Bamboo-Style Stool

Try your hand at chairmaking with this small scale project.

Overall dimensions: 20"w × 20"d × 26"h

At first glance, it’s easy to see that this stool is a handsome and useful project, but what makes it really special is how it introduces woodworkers to some of the challenges of chairmaking.

Unlike a full-blown Windsor chair, this stool requires only a few board feet of material plus a basic assortment of turning and hand tools and involves no carving or bending. Despite this modest investment, the project lets you try your hand at kiln-drying and cutting tapered tenons to make joints that will stay tight through years of rugged use. In addition, you’ll begin to think like a chairmaker and know when to put down the plans and rely on the project to measure parts and check angles so that everything fits like it should.

Before you start building this stool, you need to consider the finish. For first-timers, I recommend using readily available, less expensive woods, and then topping it off with milk paint (see, “Create a Milk Paint Masterpiece,” page 56). Here, I used maple for the legs and stretchers (but any strong hardwood will do) and poplar for the seat, because it’s easy to work, takes paint well, and is available in 8/4 (2") thickness. For a completely different look, you can step up to nicer hardwoods. Curly maple and walnut (see inset) is one of my favorite two-tone combinations.

Tapered Reamer: Build (Or Buy) This First

Tapered mortises are essential for chairmaking. Besides the obvious mechanical advantage, the flared end of the mortise offers the clearance needed to install the assembled undercarriage into the seat. In order to make this joint, you’ll need to make or purchase a tapered reamer. Plans for making your own reamer are available online at You can purchase a ready-made 6° reamer from If you own a reamer with a different taper angle, adjust your leg tapering guide (see page 51) accordingly.

Use a story stick to lay out the locations of the nodes. Jot down the desired diameters alongside your tick marks.
Shape the leg with a gouge, using the parting tool cuts as reference points. The leg-sized rest eliminates the hassle of repositioning a shorter rest.
Keep your eyes on the guide and the leg as you turn the taper on the top end. Stop when the angles match.
Using the skew’s tip, mark the node’s center, and then cut the V-groove from both sides of the line.

Turn the Legs

1 I prefer to split the leg (A) and stretcher (C, D) blanks from a short log, or bolt, that’s a few inches longer than the needed length. In addition to being quicker than sawing, splitting ensures straight-grained blanks. If you don’t have access to suitable logs, feel free to bandsaw the blanks from 8/4 stock. As you lay out your blanks, follow the long wood fibers as closely as possible for maximum strength.

2 Cut the leg blanks to 27". Next, mount each leg blank on the lathe between centers and round to 11⁄2" diameter. For this, I use a 13⁄4" roughing gouge and a custom tool rest. (See “Leg- and Stretcher-Making Accessories,” page 51.)

3 Refer to the leg dimensions on the Exploded View, upper right, and Photo A, and make a leg story stick. Now remount the blank, set the tool rest about 1⁄16" away from the turning, and lay out the node locations with a pencil. Use a parting tool and calipers to gauge the diameters, turn the node locations to size, and then switch to a 3⁄4" gouge and finish shaping the leg (Photo B), including the taper at the bottom of the leg, but not at the top.

4 Create a tapering guide like the one shown on page 51. Using a parting tool, turn the tip of the leg’s top end to 5⁄8". Locate the guide on the lathe bed so that its narrow end aligns with the upper end of the leg. Now, sight across the leg, and turn its taper to match the the guide (Photo C).

5 To finish turning the leg, I prefer using a skew, but if you’re not practiced at this you can use sandpaper. Sand the leg through 150 grit for a painted finish, or 400 grit for a natural finish. Remark the leg nodes using your story stick, and then use a skew chisel to cut 1⁄8"-deep V-grooves, or nodes, about 1⁄8"-wide, as shown in Photo D.

(Note: The nodes provide a useful reference for adjusting leg height and for locating the stretchers.) Now finish turning the remaining three legs.

6 Build the Super Simple Kiln, page 51. Insert the top of the legs into the box, and let the tenons bake while you make the seat (B). If the legs are at Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC)–here in the Southern Appalachians EMC is 12-18%–they should be super dry in 24 hours. (Note: Plan on baking the legs the day before test-fitting them into the seat, and again a day prior to final assembly.)

Leg- and Stretcher-Making Accessories

Making chairs and stools doesn’t require an elaborate setup, but you will need a few accessories. I recommend building these three items before you start your stool.

Custom Tool Rest

To eliminate the bother of repositioning a shorter tool rest, I built a hardwood rest to match the length of my legs. (I also recommend making a shorter 14"-long version rest for the stretchers.) Use this sketch as a guide. Adjust the base to fit your lathe and the rest height so that the top edge is about 1⁄8" below the lathe centers.

Tapering Guide

For turning the tapered tenons, I use a tapering guide. Unlike a gauge block (a block that’s drilled with a tapered hole and then sawn in half) this guide enables me to match the tenon at a glance, without pause.

