I was constantly in trouble as a kid for climbing on top of counters in the kitchen to get something out of a cabinet or from the top of the fridge. As I grew up, I stopped having to stand on the countertops to reach a cup for coffee or sweet tea, but I still had issues with reaching the top shelves. So, my mom, who couldn’t reach them either, bought a little step stool.
Nowadays, I have no issues reaching the tip-top of the refrigerator or those uppermost shelves where the seasonal wares are stored, but I still remember fondly the small stools that kicked around our family home. This is my take on a simple stool. This one is not very tall because I wanted it to be very sturdy. You can always adjust the dimensions to fit your need.
- (2) 4″ x 8″ x ¾”
- (1) 17″ x 8″ x ¾”
- 1″ dowel rod
As you can tell from the cut list this is a very simple build. I used ¾” thick birch top plywood scrap but you can use normal plywood. After cutting down to these dimensions I taped the two 4×8 ¾ pieces together with blue painter’s tape. This very important step ensures you will make both steps the same size.
Shaping the legs
Make sure both 4×8 pieces are the same size. Then cut the small geometrically-shaped arch that makes the feet of the stool. I made my shape by drawing a line across the legs two inches from the bottom. This marks the top of the cutout. Measuring inward 3″ from either side, I placed a mark on this line and a marks two inches from either side at the bottom. Using a straightedge, I connected the top and bottom pieces. See photo below for more detail.
These basic shapes were cut out with a bandsaw. Afterward, I switched to a scroll saw to finish and refine the cuts. Since the leg pieces were still taped together this allowed me to cut both at the same time—if I messed up, at least the cut would look intentional! Once I was satisfied with the cuts, I separated the two-leg pieces and sanded both down along with the top.
Attaching the legs
After staining the pieces and letting them dry, I was ready to attach the top to the legs. I started by finding and marking exactly where I wanted them to be (1.5″ in from either side). Then, I used a straightedge to make a line across the top and marked where I wanted the screws to be—about 1″ in from each side.
IMPORTANT: Don’t put your screws too close to the edge. This could cause your wood to crack! Giving them a wee bit of room makes that far less likely.
I used a 1″ Forstner bit to drill about halfway through the material, making sure I was centered on where the screw was going to be. Use a small drill bit to pre-drill both the top piece and the leg pieces.
TIP: It is very important to select the correct bit when pre-drilling. It should be the same size as the main part of the screw BUT smaller than the ridge that goes around the screw. If you go too small, the wood will press out, potentially splitting the wood. Go too large and the ridges won’t have anything to bite into. Most screw packs will tell you which size bit to use or you can find it online.
After I pre-drilled all four places where the screws would be used, I glued the stool together and used screws to join it.
Now it’s time to hide those screws! (Psst—that’s why you drilled the 1-inch holes in the top!)
At the bandsaw, I cut the 1″ dowel into four short pieces and sanded them to make sure they were flat. Round the edges a bit so that they slide into the holes easier. Now put a little glue into the holes and use a mallet to tap the dowel rods into the holes. Let dry for at least an hour or more.
I used a flush cut pull saw to cut the dowel rods flush, then sanded the whole top a bit to make sure everything was good and flat. At this point, I decided to add another layer of stain to deepen the color. I almost left the dowel rods light-colored to emphasize the contrast but in the end, decided not to. In the end, those aesthetic choices are up to you!
The stool just needs a few coats of finish and it’s ready to use. For my build, I used a mixture of equal parts paint thinner and spar urethane. I ended up putting 10 very thin coats on the top and 5 coats on the bottom. Make sure you give it plenty of time between each coat to dry and use high grit sandpaper. I used 800 grit, between each coat. Just do a quick sanding by hand to level off any high spots or to get rid of any drip marks. I like to use a shop towel to apply the finish so that you don’t get brush marks.
That’s it! Now, you’ll always be able to reach the cookie jar on the top shelf.
Adam Kittrell is the Wood and Metal Shop Foreman at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. He has been working in and around shops since middle school and has only cut his fingers on a saw once. His shop teachers would be proud.