Scooped-Seat Stool

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 41 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Top simple straight legs with a sculpted seat.

Overall dimensions: 191⁄4"w × 141⁄4"d × 285⁄8"h

Whether for the shop or kitchen, stools have had their place in and around the home for centuries. Unfortunately, many store-bought models feature hard, flat seats that offer as much comfort as a high school bleacher. Enter this sculpted rendition that offers comfort where comfort is needed.

This project may look challenging to build, but my construction approach is both simple and strong. Loose tenons, fitted into mortises routed with a matched pair of jigs make quick work of the angled joinery where the stretchers meet the legs. To sculpt the seat, I used a handheld angle grinder outfitted with a Holey Galahad grinding attachment (see the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide on page 38). Available in various grits, this tungsten-carbide studded donut removes stock quickly, but is surprisingly easy to control. As the name suggests, the disc is perforated.

All of the parts can be made from 15 board feet of 8/4 stock. Stretchers can be cut from 3⁄4" stock if you prefer. I’ve made stools entirely from walnut and cherry, and have mixed species for different seat/base combinations. This time I used ash, not only because I like the look of this heavily grained wood, but also because thick stock is inexpensive and readily available from local mills.

Use a stop to ensure that the legs are the same length. Inset: Mark the legs for orientation and future mortises. Note how orienting the end grain diagonally results in four straight-grained faces.

Prepare the seat and leg stock

1 Select the best looking stock to make the seat (A). (If you need to join two boards, locate the glue line along the center of the seat.) Flatten the bottom face and one adjacent edge, and then rip the blank to the size in the Cut List. Set it aside for now.

2 Select stock for the legs (B). For straight-grained faces, orient the end grain so that it runs diagonally across the ends as shown in Photo A Inset. (If you’re working with plainsawn boards, riftsawn stock can typically be found along the outer edges.) Cut the legs oversize, and then joint one face and an adjacent edge. Using your thickness planer, simultaneously square and thickness the legs to 15⁄8" square by rotating them a quarter rotation with each pass.

3 Group the stool legs together for the best possible look and use a pencil to mark these pairings as shown in Photo A Inset.

Rout the leg mortises in 1⁄4" increments until the bit bottoms out on the depth stop. Feed the router clockwise around the jig opening.

4 Again paying attention to the grain appearance, rough-cut the upper front/rear stretchers (C), middle front/rear stretchers (D), lower front/rear stretchers (E), upper side stretchers (F), middle side stretchers (G), and lower side stretchers (H). (Note: You can make the stretchers from 5/4 stock, but ripping opposing pairs from 8/4 stock helps provide better grain symmetry.) Thickness the stretcher stock to 1" and set it aside for now.

5 Hold the four legs (B) upright, and cant them as they’ll be on the finished stool. Mark the ends to indicate the direction of the angles when making the cut.

6 Set the bevel and miter angle on your mitersaw to 5°. Using the angled reference marks on the legs for proper orientation, cut the legs’ top ends. Then set up a stop system, like the one shown in Photo A. Clamp the stop system to your saw and cut the legs to final length. Re-mark the top ends to help you locate the mortises and outside faces.

Mortise the legs with a pair of jigs

1 Make the bases for the mortising jigs in Figure 2 by stacking and taping together two pieces of 1⁄4"-thick plywood. Arrange spacers on top to establish a 13⁄8"-long by 3⁄4"-wide opening (Photo B). Outfit your plunge router with a 1⁄4" upcut spiral bit and 7⁄16" OD template bushing, and insert the bushing into the opening. Working in a clockwise motion, lower the bit in 1⁄4" increments and cut through both pieces of plywood.

2 To locate the hardwood fence on the leg mortising jig, first mark a center line across the width of one of the legs (B). Center the jig’s cutout over the center line and clamp the base to the leg. Position the fence against the base and flush to the leg, and screw the base to the fence.

3 Referring to the marks you made on the ends of the legs (B), lay out the mortise locations shown in Figure 1 on the inside faces. Note that the mortise locations for the middle and lower front/rear stretchers (D, E) are different than those for the middle and lower side stretchers (G, H).

4 To rout the leg mortises, use the same bushing and bit combination used to make the jig, but adjust your plunge router’s depth stop for a 1"-deep cut. Locate the center of the jig’s opening onto one of the mortise center lines and clamp the jig in place. Gradually plunge the bit into the leg stock and rout the mortise, as shown in Photo C. Reposition the jig on each of the mortise center lines and rout all of the leg mortises in the same manner.

Make the stretchers and loose tenons

1 Rip the stretcher stock to width; then cut all the parts (C, D, E, F, G, H) 1" longer than the lengths in the Cut List.

2 With your mitersaw set at 5° and the bevel angle at 0°, angle-cut one end of every stretcher piece. Now cut the opposite ends, using a stopblock to ensure that the stretchers with the same part letters are equal length.

3 Starting with the front/rear assemblies, lay the legs (B) on your bench and test the fit of the upper, middle and lower stretchers (C, D, E). (You may need to make some adjustments for a tight fit. If a stretcher sits too low, trim it to fit. If it sits too high, mark the stretcher for an off-center mortise.) Lay out center lines on the stretchers’ ends for positioning the mortising jig. Repeat the fitting and layout steps with the side stretchers (F, G, H).

4 Clamp a stretcher (C) on end in a bench vise. Position the stretcher jig’s base so that the cutout is centered on your layout lines and attach the base to a fence, as shown in Figure 2.

5 Position the jig so that it is centered on the stretcher’s (C) mortising center line and clamp it in place. Rout the mortise using the same plunge-routing set up used to mortise the legs (B), as shown in Photo D. Mortise both ends of each stretcher (C, D, E, F, G, H) using the same technique.

