworker wherever and whoever they are.



    Eddy Flynn

    thanks for this Greg you have a talent for these mate keep them coming

    Eddy .. Liverpool, Merseyside, UK


    The whole area of design and proportions is yet another fascinating aspect of the craft. I like what you’ve done here and ‘By Hand and Eye’ is on my Xmas list. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think some people are put off using the golden ratio because applying a ratio of 1:1.618 seems over-complicated. But there is a much easier approach that is not so different from, and complementary to, the whole number method. There is a series of numbers that quickly converges on the golden ratio, each number being the sum of the previous two:

    1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…etc (Fibonacci series)

    Consecutive numbers will be close to the ratio e.g. 8″x 13″, 21″x 34″, or (doubling up) 10″x 16″. Because the eye is accustomed to seeing these proportions everywhere in nature, they tend to look ‘natural’ when used in a design. That said, clearly you don’t want to overdo things with a slavish adherence to this at the expense of practicality and creativity, but it’s often a useful tool or a place to start…


    I’m intrigued on this method, but don’t quite understand…

    Is the seat half the width of the length of the legs in the drawings?

    David Gill

    I am also fascinated by your method but admit that I do not understand it, how does the height of the stool 27 1/2″ fit in with the size of D
    What are the sizes for the seat 1/2 W and 1/2 D
    Is there any connection with the Golden Ratio ( Which I also know very little of)

    Wigan, Lancs. England :

    Greg Merritt

    I’m happy there is some interest in this. I’ll try and break it down for you.
    1. determine the seat height that you want (i.e. 27.5″) but it could be any height you want.
    2. divide that height by (5) this will give you (D)
    3. set up the ‘Module Key’
    4. establish a ‘Baseline’ and ‘Centerline’
    5. use the ‘Module Key’ to set a pair of dividers and step of the distances as indicated. (it helps to have a few pair of dividers)

    The drawing actually shows 1/2 of the front view and 1/2 of the side view of the stool. So the width of the top at the front is 10/3 of (D) and depth of the top on the side is 8/3 of (D).

    A note on dimensions. There are almost no shop drawings from antiquity. There are however ‘Pattern Books’. These are scaled drawings of items but no dimensions. There is sometimes a key often there is not. You used a pair of dividers, often proportional dividers, to establish a full size sketch to build from. From there you would directly mark the sizes of your stock or you would create a ‘story stick’ and use that to transfer sizes. With this method craftsman could create items to fit a particular space or to accommodate available materials.

    Keep the questions coming…

    Xavi Molina

    Thanks Greg! very useful!

    Musician and wood lover (Girona-Catalonia)



    I have never seen drawings like yours with “proportional notation” (well, yes in new music scores!) Can you point me towards a reference? I Would like to understand the semicircles bridging scale divisions for example.

    Could your drawings (above) magically find their way into a PDF file over on the “benchstool” page? ๐Ÿ™‚

    In general, having a drawing to refer to would make it much easier to follow along with Paul while watching the videos sometimes.



    Hey Greg, how did you set up the module key and what are the divisions… ie 1/4, 1/2, 1/6 etc..
    Thank you,


    This can be a very usefull tool especially when making complementary furniture pieces. For example if I were making a set of tables for a living room. I might use a side table size of 1D X 1D X 1.5D tall. Then my coffee table could be 1D X 3D X 1D tall. A plant stand might be .5D X .5D X 2.5D tall. The effect would be a very modular look.

    The drawback to this process comes in functional requirements. In the stool I may want to adjust height to fit some pre-existing structure. Would an increase in height require the seat to be bigger? Once the seat is sufficient for the human interface (backside) thats it. Higher or lower thats the size it needs to be.

    As you pointed out there should never be a slavish adhearance to this at the expence of practicality.

    Greg Merritt

    Derek…sorry for the late reply, I missed your post. The semi-circle notation indicates that the division for the adjacent divisions are equal to each other. The best reference I can point you to is a book from Lost Art Press titled “By Hand and Eye”.

    Dan…the module is somewhat arbitrary. Basically once you have a feel for the process you will have a starting point. For the bench stool I knew that the overall proportion would be 1:2, 1 unit wide by 2 units tall. once you have the overall proportion you can break it down anyway you want. This is where your individual style can come through. The important part being that no matter how you break it down the divisions will be proportional to the overall. I have found that 1/3, 1/6 ect actually work for me in most cases. Take a look at the simplified version that I posted.

    Michael…technically yes, the seat should be larger as the stool increases in height. But, the increase is so slight that it can be ignored or modified if need be. Generally, the proportion will reveal the limits of a particular design. In the case of the stool, the proportions stop being functional once the stool is heightened or shortened to certain points. This gives you a good indicator that a different design is called for. If you start taking note of furniture, especially antique furniture, you will find that most items of a certain function all fall within a certain size. Chest of drawers is a good example. The only real variance you find is in height and it is still a proportion of the width.

    Hope that helps.


    Excellent point!


    I woke up this morning and a light came on.between Greg’s explanation and Michael’s application. I’m going to try it out and make a small table using the proportional lay out…

    Thanks all!

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