Counter-Height Stool

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This article is from Issue 95 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Subtle angles make a sturdy kitchen companion

What’s a counter without a stool or two to accompany it? Actually, this stool is more of a stool/chair hybrid with a curved back rest that provides a little support while serving as a convenient handle at the same time. The gently curved seat cradles your backside without pinching and the lower stretchers give you a good place to rest your feet. In all, a fine accompaniment to any counter.

Construction is straightforward with loose tenon joints connecting the legs, rails, and stretchers. There are three challenges to be aware of: First, the back rest is a bent lamination that fits into notches cut in the back legs. The easiest way to cut these notches is with a hand saw. Second, the front legs splay out slightly which is accomplished by cutting the ends of the front rail at a slight angle. And third, the side rails are joined to the front rail also at a slight angle and with triple tenons—joints that require a little more precision than a single loose tenon joint. Don’t let these angled joints deter you. They are easily accomplished with the help of a wedge and spacers.

I made the stool in the photo from white oak and walnut, but feel free to make your own selection. I’ve used cherry and ash to make this stool as well.

Robust Joinery makes a rock-solid seat

The legs, rails, and stretchers are joined with loose mortise and tenons. Loose tenon joinery takes a lot of the fuss out of non-90° joints because the pieces can be cut with a single table saw pass. In contrast, integral tenons require making matching angled shoulder cuts. The crest rail and the seat slats are fastened using countersunk screws with the holes plugged. As always when dealing with angled parts, cut the pieces such as the stretchers that must fit in between other pieces a little long at first, then trim them to fit your assembly. 

Mortising Jig

Plans for the mortising jig used here are from the June/July 2017, issue 77.

Order of Work

  • Make and join front legs and rail
  • Make and join rear legs and side rails
  • Join side and front rails
  • Make and join seat rail
  • Make seat curve
  • Make and join stretchers
  • Bend back rest
  • Make and attach seat slats

Taper the front legs, and rout the front rail joints

Mill the stock for the rails and legs to thickness, allowing two inches of extra length for the back legs. Set the material for the back legs and seat rail aside. Cut the front legs, front, and side rails to the sizes indicated on the drawing leaving the rails 1/4" long. Also mill an 11" length of scrap to the same thickness as the rails. Cut this piece into a 4° wedge that tapers from 3/16" at one end to 7/8" at the other. Use this wedge to position the rails when cutting them to exact length as well as when mortising their ends. Using a wedge keeps the angle consistent from machine to machine. Lay out the mortises on the sides of the front legs and on the ends of the front rail. To cut the mortises, you’ll need a mortising jig capable of holding pieces both horizontally and vertically.

Cut the rail ends. Fasten a 4° wedge to the miter gauge with double-faced tape. Cut the front and side rails to final length, trimming both ends of the front rail, and one end of each side rail.

Align and conquer. Lay out the taper on a leg. Align the cut line with the edge of a carrier board and screw a fence in place to locate the leg. Add a stop block at the far end and toggle clamps to hold the leg securely. Set the fence so the cut matches the width of the carrier board. Taper the legs on two adjacent faces.

Mortise the front legs. Choose the front and outside faces of your legs. Lay out the mortises on the inside faces. Rout the mortises with the front face against the jig and the outside face down. Use the edge guide to center the mortise on the leg and the stops to control the mortise’s length.

Mortise the front rail. Replace the jig’s horizontal fence with its vertical fence. Lay out the mortises on the ends of the front rail. Choose the rail’s front face and clamp it in the jig with that face out. Use the wedge to help with positioning. Rout the mortise. When you rout the opposite end, turn the wedge so the wide end is up.

Make the back legs

Use the layout oat right to make a pattern for the back legs from a piece of 3/4" sheet material such as MDF. Note that the pattern includes an extra inch at either end for attaching the pattern to the leg blanks. Pay particular attention to getting the little flat where the rail will join the leg. Use the pattern to lay out and cut the legs. Cut the mortises in the side rails and back legs as you did for the front legs.

Rout to shape. Bandsaw the legs roughly to shape. Screw the template to the blank and rout it to its final shape, pivoting off a starter pin as you engage the pattern bit. Transfer the end and shoulder lines to the leg before unscrewing it.

Unusual means of support. Cut a scrap of plywood to match the curve on the back of the leg. Clamp this to the mortising jig to help support the leg as you rout the mortise for the side rail. Rout the legs (and the side rails) with their outside surfaces facing out.

Make the tenons. Cut a 12-15" length of 3⁄8" × 11⁄2" tenon stock to be a snug fit in the mortises. Round over the corners with a 3⁄16" roundover bit before cutting the individual tenons to length. Use a stop block against the table saw fence to prevent the pieces from being trapped between the fence and the blade.

Cut the front-to-side rail mortises

The side rails attach to the front rail with triple tenon joints. These joints are necessary to incorporate as much long grain to long grain glue surface as possible. While they may seem tricky at first, the use of spacers takes all the guesswork out of the process. Make the two necessary spacers from 1/2" plywood or MDF. Also make up a thicker vertical fence and risers for your router jig to position the clamps properly. You can use this same piece horizontally when you rout the front rail.

Spaced Out. Lay out the mortises on the angled ends of the side rails. Clamp a rail in the mortising jig with the angled end up, using the 4° wedge to hold the rail at the proper angle. Rout the outermost mortises. Then tape a spacer to the back of the jig before routing the second mortises. Add the second spacer and rout the third mortises.

