Dovetailed Step Stools
This was one of those projects that I never thought would get finished. I officially started in 2020 right around COVID lockdowns, and made good progress until work ramped up and I shelved it. The pieces sat under my workbench for 3 years through another child and a house move before I'd get to them again. It was easy to keep pumping the brakes due to hesitance of messing things up with more techniques I'd never done before, but ultimately I decided trying to finish and screwing up was better than leaving them in pieces under the workbench.
I followed the tutorial Marc and Matt put on over at The Wood Whisperer Guild, which was very good. It's a free project over there, so I don't feel bad sharing my progress here.
Every project starts with cutting stock to rough size. I have a bunch of ash that I acquired on a sale at my lumber dealer years ago, and figured it was a good option. I will later very much regret this choice, but we'll let past me live in ignorance.
Was feeling really good about my handsawing in this shot, nice and square first shot.
Legs and tops all cut to length.
I didn't have a board wide enough for the stools, so gluing up was the only option.
Overall I think I did a decent job with matching the grain. If I had finished the project in a timely manner things would have probably worked out better, but we'll get to that surprise later.
First step of the process was establishing the correct angle of the legs on both legs and top. I believe I went with something right around 10 degrees.
Along with the angle on the crosscut pieces, I needed wedges to match the angle. These wedges were critical to the construction of the stools as they would be used to correctly position the boards at the bandsaw when the table would not tilt in the direction needed. Take care of the wedges, you'll need them up until the end.
A jig helps make these uniform in size.
4 wedges per stool. I kept them all matched to each one to avoid possible variance between the two if they got mixed up.
I marked one board for the pins (never done pins first up until now), and then used that as reference to the other 3.
I believe this is the ruler I used to transfer matching marks to each board.
I had to put in a scribe line to make sure my chisel work would line up on each piece. I worked the scribe around all sides of the legs and top.
Here is a good illustration of how the wedges help keep the stock oriented at the correct angle when working at the bandsaw. This wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't splaying the legs
My bevel gauge was locked to this setting for weeks while I was doing all the angle transfers. I specifically went with an angle that would work on my bandsaw table on both sides of the tilt.
I really really really didn't want to overshoot my baseline, so I utilized my featherboard as a stop.
I would set the fence for each pin, and then make all necessary cuts for all 4 legs. If I didn't care about grain continuity I could have hot swapped any of the legs until the fine tuning phase.
I attempted to make clearing the waste as easy as I could.
Hitting the opposite tilt for the pins
Just taking a peek at what we're working towards
Pins now take shape. Kerfing out the waste made clearing it much easier.
I used my fret saw to wipe those thin slices out.
To transfer the pins to the tail board, I used the bottom of the opposite leg to provide a positive registration point for each board. Worked like a charm.
After scribing in the tails, I used a wide chisel to emphasize the marks so I could see them on this open grained ash.
Bless this router bit.
Here's a good look at the difference between my router clear vs chisel cleared tail boards. The router was faster and produced a cleaner result. I know what I"ll be using in the future from here on out.
Bringing back the wedges to now take the tail boards to the bandsaw. No table angle this time, just got to get the baseline at the correct splay angle.
This is what I was left with after the bandsaw. Easy to clear the waste on the one side, but everything else had to go by hand.
Back at it with the fret saw. I'm really torn on this knew concepts saw. Looks nice, but kind of frustrating at times.
Once the waste was cleared, I brought back the opposite leg to help me keep angles on point. As long as the edges were consistent, I could tolerate some slippage on the inside. Thankfully things worked out well enough, still a pain to chisel all this ash.
To fit the dovetails, they were already really close. Marc suggested using the sandpaper on a stick method and boy did this come in clutch. I was using 100 grit in this case, and it was just coarse enough to give me the necessary cutting speed, but not mega aggressive. Highly suggest for anyone else to try in the future.
IT FITS! And it doesn't look halfway bad either.
With all the dovetails now fit, the next step was to get on the final shaping. Legs got a tapered cut, and the tops a profiled edge.
You can see the table angle set here to match the taper of the legs.
A little easier on the eyes.
This took some gymnastics to get the cut made on both sides with the included angle, but I eventually got the job done.
Pretty much all the curved surfaces got the same rasp/sandpaper treatment to clean up the rough cuts.
Nothing left to do than sand and glue.
The glue up was not comfortable in any method that I tried. Just a real awkward shape. If I were to do it again, I would cut a piece that would fit in the gap of the legs with matching angles. It would have solved a lot of problems.
Used my pocket plane to flush up the pins and tails.
I also had to level out one of the feet that was a little off.
Here's where we get real honest. I tried my best to get these dovetails as tight as possible, and I think I got 98% there, but alas I still managed to have a few gaps on some of the joints. I opted to wedge these as best I could, and then walk away. Honesty is the best policy right?
The sharp edges of the stools were quite harsh, but I wanted to keep the squared off look, so I sanded in a small ~1/16" radius to make them more friendly to pick up. Turned out real nice.
Last step before finish was putting the ol' John Hancock on these. I hope these stools get some great use, and maybe, just maybe get passed on for some grandchildren to use.
Finish for days! Going with a standard Arm-R-Seal on these. They need the protection from the little feet.
It was a crazy time getting them done, but happy to be done and get them in the house. Thanks for reading!