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.

Rite Here, Rite Now: Sit-Rite Adjustable Drafting Stool, ca. 1940s

Much fuss has been made on this blog extolling the virtues of the industrial stool. Their hardened steel frames fared well in unforgiving factory conditions. Not so common, however, were their wooden counterparts.

The über-rare Sit-Rite stool was manufactured in solid birch wood by the Edward L. Koenig Co. in Chicago during the steel-rationed WWII era. It’s credited as being the first American-made ergonomic stool. The seat height is shifted by loosening two, 10-inch bolts that run through the base’s platform, while the backrest can be shifted several inches forward, backward, up and down.

This example retains its original finish with the added beauty of many layers of muck, which have, over time, darkened the wood and given it a patina to die for. You can almost smell the worker who once sat on her…

Pairing Off: Set of Toledo Draftsman Stools, ca. 1940s

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, the stools above will not be unfamiliar. Dorset Finds has shone the spotlight on the highly coveted Draftsman stool, manufactured by the Toledo Metal Furniture Co. — or Toledo stool — many times, and we’re always pleased to bring you an unusual or rare configuration of this classic.

Ergonomics and the Machine Age are not often thought of in the same context, but this is one area where the Toledo stool shines. The curved steel arm brace holds the bent plywood back, providing support to the lower back without being too rigid. With a turn of the round knob that holds the backrest in place, the user can click the mechanism up or down for the desired position. In addition, this particular model has a 21″ in diameter footrest ring rather than the usual 16″, thereby providing greater foot and leg support. Already a powerhouse of versatility and function, this piece boasts enhanced mobility via the smooth rolling casters, which — like modern office chairs — allow one to move short distances without even having to get up.

Please though, no office hockey

You Should Be Drafting: Hamilton Drafting Stool, ca. 1930s

Frank Lloyd Wright at his drafting table, presumably not wanting to risk standing up for fear of losing his seat.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the drafting industry was almost non-existent. But, within a few short years the world shifted its demand for mass produced items and likewise, drawings needed to be produced and duplicated at a rate never seen before.

The Hamilton Company was founded in 1880 by skilled woodworker James Hamilton, and by 1891 the business employed over 200 staff. By 1912 Hamilton was manufacturing steel furniture for printers and expanded into drafting furniture by 1917.

This rare Hamilton stool retains its original hardwood swiveling seat while the steel base, with its aged, military green paint appears almost unbreakable. The lever arm was engineered with incredible precision and lifts/ locks tight without any play. All in all, this dark horse is a comparable drafting stool to even the highly coveted  – and increasingly high priced – Toledo version…

Round and Round: Toledo Draftsman Stool w/ Maple Seat, ca. 1950s

I’m a sucker for a stool. No surprises there. But the Toledo Metal Furniture Company made some of the coolest and most durable factory seating of the Twentieth Century. Various models of varying heights were produced using steel, and in some cases, plywood or hardwood seats.

Compared to pneumatic lift systems commonly found in similar contemporary stools, the Toledo spring-lever lift mechanism may seem a bit archaic but there’s something to be said for hearing that sound of steel teeth locking securely into a steel support bar to secure a desired seat height.

This example of the Draftsman stool is labelled and retains its solid footrest ring near the base. The solid round maple seat has been given a light polish and then sealed for many more years of use. It’s an ample 15″ in diameter and swivels freely. It’s also great to see that all the feet are original on this piece and perform perfectly.

Takin’ It Back To The Old Stool: Industrial Stool, ca. 1940s

Battered and bruised. Just the way we like it…

This WWII era stool stands tall at 30″ and though it’s been put through its paces over the decades, it’s still rock solid. The green painted steel shows great wear – and admittedly is hanging on by a thread in spots – but this, and the red wounds  add something to this piece you’d be hard pressed to recreate. The original glides are all there too. Climb aboard!

Back Draft: Toledo Draftsman Stool, ca. 1930s

We all work hard and play hard. Getting to sit on something you like is important; as is having a chair that conforms to your body ergonomically.

The Toledo Furniture Manufacturing Co. of Toledo, OH were early adopters when it came to creating a chair one could comfortably use throughout the day. Both the molded wood seat and back adjust to allow for greater versatility and support. The heavy duty steel is virtually indestructible and only gets better with age.

Being a contented little minion may not get you any closer to getting that pay raise you deserve (naturally) but at least you wont whine about your poor old creaky bones!

Rolling People: Steel Stool on Casters, ca. 1930s

Once used in a garage or factory, this cool little number adopts a new role (or roll as the case may be) as a side table; the perfect place for an alarm clock, magazines or whatever you need close by. The free-spinning rubberized casters make for easy movement and versatility. Though examples exist with a steel top, this version has a nicely worn wooden seat. Coffee anyone?

Subway Series: Early NYC Cast Iron Subway Stool, ca 1910s

They don’t call it the “F train” for nothing. Between MTA service cuts, increased fares and staff restructuring, there’s never been a greater collective desire to take a load off.

The word is that these types of conductor stools were present in driver booths to allow for some sedentary time but later removed when it was felt that drivers were becoming a little too relaxed when at the train’s helm.

What’s clear is that this cast iron stool is darn heavy and with its original hardware, can be affixed to any right angle. Pictured here, the stool is attached to an old factory work bench for added flat surface area.

Blue Steel: Stool By Toledo Metal Furniture Company, ca. 1940s

I’m partial to a stool, especially ones like this 1940’s Toledo stool manufactured in – you guessed it – Toledo, Ohio. They’re virtually indestructible, versatile and drip with character. The patina on the bent steel of this example is superb especially after a bit of elbow grease removing the layers of dirt and rusts spots.

Though Toledo is best known for its drafting/ factory stool which currently attracts a hefty price, I reckon these smaller stools are quiet achievers, most likely due to the fact that it’s not widely known that they were manufactured by Toledo. Shhh…