Category Archives: Stools

The Coolest of Uhl: How To Buy A Toledo Stool

IMG_5136IMG_3216IMG_5586Dorset Finds is frequently asked what to look for when buying a Uhl Toledo stool or chair. Generally speaking, these items were built to last; however, below are some invaluable guidelines that will ensure the piece purchased meets  your needs and continues to perform for many years to come.

1. Establish the height you need. Much of Toledo’s seating is height-adjustable. That said, Draftsman stools are generally too tall for standard-height dining tables and desks, so you may require a chair instead.

IMG_70012. Assess the condition of the plywood seat and backrest. Being the most fragile components of the piece, the wood sections are prone to chipping and delamination. Minor separations can be easily fixed with wood glue.

IMG_7000 red3. Assess the wishbone lever arm. Look for any separations or breaks in the steel loops that cover the ends of the lever. These loops are susceptible to metal fatigue, especially if the original spring has been lost (major red flag) or replaced by a non-original part. The lever arm’s anchors are a crucial stress area in the chair’s design. A key sign that the integrity of this piece has been breached is wobbling in the seat post. If a break is detected, the example is best avoided.

IMG_2232IMG_52154. Look for non-original parts. As time passes, utilitarian furniture within an industrial setting is expected to be mistreated and continue to work. If damage was sustained, in some cases readily available parts were retrofitted purely out of a need for the chair to remain functional. Older models should feature a wing nut and brass spherical nut cap at the rear of the backrest. In later versions this was replaced with a black, round, hardened-plastic turning knob. Ensure that both the backrest and seat have contours. If either of these parts are flat, they’re replacements.

Aside from these structurally driven suggestions, the aesthetics are really a subjective element. Whether one likes rust and chipped paint, wood that’s faded or a glossy varnish, these tips will arm one with the necessary tools to go forth and buy well.

Toledo Uhl Draftsman Stool with Japanned Finish, ca, 1910

It’s always a pleasure to unearth a Uhl Toledo piece, but it’s all the better finding one that’s rare or unusual. Regardless of whatever poor state the item arrives in, its restoration can lead to further discovery. With dozens if not hundreds of variations that existed within the product lines, the desire exists to seek out something that you’ve not had before.

Early Toledo products received a copper oxidization treatment to the steel, known as japanning. This effect of marbling matte black with the sheen of copper was popular during the turn of the twentieth century.

Aside from the japanned steel, there are other characteristics this stool possesses that set it apart from its descendents. Rather than using a sprung lever arm, one adjusts the height by swiveling the seat up and down. The footrest ring is a strap of steel, rather than a thick wire, as it appeared in subsequent designs, and the wood is more substantial due to the lack of a metal support framework.

I Am the Resurrection: Toledo Draftsman Stool, ca. 1930s

There’s a certain deliberation process that unfolds before undertaking a laborious project that has the potential for minimal payoff. The resurrection of an object due to the mismanagement of others is a commitment financially, physically and, more specifically, psychologically.

This Uhl Toledo Draftsman stool is a rarity, and not just for the clown makeup it was dressed in when acquired. While drafting stools with standard seats can be found without too much sweat, an example with a round seat and backrest is far more scarce.

When confronted with such a butchered piece of iconic 2oth century design — masquerading as some sort of oversize children’s candy — the biggest question that goes through one’s mind  is whether it’s worth the effort in unwrapping its outer layer. Once the restoration commences, there’s no turning back.

After all, is it the clown that we dislike or is it the clown’s brightly colored exterior? Next time you see one, throw some paint stripper on him and perhaps you will be given a pleasant surprise, as I was with this stool.

Rite of Way: Pair of Sit-Rite Chairs, ca. 1940s

The scarcity and masterful design of the Sit-Rite chair, manufactured by the Edward L. Koenig Co. of Chicago, have been long respected by Dorset Finds. This pair, found in exceptional original condition, may let the images speak for themselves.