Super-Simple Kiln

Here’s a simple, but perfectly functional, kiln you can make from rigid insulation, duct tape, bamboo skewers, and a shop light. The heat produced by a 45-watt lightbulb (around 140°) will dry and shrink the tenons on the legs and stretchers. After assembly, the tenons will return to EMC by absorbing moisture, thus swelling and making the joints a little tighter.

Turn the seat

1. If you can’t find a 14"-wide board, glue up the seat (B) blank from narrower stock. Flatten the bottom face with a plane, bandsaw the blank round, and then attach a faceplate to the bottom face and mount it to your lathe.

2. True the edge of the blank with a roundnose scraper or bowl gouge, and then work the face-grain from the edge to the center. Referring to the Seat Detail, above, dish out the top of the seat with a scraper or gouge. Next, cut the chamfer under the seat with a scraper or gouge. Sand the seat as needed, and then turn the decorative grooves with a small round scraper or gouge, and sand the grooves. Remove the seat from your lathe.

3. Draw two intersecting lines at 90° to each other through the center of the seat’s top face, and lay out the locations of the leg mortises. (Making the lines perpendicular to each other and parallel with the long wood fibers might be a little stronger, but I think positioning the lines at 45° is more visually pleasing, if you intend to use a natural finish.)

Set the bevel gauge parallel with the seat’s layout lines. Keep the bit parallel with the gauge’s blade as you bore into the seat.
Insert the reamer, apply light pressure, and turn. Set a square and a bevel gauge as shown to help maintain the correct angle.

Measure the seat-to-node distance and adjust the tapers until the legs are the same.

4. Clamp the seat to your bench on top of a piece of scrap. Set a bevel gauge to 80°, and position it alongside the intended mortise parallel with a layout line, as shown in Photo F. Now sight the angle on the gauge and bore a 5⁄8"-diameter through-hole. (I prefer the control of brace and auger bit, but you can use a drill and a brad-point bit.) Drill the remaining three holes in the same manner.

5. Flip the seat (B) top face down and position it so one mortise extends over the edge of your bench. Remark the layout line. Insert the reamer into the hole, and adjust the bevel gauge so that its blade is parallel to the front of the reamer. (To do this, subtract half the taper angle. With a 6° reamer, the gauge should be set to 83°.) Next, set a square on the layout line, as shown in Photo G, to serve as a guide against tipping the reamer to one side. Now taper the mortise so that the leg extends about 1⁄2" through the top face of the seat. Repeat the process for the remaining leg (A) holes.

6. Insert all four legs (A), and measure the distance from the seat to the middle node, as shown in Photo H. Widen the tapers as needed so that the seat-to-node distance is the same with all four legs. While the legs are still set in the seat, mark the kerfs for the wedges, orienting them parallel to the legs’ growth rings. Then rotate the legs so that the kerf lines run perpendicular to the seat’s long wood fibers. Mark the legs so that they can be fitted and properly rotated in their corresponding holes throughout the assembly process.

Leg-Drilling Duo

This clamping jig requires the help of a pair of pistol-grip clamps, but it ranks as the simplest solution for securing cylindrical parts such as legs and spindles. To use, clamp it to your bench so that the beam is parallel with your benchtop, and then clamp the part to the support arms.

The mirror stand allows you to check the distance between the bit and bevel gauge from another vantage point. This will help you maintain your desired drilling angle.

Stretching a rubber band between the legs can help you gauge the centerpoint for the lower stretcher.
Extend a folding rule’s extension arm between the nodes to find the exact stretcher length.

Using an open-end wrench as a guide, carefully pare down the stretcher ends to fit the mortises.

Tip Alert: Don’t assume that your bit and open-end wrench will be a perfect match. If need be, find a wrench that’s slightly undersized, and then file it to match the diameter of your chosen bit.

Add the stretchers

1. Set the seat (B) upside down on top of blocks so that the tenons will not hit your bench, and insert the legs (A). Stretch a rubber band between the nodes corresponding to a lower stretcher (C). Using the band as a guide, make starting hole marks between the band (Photo I). To obtain the length of the lower stretcher (C), measure the distance from mark to mark (Photo J), and add 2" to account for the length of the 1"-long tenons. Reposition the band to the other leg pair and mark the hole locations for the other lower stretcher. Finally, measure the node-to-node distance for the upper stretchers (D) and add 1 3⁄4" to allow for the 7⁄8"-long tenons.

2. Cut the lower stretcher (C) and upper stretcher (D) blanks to length, turn them to 1" diameter, and then let the blanks bake in the kiln for at least 24 hours. Next, remount them on your lathe and turn them all down to 7⁄8". (Note: While you’re waiting for the blanks to dry, build the Leg-Drilling Duo, page 53)

3. Now remount the lower stretcher (C) blank, set the tool rest about 1⁄16" away, and lay out the node locations with the toe of a skew (refer to Figure 1 for the node locations). To size the tenons, I use a 5⁄8" open-end wrench as a caliper (Photo K).

