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Step Stool built by Kirsten Benson at the Freeside Makerspace,
My name is Dave Alvarez and my step stool project started from a beginning woodworking class I have been teaching at the Freeside maker space here in Atlanta. This beginning woodworking class was never intended for an audience of advanced woodworkers, but rather for people who had never used the equipment and techniques of the ordinary workshop. The class allows them to become more familiar with the tools and the shop space, in the hopes that they join the space and pursue woodworking further.
Below are the steps I have laid out for this beginner's step stool project, accompanied by pictures of some of the completed step stools from previous attendees of my class.
1) After you decided to build (as opposed to 'make'; trees are the only ones who actually 'make'
anything in woodworking) your step-stool, your first task will be to buy some wood. Here is
your first entre into real, live woodworking, estimating materials. If you are seriously short of
cash, you can always lay out every single constituent piece (length and width) on a piece of
paper before doing any cutting at all. Unfortunately, you don't have a board yet, so you don't
have any constraints to work within (sort of a chicken and egg problem). What most
professional woodworkers do is to draw up a list of rough dimensions, multiply out all their
areas (L x W, in feet or inches) and add a certain percentage to their list based on their
experience. There is a danger in this of being forced to glue back together some of the pieces in
order to be able to build all the parts, which is only 'dangerous' since it will cost you another day
waiting for glue to dry before proceeding, but is a whole lot easier than 'guessing' any particular
board's size, and then laying it all out beforehand. Hence, the commoness of this technique in
woodshops. In our 'beta' version of the stepstool, I estimated (as was true) that it would
require about 5-1/2 board feet, and sure enough it did, though we did need to glue together off-cuts
of the original board (costing a day) in order to build the steps.
2) After you have your board in hand, your next woodworking task is to draw up (write out) a
'cut bill.' That is, a detailed list of all the pieces to be cut for assembly in order (generally) of
their widths but also including their lengths (W x L is the actual listing). Here is where we begin
to think deeply about how the piece will look upon completion, noting the order to
cut the parts. Take your time here, keeping in mind the logic of the progression of cutting,
which will become clearer after you've actually completed this project.
3) Now, we begin to actually cut some wood. This stage is generally called the 'milling' stage,
where we begin to bring the board into roughly usable parts (the 'roughness' being refined out
at each subsequent stage). Begin by straightening one edge on the jointer, flattening one
surface also on the jointer (if necessary), and, if we've flattened a surface, thicknessing the parts
by running them through the planer. These three pieces of equipment all work together
(jointer, table saw and planer) in order to bring the parts to rough size/finish to be refined
throughout the subsequent stages. Before beginning each machine operation (which will be
cutting wood), think to yourself how will this removal of wood effect all the subsequent stages?
Do I really need to permanently remove this bit of the final product? Thinking beforehand now
will save you innumerable hours of repairing the messed up piece later.
4) All of the pieces have now been 'ripped' to width on the table saw, and we only need to
cross cut the now narrow(er) boards to length. For more 'critical' lengths (as defined by their
necessary precision in length AND the squareness of the cut) use the sled on the table saw. The
use of the sled can be awkward, so get a pal to help if the board feels at all 'tippy' when pushing
through the saw, and/or ask the instructor for other strategies to complete this task.
Step Stool built by Sharon Ben-Dov at the Freeside Makerspace,
5) You should now have a pile of assorted parts for the project, and we will begin to complete
the final shaping, closing in on the assembly. Begin with the cut outs on the two long and two
short sides of the stool. In our 'beta' project, we just used a handy round thing (a paint can) for
this, measuring its diameter, and transfering half of the measurement to the appropriate parts,
tracing around the round thing to draw the line to follow on the band saw. This cut out isn't too
important, but decreasing the length of the sides from one about 8" long to two about 2" long (i.e. from
one looong 'foot' to two short feet) is important for stability of the final product. After the lines
are drawn on the parts, carry the four sides to the band saw or (if that's down) to the jig
saw/saber saw and carefully cut them out keeping outside the line by about 1/2 a 1/16th of an inch
(a.k.a. 1/32"). Again, not crucial but do this in order to begin to build up your careful eye/hand.