Double Play. Once the edge guide is repositioned, rout the first uppermost mortise in the front rail. Then slide the rail laterally to position it for the second of the two uppermost mortises so you don’t have to reposition the end stops. Add one spacer and rout the second mortises, then add the second spacer for the third mortises, as shown here. Note that having three toggle clamps helps a lot as you reposition the rail between cuts.

Notch the seat and side rails

The seat rail is connected to the side rails with lap joints. Clamp the side rails to the front rail so you can get an actual measurement of the distance between them—measure right at the front rail. Then cut mating notches in the side rails and seat rail as shown. Make the distance between the notches in the seat rail equal to the distance you just measured between the side rails.

Set two stops. Since the notches are wider than most dado blades, make the cut in two passes. Position one side of the cut with the stop on the miter gauge and the other with the rip fence. Use a piece of scrap 1⁄4" plywood to prevent tearout on the backside of the cuts.

Check for fit. Make the cuts in the side rails 7⁄8" deep. Then adjust the cuts in the seat rail so that when the pieces go together, the seat rail sits about 1⁄16" proud of the top surface of the side rails.

Add the seat curve

The seat’s gentle scoop comes from curved cuts in the front and seat rails, along with angled cuts on the tops of the front legs and side rails. Start by laying out the curve in the front rail. Then use this curve as reference for determining the cuts on the tops of the front legs, the bevels on the top of the seat rails, and the curve in the seat rail on the front rail curve.

Flexible layout. The curve on the front rail should dip 3⁄8" in at the center point.

Continue the curve. After bandsawing the curve in the front rail, extrapolate the angle at which to cut the front legs so as to continue the curve. Cut the legs on the table saw.

Same angle. Mark the ends of the side rails from the curve on the front rail. Tilt the blade to match this angle and bevel the side rails.

Add the stretchers

Cut the stretchers to the thickness and width indicated, leaving the front stretcher 1⁄2" long and the side stretchers 11⁄2" long for now. Make the length of the back stretcher equal the distance between the side rails. Lay out and cut the mortises for the front and rear stretchers in the legs. Make the mortises in the legs parallel to the legs’ front faces. Also cut the mortises in the ends of the rear stretcher. Then clamp the stool together so you can mark the length of the front stretcher. Cut the front stretcher to length and cut the mortises in its ends. Reassemble the chair and mark the side stretchers for length before cutting the joints that attach them to the front and rear stretchers. Glue up the base. 

Stretcher marks. Hold the front stretcher in place with spring clamps so you can mark it for length between the legs. Note, when you are initially clamping the stool together, use double-sided tape to help hold the pads in place to protect the pieces from the clamps.

Play the angles. With the front stretcher in place, rest the side stretchers in position to mark their lengths and the angles of the cuts. Note that because of the angles, your layout lines will indicate a piece that is shorter than it has to be. Cut wide of the lines and sneak up on a tight fit.

Make more wedges. To hold the side stretchers at the proper angle for mortising, make two wedges (one for the front mortises, the other for the rear). To figure out what angle to cut each wedge, place the wedge blank against the mortise jig’s vertical fence and hold the stretcher alongside with its beveled end in plane with the top surface. Trace along the backside of the stretcher to mark the blank.

Add the Back Rest 

While the base is drying, make the back rest. The back rest is a bent lamination that fits into notches cut in the back legs. It is held in place with screws hidden by wooden plugs. Make a form from five or six layers of 3/4" plywood according to the drawing at left. I like to line the inside of my forms with a thin layer of sheet cork covered with packing tape. The cork helps even out possible irregularities in the form while the tape keeps any squeeze out from sticking. Cut the material for the back rest into five 1/8 × 3-1/2 × 15" strips and bend them over the form. After the glue dries thoroughly, cut the piece to final size and use it to help lay out the notches in the tops of the rear legs. Cut the notches, shape the top of the legs, then screw the rail into place.

Roll on. A small printer’s brayer makes a good glue spreader. Apply glue to the individual laminations that will make up the back rest.

Under pressure. Clamp the bend between the two parts of the form. I used four bar clamps to do the initial squeeze, then added four F-clamps for added pressure.

Roll it through. Scrape away the squeeze out and joint one edge of the lamination to make a good edge to run against the table saw fence. Cut the back rest to its final 31⁄4" width by rolling it through the cut, keeping the workpiece in contact with the table at the front of the blade.

Scribe to fit. Hold the back rest in place and trace its curve on top of each back leg. Cut the notches with a tenon saw.

Make the seat

The seat consists of six tapered slats that are screwed to the front and seat rails. I cut mine by resawing a piece of 5 /4 stock. Cut the pieces to size and taper them on the table saw from 2-5/8" at the front end to 2-1/16" at the rear. Arrange the pieces in order on your bench top and lay out the curved cuts along the front and rear ends. Make these cuts on the band saw. Clean up the saw marks then screw the pieces in place. After sanding the plugs flush, finish the stool to suit. I used several coats of wiping varnish. 

Curves front and rear. The seat is subtly curved along its front and back edges. Lay out these curves with a bending spline or a straight strip of wood. Use the same curve for both locations.

Spaced out. Attach the slats from the center out. Cut some 1⁄8" thick pieces to help with the spacing as you screw the slats in place.

Touch down. Place the completed stool on a flat surface to check it for level. Scribe around each of the feet and trim so each meets the floor at the proper angle. Note that the front of the seat should be 1⁄4" higher than the back.

1 Comment

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  • rs from WEST CHESTER
    There’s supposed to be a cut list for this. Where is it?

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