177 – Sitting Bench Step Stool (2 of 3)
Video - July 10, 2012
Shaping The Top
The top of the Bench/Stool features a nice deep curve. This not only looks cool, but adds a lot of additional comfort when sitting. I scribe the shape onto both sides of the top piece using my template. Since the top is supposed to be symmetrical on both sides, I prefer to shape only one side of my template. I then flip it over to scribe the profile on the other side. This way there is no possibility of error and the top should be exactly the same on both sides. I also decided to include a late-game change by introducing a slight end grain curve on each end of the top. The curves are all cut at the bandsaw and refined back at the workbench using sanders, scrapers, rasps, and the router.
The video contains numerous tips and tricks for accurate strategic shaping of parts using various tools, including this very important one: when milling symmetrical or identical parts, don’t go more than one or two steps before repeating those same steps on the other parts. Shaping is an evolving process, meaning that you make decisions and adapt as you work toward your ultimate goal. So if you go too far on one piece without catching the others up, you might find it very difficult to make your parts identical.
Finalizing the Legs
For the most part, the legs are already shaped. But we still need to do some roundovers and blending. I use a router to roundover where possible, but the rasp does everything else.
It might seem like we’re going out of sequence here, but the next step is to glue the legs to the top. We’ll cut the center support to fit AFTER the glueup. Before adding any glue, I place a mark on the inside surface of each leg 3 3/4″ down from the inside shoulder. This mark will help use locate our center support later.
When doing this glueup, the angle of the legs presents some serious clamping issues. My joint was so snug that I did something I normally would never do and used no clamps at all. As long as the shoulder is fully seated and there are no visible gaps, I see no major issues with this. But if you can manage to get a couple clamps on there without changing the angle of the legs, you will be better off.
The Center Support
With the glueup dry, we can now cut the center support. With the stool on its side, I line up the top of my center support blank with the lines that were drawn on the inside faces of the legs. I then use a pencil to mark the leg angles. They should be 75 (aka 15) degrees, but it is always good to get the measurements from the actual piece. Relative dimensioning in action baby!
I cut the center support to size at the miter saw and test the fit. When the blank drops down between the legs with no gaps and the top of the blank lines up with our marks, its time to move on to the shaping.
Using my template, I scribe the top and bottom curves onto the center support and proceed with the shaping process: bandsaw, spindle sander, router and rasps.
Center Support Installation
The center support to leg joint will be reinforced with dowels, but it first needs to be glued into place. Since this is an end grain to long grain butt joint, I like to use epoxy for as much strength as possible. Light clamping locks the support in place while the glue dries.
The dowels are simple enough to install, but they do require precise drilling. If you go off course, you’ll punch right through the center support. I locate my drilling points at 3 3/4″ and 4 1/2″ from the underside of the top. The goal is to drill a 1 1/2″ deep hole, perpendicular to the leg face. Because the leg sits at an angle, that means the drill bit is traveling through the center support at an angle. So getting these locations, depths, and angles correct is really important for good results. You can use whatever dowel size you like but I went with 1/4″.
If you really want to step things up a bit, consider using brass dowel stock like I did for my Bubinga stool. Wood dowels are easy enough to get flush to the surface by using a flush trim saw and a sander, but brass requires a little more work. I use a file to get things mostly flush before moving to my sander.
Leveling the Legs
It’s almost inevitable that the stool will wobble a bit. So we need to make sure all four contact points are touching the surface at the same time. I like to use a trick I learned from William Ng that is super simple and quick. I tape a piece of sandpaper to the workbench and simply drag the stool over the paper. I put a little extra downward pressure on the offending part of the leg just to help work it down faster. I do this process on both legs using a consistent number of strokes. Unless the wobble is severe, this should take care of it fairly quickly without going too far.
The only thing left to do now is prepare for finishing. The entire piece is sanded thoroughly with 180 grit. Now is the time to view the piece from as many angles as possible just to make sure we’re completely happy with the shape. The next step is finishing!