The extra 1/32 will be dealt with once both parts are together, which will begin in the next
6) Now you still have an assortment of miscellaneous parts, which we will begin to assemble into
final parts. To do this, take the two halves of each of the long sides, assemble their edges flat
on a handy bench top to where you'd like them to end up in the final piece, and make a mark on
both pieces about 1-1/2" away from any visible edge for the biscuits. Once this is completed, bring
the biscuit jointer to the bench and run it on both pieces. Collect 4 biscuits, carry them to the
bench (along with, maybe, some wooden blocks) along with 2 long clamps and a bottle of
yellow glue. Run a thin bead of the glue along both edges (keeping in mind that the edges do
NOT get glue along their entire length) and squirt some of it into each of the buiscuit slots.
Insert the biscuits, lay the parts on the wooden blocks, double check that the parts really are
where you want them to be, and clamp the entire assemblies together (there are two of them)
keeping a weather eye out that they clamp up flat and straight, adjusting the clamping
pressures as necessary. After this is complete and you are happy, stand the clamped up
assemblies against a wall or out of the way for 24 hours or so, taking care to wipe
up the glue squirt with a damp rag before the glue dries.
7) Well, the pile is smaller, so that's progress. But not much, since you still have a whole bunch
of small parts and now 2 large(ish) ones to contend with. Begin by unclamping the sides,
standing back and admiring them, and carrying both of them over to the belt sander, where we
will now refine the half-circle cut outs from the rough, band sawn edges to a consistent, smooth(er) belt sanded edge. Do this on the circular edge of the belt sander, and don't stress over the
roughness of the belt sanded edge. Do be aware of the fuzz that will end up on the edges. This will easily be dealt with in the final sanding, if we remember that it exists!
8) Since it is so much easier to sand a bunch of flat parts than a 3 dimensional step stool, we will
do the majority of our sanding now, before the final assembly. Here is where you may regret
some of the decisions you made earlier, since sanding a soft piece of pine to be painted is
handled much differently than a hard piece of red oak to be stained and clear coated, though
the steps are about identical. Begin by laying out each of the parts onto a flat, clean surface (i.e. blow it off so no offending small chips remain) and select a progression of sand paper,
beginning (usually) with 120 grit. If the oak, in partular, is full of machine marks, then start with
rougher grit, maybe 100 grit. The point is to use the roughest (first) course of sand paper to
remove ALL the machine marks (including cross grain scratches!) from the parts, then each of
the finer grits remove the scratches from the previous grits, so the first is the MOST important since you will need to work twice as hard (or maybe 18 times?) to remove the same marks with
the finer grits. So suck it up and just do it with the first course. Most likely, 120 is adequate for
pine that will end up under a coat of paint, but not so on red oak. If your project will end up under
stain/clear coat, then proceed from the 120 grit to a medium grit (maybe 150), then on to 220
grit. Be careful and thourough. You will be well rewarded once the 220 is completed. Also,
pay special attention to the edges. Do they have machine marks? Yes, a jointer DOES leave
machine marks even though it doesn't look like it at first blush and machine marks will telegraph through paint, so make them
go away now before it's too late. However, if an edge will only end up next to a flat, then leave
the jointer marks (but not the sawn edges!); they won't appear in the final product. Also this is
a good time to begin to knock over the sharp edges, but isn't completely necessary yet; only
before the final finish (paint or stain) is applied.
9) So now we have a pile of SANDED parts and we'll begin the process of finishing (again, much
easier to finish a flat pile than a 3-dimensional footstool) but this will be different depending on
which sort of wood you are using. For pine, the next step is to apply a primer ('KILZ' brand is
prefered), paying special attention to the edges. For red oak, apply a stain. In both cases, lay the parts up to dry for 1 hour (if primer) to 4 hrs. at
least (for stain). In the case of the primer, lightly sand the entire part with 220 grit, blowing off the
dust once complete. In the case of stain, get ready to apply the clear coat. This will be identical
to applying the paint.
10) Before the final step of applying the top coat, complete the final assembly. In the beta project,
we used Kreg pocket hole screws. Once all of it is assembled into a 3-D
stool, the final step is to apply the top coat; paint in the case of pine, clear coat in the case of
red oak (I'd suggest polyurethane, for forgiveness and durablity).
11) Stand back and admire your work, you've earned it.
Step Stool built by Christina Wellman at the Freeside Makerspace,
You can email David at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also take a look around his local makerspace website at Freeside Atlanta.
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