Rounding the corner

The last major bit of our stepstool is to make the axle that the legs rotate around.  This is a piece of hickory that I had.  Hard to beat the resilience of hickory for something like this, though ash comes a close second (there’s reason that those two species provide the hafts for almost all the tools out there).  It’s a bit of a stretch for the bearings on my old lathe, but I manage.


Now I go ahead and drill and countersink the pilot holes for the screws that will actually hold the stool together.  The specification was for brass screws, but I prefer to rely on the greater strength of steel ones, even if they aren’t as glitzy.  Be sure to use a reliable depth stop when you’re drilling into the legs so that you don’t poke through the edges.


Finally, I depart from the specification in a minor way by putting a bullnose profile on the steps.  The square edge is just unfriendly to my mind.  I use my #4 smooth plane for this.  It’s faster than a rasp, and there’s less sanding afterward.


Actually assembling this stepstool is a bit of a thought exercise.  You have to put the axle inside the front legs at the same time as the bottom step, then attach the back framework around the front assembly, finally attaching the top step to cap off the whole thing.  You wind up thinking that you were definitely, definitely shorted a couple of hands.  But it is doable.  Once it’s together, you will need to level the feet.  Be sure to bevel the bottoms of the feet once you level it off so that they won’t splinter.

A note on finishing.  Given the complexity and overlapping nature of the mechanism, it’s easier to sand and finish before you screw it together.  Also, because you’ve got parts rubbing against each other, a film finish (like shellac) or paint are not good candidates for use as they will bind up.  I used an oil finish here and it keeps everything moving smoothly.






Kind of a stretch

Once the rounded bearing surfaces are trued, and the holes for the axle are bored, we can put in the stretchers on the back legs.  Be sure to mark from the top end, and as always, try to mark the two legs together for consistency.


The stretchers are attached with a lap joint.  As there are several “show” surfaces, it is important to be careful in your fitting.  They’ll be screwed down later, but they should hold themselves together at this point by friction alone.


Two stretchers make for four joints, which will take a little while to cut well, but persevere!  Once you’re done, you can see what the back half of the stool will look like.  But don’t secure it yet!  Our stool is only mostly done, and we’ll need to affix the back legs around the front ones and an axle before we can screw them down.



Rounding error

Technically, we’re trying to avoid error in this bit especially.  This is the working part of our stool, the centre that the whole thing quite literally revolves around.  We have a lot of very specific marking.  Locate the hole for the axle before you cut anything, as you will lose some reference surfaces in the process.


Once I had everything laid out, I cut and trued the rounded ends as consistently as possible.  As always, try to do both at the same time.  Not only is it faster, but it will create a more accurate surface across the piece.


Finally, bore the holes for the axle.  Next time we’ll put in the stretchers, completing our rear sub-assembly.



Dead as a dado

Er, not so much.

But we are on to the joining of the step to the legs.  This requires a housing dado.  IT IS IMPORTANT that you measure from the top edge…on both pieces.  If you scribe them together, this will facilitate this.  We must measure from the top since the bottom of the legs will get levelled later on, and we want the step level.  If we measure from them as they are, it will (in all likelihood) turn out to be off a bit.  Also notice that they are cut with the same setting on the protractor that we used for the top angle.  If you use a regular square, you’ll be quite disappointed with the results.  But with a little care, they’ll turn out okay.


Once the housing dados are both done, make sure the middle step will seat correctly.  It looks in this picture like the edge of the step is all chewed up.  Well, that’s because the edge of the step is chewed up.  But it will work out in the big, beautiful end…believe me.




The Compleat Angler

In this stepstool, the bulk of ensuring that the folding ability works correctly is concentrated in the legs.  There are four legs with two different angles, and an angled housing dado.  It’s important to keep everything in order, or it will quickly degenerate into firewood.

The first thing is to scribe the angles into the legs.  To do this, I use the protractor adapter for my combination square, and then knife in the line.


Then, I use a bench hook and my trusty Disston hybrid saw to cut the angle.  A bit of work with a plane will smooth it further.


Eventually, all of the legs are cut to the proper angle.  Keep them in order!


This is not a particularly difficult or complex operation.  It does not require a mitre box or some such.  The difficult lies in making sure that the right angles go in the right place, especially since the pieces are so very alike.  Remember that you should end up with parallelograms.  If you have a truncated pyramid shape, you’ve gone off the path somewhere.  Do check yourself before you start sawing away!







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!