(Whatever caliper you use, accuracy is important. When you pull the tenon from its mortise, you want to hear a “pop,” like when pulling a cork from a bottle.) Taper the ends of the stretcher down to the tenons, and then clean up the stretcher with a skew or sandpaper. Finally cut the 1⁄8"-deep nodes and 1⁄16"-deep locking ring with the toe of the skew. Finish turning the remaining lower stretcher, then the two upper stretchers (D), in this same manner.

Measure the angle of the leg, and then adjust your bevel gauge to match before drilling the legs for the lower stretchers.
Align the bit with the bevel gauge, and drill the lower stretcher mortises. Use a mirror to check the bit’s angle.
Tip Alert: To double-check your mortise location, set a 1 1⁄4" spade bit on the leg, and set the tip on your mortise location. When sighted from above the assembly, the bit’s spurs should align with the leg’s outside edges. If they don’t, it means that your mark is not top dead center.
5. Secure the clamping jig to your bench, and clamp a leg (A) to the support arms. Now drill a 5⁄8"-diameter × 1"-deep mortise for the lower stretcher (C) (Photo M). After drilling the remaining legs, brush glue in the mortises and on the ends of the lower stretchers. Rotate the stretcher (as shown in Stretcher/Leg Close-Up, page 49) so that the growth rings are perpendicular with the long fibers on the legs, and rotate the legs so that the leg assemblies (A, C) lie flat on your bench.
Clamp the stretcher parallel to the top of your bench, and drill the angled hole for the upper stretcher (E).
Shim the legs as needed to steady the stool and level the seat, and then scribe a cut line around the legs.
Tip Alert: To make minor leg height adjustments, you can turn your workbench into a serviceable jointer by setting a block plane into your vise. Run the long leg over the plane’s sole until the wobbling stops.

4. To determine the exact stretcher drilling angle, set a protractor against the seat bottom, as shown in Photo L, or you can set your bevel right off the leg.

5. Secure the clamping jig to your bench, and clamp a leg (A) to the support arms. Now drill a 5⁄8"-diameter × 1"-deep mortise for the lower stretcher (C) (Photo M). After drilling the remaining legs, brush glue in the mortises and on the ends of the lower stretchers. Rotate the stretcher (as shown in Stretcher/Leg Close-Up) so that the growth rings are perpendicular with the long fibers on the legs, and rotate the legs so that the leg assemblies (A, C) lie flat on your bench.

6. Insert the leg and lower stretcher assemblies (A, C) into the seat (A). Next, mark the location of each upper stretcher (D) hole on its corresponding node. (Note: In order to use the “rubber band trick” first employed when marking out the lower stretchers (C), you’ll need to cut the band in order to work past the stretchers that are already in place.) Wrap the band between two opposing legs on the middle nodes, pinch the band’s ends together, and mark the centerpoints. Repeat for the remaining pair of stretcher holes.

7. Using the clamping jig, secure a leg assembly (A, C) to your bench. Rotate the assembly so that the lower stretcher runs parallel to your bench. Double-check the mortise location using the tip on page 54. Now set the bevel gauge and mirror alongside the leg assembly, and drill a 7⁄8"-deep hole in the leg for the upper stretcher, as shown in Photo N. Position the opposite leg in the jig, drill it, and then repeat with other leg assembly.

8. Lay a leg assembly (A, C) on your benchtop. Apply glue to the mortises and tenons, and then drive in both upper stretchers (D). Next, place the remaining leg assembly on the bench, apply glue, and insert the stretchers. Allow time for the glue to dry.

Attaching the seat

1. Dry-fit the undercarriage (A, C, D) into the seat (B), and mark where the legs meet the bottom of the seat. Remove the seat, and saw the wedge kerfs just shy of your marks. Cut a few wedges (E) from a scrap of dry hardwood.

2. Brush glue on the leg tenons and in the seat mortises, and then fit the undercarriage back into the seat. Using a mallet, pound the ends of the legs until they are seated firmly. Wipe off any excess glue, and then flip the stool right-side up. Brush a little glue onto one side of each wedge (E), and then tap them into the tops of the legs.

3. Set the stool on a flat, level surface. Insert shims under the legs so that the stool is steady and the seat is level. Mark around each leg, as shown in Photo O, and then trim the legs with a backsaw. If you need to make additional minor adjustments, see tip, above right. Finally, chamfer the bottom edges with a knife to prevent chipping.

4. Once the glue is dry, trim the wedged tenons flush with the seat using a wide-sweep gouge, and then follow up with 150 grit (or 400 grit for a natural finish). Finally, inspect and correct any dents, dried glue, or pencil marks, and then apply a finish of your choice.

About Our Designer/Builder

Curtis Buchanan has been designing and building traditional chairs in Jonesborough, Tennessee for over 30 years and teaching others for nearly as long. To see other chair designs or to check out his class schedule, go to

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