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  • Al Fresco Woodworking
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    Build a Ryczka (Step Stool): Part One

    more on woodworking safety

    Tools and Materials

    First Project Criteria
    What makes an ideal first project for a brand new woodworker? In attempting to answer this question, I came up with the following criteria. The ideal project:

    • Should be made of (or have the option to be made of) inexpensive, commonly available wood like pine, or even plywood.
    • Should require a limited number of inexpensive, commonly available tools.
    • Can be made with hand tools, power tools, or a combination of both for every step along the way.
    • Will be something that most people can make use of and leave its maker with a beautiful, useful object that will last for a long time.
    • Should be small enough that most people will have room for it no matter what size their living quarters.
    • Should not require a wood shop or bench, nor tools required to work with large pieces of large lumber.
    • Will be manageable and mobile, and thus require no help from friends to carry lumber or the completed object.
    • Will enable, in original or modified form, the beginning woodworker to learn fundamental woodworking skills that have broad and future applicability.
    • What are your ideal first projects and/or project criteria?

    These criteria seemed to leave only stools and boxes and then it hit me, in one of those "Oh, how could you have possibly missed this?!" moments, as I sketched stools of varying heights. "A ryczka! Of course, a ryczka!"

    What on earth is a ryczka (pronounced, roughly, as "rich-kah")?

    A Very Brief History of the Ryczka
    Everyone called my great grandfather Dziadz, an abbreviated form of dziadzia, the Polish word for grandfather. (I think I was about 11 before I realized Dziadz wasn't, obviously, his full name.)

    He used the word "ryczka" to refer to a specific style of step stool that he built, which conveniently doubles as a small bench to sit on (see photos). I consulted several Polish dictionaries but found none that contained the term "ryczka."

    My dear friend, Jennifer, lived in Poland for a few years and generously jumped in on the linguistic scavenger hunt. She found a type of stool called a tabouret, for which another name is ryczka, as noted in a sentence in Polish that translated to "There will also be a tabouret (in Poznan they call this a ryczka)." She added, "The term seems common enough in online Polish furniture sites that, if you tell a Pole you're making a ryczka, he or she will probably know exactly what you intend to build."

    Ryczka Dimensions
    I travel a lot these days without access to my tools and bench, but I thought I'd post the ryczka history, photos, and dimensions now to enable others to either prepare or get started, and post the plan, cut list, and build-along soon.

    The dimensions of a completed ryczka (see photos) are:

    • Top: 20-1/2 in. wide by 15 in. deep with a "handle" opening of 3-3/4 in. by  1-1/2 in.
    • Sides/Legs (2): 16-1/2 in. wide by 13-1/2 in. high, with cuts and angles as shown in photos.
    • Front/Aprons (2): 20-1/2 in. wide by 6 in. high

    Project Tools and Materials
    This is a basic project that includes some less-than-fine materials and methods, a challenge in and of itself. What would James Krenov say?!

    • We'll be using a few pieces of plywood or pine to meet these dimensions (cut list forthcoming), but will probably begin with plywood.
    • A power and/or hand saw, as wide variety of saws will work well for making these cuts, whether a bandsaw, basic handsaw, Japanese handsaw, or circular saw.
    • Hammer or drill
    • Nails or screws
    • Sandpaper or handheld power sander (optional)
    • Finish (optional)

    What is your ideal first project?
    What projects would you recommend to brand new woodworkers? Why or why not? What projects or pieces do you have that have interesting familial or cultural histories?

    Click here for part two on how to build the ryczka.

    How to Make

    click to enlarge

    How to build a ryzka: Follow along in part two of this post to find out how to build this project step by step.