Three-Legged Stool

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Custom jigs ensure fool-proof production 

For a woodworking project that’s attractive, useful, and fun to build, it’s hard to beat this three-legged stool. With its scooped, gently triangulated seat, tapered legs, turned stretchers, and flared stance, it can easily find a home in most rooms or shops. In fact, because one stool is rarely enough, this project provides a great opportunity to jig up for small-scale production, as we’ve been doing for some time at Berea College Student Craft. 
Making the jigs takes some time, but it pays off in spades. They ensure exacting joinery and enable you to make a set of stools in not much more time than it would take to make one without jigs. It also provides a great gateway into the kind of angled joinery and round mortise-and-tenon work used in chairmaking. Once you understand the concepts, it becomes a lot easier to translate those skills into seating designs of your own. 
A project like this doesn’t cost a lot in the way of materials, especially when using domestic woods. We usually make the seat from cherry. Our legs and stretchers are usually made of ash or oak. Both are tough and inexpensive, with an open grain structure that is nicely highlighted by milk paint, which creates a striking and colorful contrast to the clear-finished seat. The seat wedges are walnut for additional contrast.

Make the seat

Begin by making two seat templates from 1/2" plywood or MDF, referring to the pattern shown. In the mortising template, drill small awl access holes at each mortise center point. Then make the seat blank from 5 / 4 stock. When making multiples, I dress a pair of 8 × 30" boards to 1-1/8" thick, with each length providing one half of two seats. After edge-gluing the boards together for a good grain match, rip the lengths to 14" wide, keeping the joint centered. Then crosscut each blank to 14" long. For each blank, mark the center point on both faces, and drill a 3/8"-dia. hole 1/4" deep into what will be the underside to create a pivot point for jig location. Bandsaw the blank round as shown. 

Place the mortising template on the top side of the blank with its center line aligned with the blank’s grain direction. Then poke an awl through the template holes to locate the leg mortises on the blank. Using a drill press ramp as shown, bore a 1"-dia. hole at each location. Next, dish the seat using the jig shown, before moving back to the bandsaw to cut the final triangular profile that you’ve laid out on the underside of the blank using the shaping template. Afterward, sand the edges to remove any irregularities, and then round over the underside using a 3/4" roundover bit and the top side using a spokeshave. Finish up by plugging the center hole and sanding the bottom through 220 grit. Leave the top at 120 grit for now.

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