Stepping on it

I like the little Shaker steppers.  They’re an elegant solution to the problem of how a little 4′ 9″ Shaker sister was to reach the coats waaaaay up in the top of the built-in cabinets they Shakers were noted for.


The problem is that these little pieces of furniture take up a surprising amount of floor space: about 400 in².  And trying to make it fit in a closet until you need it has similar difficulties.  While they were pretty, they weren’t as functional as I’d like.

The other end of the spectrum came in this form.  However, as it was all utility and no beauty, it really wasn’t something I wanted to give as a gift.


Surely a compromise could be found!  As it happened, I ran across a set of plans for a wooden folding stool in a book I’d gotten from the local library that combined the foldable utility of a mass-produced stool with the reserved grace of a wooden stool.  Perfect!

As it happened, I had just enough red oak to make this stool without having to make a trip to the sawmill.  The person I made it for likes the look of oak, so that worked out pretty well.  But the plans specified walnut for the treads and cherry for the frame and brass screws throughout.  A conundrum!

Not really.

First of all, don’t be enslaved to the plans published in a book or on the web…unless you need to be.  Yeah, I know.  Helpful, right?  In this case, the angles and radii were the important things to be followed.  The wood species and fasteners were inconsequential, so long as it was equal to or greater than the specs.

This brings up an interesting exercise.  Say you’ve got a plan you like, but it’s not an exact fit.  Either you need to make it bigger or you want to use a different wood.  How much can you get away with that?  In general, I don’t have a problem with substitutions so long as they use a stronger species.  In this case, oak is stronger than cherry or walnut, so it was fine.  Here’s a chart that lists most of the relevant species we use in the woodshop.  A caution, though: those values are approximations.  Wood is not a manufactured product.  Different trees produce different timber.  Leave some margin for error.  Also, figured material is not nearly as strong as straight-grained timber.  Leave it for something that isn’t load-bearing.

So here’s the pile of wood I broke out, ready to go.  Next time we’ll start putting it together!