Align the jig’s penciled crosshairs with the mortise layout line and rout the mortises for the loose tenons.
Mill loose tenon stock in stages. Test the thickness in a mortise before trimming to width and length.

Rout 1⁄8"-wide chamfers on the edges of the legs and stretchers to soften sharp corners.

6 To make loose tenons, use leftover scrap at least 12" long (for safe handling). Thickness the stock until it fits snugly into the mortises (Photo E); then rip the stock to match the width of the mortises. Using a table-mounted router outfitted with a 3⁄16" round-over bit, rout a bullnose profile onto the edges of your tenon stock. Cut the loose tenons 115⁄16" long. (Sizing the loose tenons 1⁄16" shorter than the combined depth of the two mortises ensures that joint sits properly and creates a small pocket for excess glue.)

7 Dry-fit the upper front/rear and side stretchers (C, F) to the legs (B) so that the stretchers’ top inside edges are flush with the ends of the legs. The outside edges of the stretchers will protrude above the angled top ends of the legs. Mark the projecting area with a pencil, and then disassemble the joints. Set your tablesaw’s bevel angle to 5° and trim up to your lines.

8 Chamfer the edges of all four legs (B) and the stretchers (C, D, E, F, G, H), using a 45° chamfer bit in your router table, as shown in Photo F. (Don’t rout the top edges of the upper stretchers [C,F].)

Position clamps in line with the stretchers. The angled clamping blocks compensate for the angled legs.
Place the stool’s front assembly and stretchers on your bench, apply glue, and set the rear assembly on top.

Set the top of the leg assembly against a flat surface when applying clamps to ensure that the upper stretchers are flush with the tops of the legs.

Assemble the base

1 Using a tablesaw or mitersaw, cut about a dozen clamping blocks angled at 5°. Next, insert the loose tenons and dry-fit the entire base assembly one side at a time. (Trimming the width of the tenons will allow you to shift the stretchers upward for a tighter fit.)

2 Glue up the base in steps, starting with the front and back sections. Lay a thin coat of glue in the leg and stretcher mortises and on the loose tenons, and then assemble the upper, middle, and lower front/rear stretchers (C, D, E) to the legs (B). Apply clamps across the stretchers, as shown in Photo G. Give the assemblies time to dry.

3 Position one of the assembled front/rear sections face down on your bench, insert the glued tenon stock and side stretchers (F, G, H), and then set the back assembly on top (Photo H).

4 Stand the assembled base on your bench upside down and set your clamps in place (Photo I). To ensure that there won’t be any gaps between the upper stretchers (C, F) and seat, make sure the ends of the legs and their adjoining stretchers are flush to the benchtop.

Draw out the shape of the templates onto the seat blank. Using a half-pattern for the front profile helps ensure a symmetrical layout.

Shape the Seat

1 Using the scooped seat patterns on page 72, make a pair of templates from 1⁄4"-thick plywood. Trace the shape of the templates onto the front and side edges of the seat blank (A), as shown in the elevations in Figure 1 and Photo J.

Resaw the seat’s front profile using a 1⁄2" blade with 3-4 TPI. Maintain a slow and steady feed rate.

2 If your bandsaw has sufficient capacity (a 14" bandsaw with a riser block installed should have no trouble), resaw out the front profile of the seat, as shown in Photo K. Take a practice pass on a wide board to make sure the blade is square to the table, adjusting it if necessary. If your bandsaw isn’t up to the task, don’t worry; you can remove the waste stock in the next step.

Grinding attachments are fairly easy to control, but work only as closely to the layout lines as you’re comfortable.

3 Using a grinder outfitted with a Holey Galahad attachment, remove the waste along the sides and the center on the top side of the seat, as shown in Photo L.

A coarse grit (my choice) makes quick work of this task, but a less aggressive medium- or fine-grit attachment also works.

Use an angle grinder with a flap sander for final shaping, and an orbital sander for smoothing.

4 Continue shaping the top of the seat with an angle grinder equipped with a flap sander. For final shaping and smoothing, use a random-orbit sander, as shown in Photo M. Start with an aggressive grit–40 or 60–to fair the curves, and then progress through 220 grit. Finish up by hand-sanding with the grain.

5 Position the seat on the base of the stool so that it is properly centered, and then trace the locations of the legs (B) and upper front/rear and side stretchers (C, F).

After grinding away the bulk of the waste on the underside of the seat, use a spokeshave to work up to your layout lines.

6 Flip the seat over on your workbench and clamp it in place. Use the same grinding tool to remove the waste areas on the bottom. Be sure you don’t trim too close to the lines where the base joins the seat. Switch to a flap sander and spokeshave for final shaping, as shown in Photo N. Hand-sand through 220 grit.

7 Apply finish to the seat and legs. Because the legs were finished before assembly, they may not need much more than a light coat to replenish any dry spots or scratches. Knowing that the seat will be subject to a lot more wear, I apply three to five coats, allowing a day for each coat to dry before applying the next. After giving the final coat a few days to cure, rub it out with wax applied with 0000 steel wool.

Attach the Seat to the Base

1 Using a 3⁄4" Forstner bit, drill shallow mortises into the upper side stretchers (F) where shown in Figure 1. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting the stretchers; then attach figure-8 fasteners into each mortise with a screw.

2 Set the seat upside down on your workbench and position the base on top. Make sure the seat is centered, and screw through the figure-8 fasteners and into the bottom of the seat, after drilling pilot holes.

3 Have a seat. 

About Our Author

Matthew Teague writes and builds furniture in Nashville, Tennessee. When not at his workbench, Teague spends his time wrangling his daughter, Ava Jean, and his son, Locke.


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page