January 2012
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Making a Turned Stool

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

I decided to kick off the new year by building a stool for my shop. I have dragged my current shop stool around my shop for years. I always disliked having to interrupt my work flow to go retrieve my stool from the other end of the shop. (Now, don't get any ideas that I have a massive shop. It's just that stopping to go get the stool would break my rhythm.) So, it was high time I saved myself a few steps, which will add up for each project over the next few decades.

This project will be more challenging than most. A turned stool with four legs requires multiple parts, and fitting mortise and tenons. However, with patience you can make this project over a long weekend. I used several lathe accessories to make this job easier. While these are not critical, they sure made the project go smoother. First, I used the Oneway DrillWizard , which is a fixture for holding a drill at precise angles and heights. This ensures the holes (mortises) are drilled correctly. I also used the Oneway Spindle Steady . The steady rest provides support while turning long thinner blanks. More about these goodies later. For the seat of the stool, I used a pecan blank with slight spalting. The seat blank was about 2 1/2" thick by about 16" in diameter. I chose jatoba for the legs and rungs. Jatoba is a hard exotic wood that I have used for tool handles. I knew this would create a nice dark wood that contrasts pleasingly with the pecan. The darker wood will also hide the scuff marks and dirt this stool will experience in the shop. I started by laying out the desired diameter of the seat, and cutting wide of the line. By the way, I love using this Gladstone Heavy duty 8" compass . It is well made, and has a nice weight and balance. (see photo below left)

Note: click on any picture to see a larger version.

I then mounted a faceplate to what will become the top side of the seat. Next, I turned the bottom to my desired profile. I also turned a tenon for my Stronghold chuck . After that, I used the compass to strike a line to mark where I wanted the legs positioned. I set this line about 2" inside of the outer dimension of the seat. (see photo above right)

All about the angles

Next, I set up the Oneway DrillWizard by mounting a 1" Forstner bit in the drill. It is important to align the DrillWizard with the center of your lathe on both X and Y axis. (see photo above left) Note the square on the lathe bed aligning the banjo (see photo above right). I decided use a 10-degree angle for the legs and rungs. This matches the angle on my "old" stool. I wanted to make sure the stool was stable, yet didn't have legs that splayed out so far that they were in the way. I recently made a mini-stool for my 2-year-old daughter. I used about a 15-degree angle to make her stool a bit more stable. I made sure the legs did not extend much beyond the seat thus avoiding a tripping hazard. (see photo below)

I used a sliding bevel gauge to find the angle on my "old" stool and compared it using a protractor to find the actual angle. I then used that number (10 degrees) to adjust the DrillWizard to that angle. The DrillWizard has angles marked on the base that allows you to easily to match angles.

I then used the locking indexing head on my lathe to prevent rotation of the seat blank while I drilled the hole. The locking index also allowed me to mark off the four points for each leg. It is a good practice to unplug your lathe while the indexing head is locked. You don't want to forget and accidentally turn on the lathe.

I drilled a 1" hole 1" deep. (see photo above) The DrillWizard also allows you to set the depth. This will make for a consistent depth and prevent you from accidently drilling through the blank. (I know that kind of thing never happens to you, right?) I then rotated the blank to achieve the hole spacing for the legs. I didn't move the DrillWizard during this process. This kept my alignment consistent.

Turning the seat

Once I completed the bottom, I reversed the blank and turned the seat. First, I turned away the screw holes from the chuck. Next, I began to shape the seat. The seat could be flat, but why not add a bit of a profile to make it more comfortable? The seat was inspired by my recent visit to Thos. Moser's showroom in Freeport, Maine. Their stools are simple, beautiful and comfortable.

After finishing the seat, I reverse-mounted the piece and turned away the tenon. (see photo above). I used a bit of thick packing foam glued to a block that was mounted in the chuck. This gives a soft but grippy cushion to help hold the piece while the tenon is removed. (Below is a video that shows how to remove a tenon.)

Matching legs and rungs

I chose to create a simple leg profile that was inspired by turning tool handles. Shaping the tenon and the leg was essentially the same process as turning a tool handle with a tenon for a ferrule. I created a pattern once I turned a shape I liked. I then used calipers and this pattern to make three more legs. (see photo below left)

I used a spindle roughing gouge and a skew to shape each leg and rung. I used a spindle steady rest to help eliminate almost all vibrations (see photo above right). A side note: if you have ever turned long and/or thin spindles then you know the piece can develop a whipping or vibrating action. It becomes difficult to make smooth cuts when this starts to occur. The steady rest provides support and virtually eliminates the vibration. I then sanded to 220 grit. I used a story pole to mark key transitions and layouts for the mortises for the rungs (see photo 10). This helps to ensure a consistent layout from part to part. I didn't part off the legs at this point. I wanted to turn all the legs and drill all the rung mortises, before parting off the legs. This bought me a margin of safety just in case I ran into a problem with subsequent legs.

Once the legs were turned I focused on the rungs. Each rung (8 if you are keeping count) was turned to 1/4" with a 5/8" diameter tenon that was just under 11/16th" long. Of course, the rungs are not all the same lengths. I offset each hole by ½" so I would not have two mortises on the same leg interfering with each other and creating a weak joint. This meant that of the four upper and four lower rungs, only two were of the same length. You should measure each carefully. You need to really focus without distractions during this build. It is easy to lose track of which operation you are working on. So think through each step carefully. You are in the home stretch now and don't want to rush.

Drilling for the rungs

I remounted and realigned the DrillWizard. I changed to a 5/8" drill bit and adjusted the depth. I used the same 10 degree angle to drill the rung mortises. The mortises were drilled at a depth of 11/16th" (see photo above). Each hole was offset by ½" and 90 degrees to each other. Again, I used the indexing head on my lathe to make this operation simple.

Test fitting

Now it is time to test fit. Make sure your parts fit snugly, but allow room for glue. This is not a project you want to get part way through assembling, only to realize something is not fitting correctly. So, start thinking about your glue up strategy. You should mark or stack your parts in a way that makes sense to you. I did several dry runs to ensure everything would go smoothly. I used Titebond liquid hide glue for this project. This bought some additional working time since it takes longer to set up. Perhaps the biggest benefit will be if I ever need to replace a broken rung or a loose joint, the hide glue is reversible. I am happy to report that my glue up went smoothly!

I had to resist the temptation to sit in the stool as soon as the clamps came off. The glue needs to set up for a minimum of 24 hours before the joints are stressed.

You will likely need to adjust one or more of the legs to ensure the stool sits flat on all four legs. This is done by using a compass to mark around each leg (see photo above). Then cut to the line using a crosscut hand saw. You should also bevel (chamfer) the end of each leg. This looks nice, but more importantly, helps to prevent the wood from splitting as the stool is moved about.

The finish

I sanded and applied several coats of lacquer to the seat prior to the glue up. I applied Watco Medium Walnut oil to the legs. This created a nice contrasting color to the lighter seat. I am looking forward to many years of use from this project.

Good luck with your project.

Curtis is 2012 President of Central Texas Woodturners, a member of the American Association of Woodturners, and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin. Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives and works in Central Texas with his wife and four young children.

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