A-Positive: A-Frame Toledo Stool, ca. 1930s

Regular visitors to this blog are well aware of the tributes Uhl Toledo products garner here.

Possessing the strength and durability of an American-made tool of the mid-20th century and enjoying a classic design status on par with the Eames lounge chair, the Toledo stool is a timeless piece of furniture crafted from steel and bent plywood.

Through our travels, Dorset Finds has unearthed dozens of Uhl product variations: round, all-steel versions, short, medium, tall, fixed-height, double-width backrests, wooden casters, plastic casters, standard and extra-large footrest rings… When it came to ordering your stool from the manufacturer, the number of options appears to have been almost endless.

Though research provides images of the near-mythical “A-frame” Toledo stool, we had not seen one in the flesh until recently. Similar in silhouette to the traditional model, the A-frame’s vertical steel supports lean in toward the top creating a pyramid. A wider center of gravity and larger, 18.5-inch footrest ring (rather than the standard 16-inch) give this piece a stockier stance while retaining all the elegance of its sister models.

High-Ho Silver: Toledo Stool, ca. 1930s

In the latter stages of the 19th century, brothers Joe and Clem Uhl came up with the idea of a durable steel seating option while working in the bike shop they ran together.

It’d be nice to say that their concern was for forest conservation, given that in this era the primary material used in manufacturing stools was wood. But that would be a bit of a stretch. In reality, they knew firsthand the benefit of being able to plant your caboose on something sturdy yet comfortable, without fear of the structure giving way after weeks, months or even years of utilitarian use.

The brothers Uhl foresaw that industry-grade steel furniture would surpass timber, which historically had dominated the market. Harnessing the strength of cold rolled steel, fabricated into U-shaped chair and table legs, their company, the Toledo Metal Furniture Co., stood (or in this case, sat) without peer. So strong were their convictions that they were on to something, they guaranteed their products as the strongest, handsomest and most durable office furniture on the market.

Pictured is an early example. Imperfections such as dents and dings from heavy use are present in the perforated seat. Stripped of its original paint, this piece was buffed to reveal its coveted raw metal patina. Rather than the trademark Toledo footrest ring, rudimentary steel straps are located midway up the 30-inch stool to provide leg support. Primitive feet are affixed; later models employed ball-jointed glides.

Heart of the Lyon: Industrial Lyon Stool, ca. 1940s

We bang on a bit about industrial seating options on this blog. Uhl Toledo stools are a fave, but they’re difficult to find, as they’re no longer in production. Ajusto and Bevco, too, make durable versions that are readily available today, while Hamilton produced very few numbers, so they’re rare as hen’s teeth. More often than not, when factories closed down, these items were scrapped rather than being redistributed to be implemented elsewhere. The perception was that, despite its functionality, a stool was just a stool.

Add to this lot Lyon Metal Products Inc.,  which began production of its industrial-grade storage, seating and lockers in 1901 and remains a mainstay in today’s factory setting.

Beverly Lyon Waters founded what was originally known as the Lyon Metallic Manufacturing Company and was quickly joined by his younger brother, Frank. By 1906 they had secured a large factory and office headquarters in Aurora, Illinois, which enabled them to mass-produce all manner of products fabricated from sheet steel. After merging with the Durand Steel Locker Company of Chicago in 1928, they changed the name to Lyon Metal Products Inc.

Taking the lead in the early stages of WWII, they created a brochure, “How One Company Tackles the War Production Problem,” in which they detailed methods of diverting production toward wartime goods. The War Production Board distributed the pamphlet to hundreds of small manufacturers, thereby securing Lyon a strong market position during this period.

This particular model is understated. The army green, steel frame is welded to become one sturdy piece that sits at a fixed height. No ornate lift mechanisms here! The pressed-steel backrest is also fixed, and rather than an ergonomic wood seat it has a perforated particle-board plate. Despite this, the footrests are conveniently situated for lengthy periods of sitting. Parking your caboose here throughout a full, 8.5-hour shift, however, is another story.