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  • Virtual Workshop: Build a Step Stool

    Step Stool

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    How to Build a Small Step Stool
    with Tom McKenna

    How to build a step stoolBuilt of walnut, this elegant step stool offers beginner woodworkers some great lessons in joinery that can be easily incorporated into larger projects as their skills progress.

    In this Video Project series, you'll learn how to to use templates at your router table to produce perfectly identical furniture parts safely and quickly. Then you'll learn how to cut and assemble beautiful wedged through-tenons that are super-strong and easy on the eyes. The wedges are made from a contrasting wood for more visual appeal.

    Most of the operations in this project can be carried out with basic woodworking power tools like a tablesaw and drill press. That sais, if you don't have a planer and jointer like the ones used in the video series, don't worry, most hardwood lumber dealers will be more than happy to surface your lumber for a small fee when you purchase your materials.

    Stay Tuned
    Be sure to stay tuned for future episodes. We'll be rolling out new episodes every week through September and October 2011.

    • Now Playing: Introduction
    • Now Playing: Milling and Mortising
    • Now Playing: Pattern Routing
    • Now Playing: Tablesawn Tenons
    • Now Playing: Prepare for Wedges
    • Now Playing: Assembly and Glue-Up

     

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage
     

    Episode One: Milling and Mortising
    Pointers on squaring lumber and mortising with hand and power tools.

    How to build a step stoolSquaring Up Rough Lumber
    Unless your purchasing pre-surfaced boards, every woodworking project begins with milling process at the jointer and planer. After you've run your stock through these two machines, be sure to set your wood aside for about a week before bringing them down to final thickness. The milling process actually releases a great deal of built-up tension in the wood, and during this acclimation time, your boards might twist ever-so-slightly. Allowing them to sit before final milling will allow you to correct any imperfections that may have arisen during the course of that week, leaving you with super-straight boards that will look dynamite once your project is complete. For even more information on purchasing and surfacing rough lumber, be sure to check out Episode One of our recent Getting Started in Woodworking series on building a Shaker nightstand.

    Wait! I Don't Own a Planer or Jointer
    Don't worry, you don't have to go out and invest $1,000 on a planer and jointer to produce this project. Any hardwood dealer worth their salt will be more than happy to surface the boards you purchase from them for a small fee.

    Tricky Through-Mortises
    With your stock milled to final thickness, you're ready to begin cutting the decorative through-mortises. Using a marking gauge, layout the mortise locations and head to the drill press. You can hog out most of the waste using a Forstner bit. Just be sure to use an auxiliary table on the drill press to prevent tearout and avoid marring the drill press table. With your board referenced against a fence clamped to the drill press table, you can drill out the mortises with a series of passes--left to right.

    Finally, clean up the mortises by hand using well-sharpened chisels.

    Stay Tuned
    Be sure to stay tuned for future episodes. We'll be rolling out new episodes every week through September and October 2011.

    Now Playing: Introduction
    Now Playing: Milling and Mortising
    Now Playing: Pattern Routing
    Now Playing: Tablesawn Tenons
    Now Playing: Prepare for Wedges
    Now Playing: Assembly and Glue-Up
     

     

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage

    Pattern Routing
    Rough out a whale’s tail on the side pieces then refine the shape using a pattern-routing jig.

    Once the top is shaped and the mortises are cut, it’s time to start working on the sides.

    Start by cutting the side pieces with length and width. Then lay out the whale’s tail shape on the bottom of the side piece.

    Rough out the whale's tail
    Drill a hole at the top of the shape. Get the layout information from the plans. Drill the hole out at the drill press using a Forstner bit. You can drill the hole in both pieces at the same time, just double-stick tape them together.

    Clamp the workpiece down on the drill press so it’s not lifted from the table during drilling. Clear chips frequently to prevent burning.

    Next, create a plywood template for the whale’s tail shape. Make sure that the edges are really smooth since any imperfections will be transferred to the workpiece.

    Trace the pattern onto the workpiece and use a bandsaw to rough out the shape. Stay within the lines as you cut.

    Smooth the profile at the router table
    Separate the two side pieces once the profile is roughed out. Refine the cut using a bearing-guided straight bit and a router jig. The jig just uses a plywood base, a fence that’s the same thickness as the workpiece, and the template.

    Attach the template to the fence and install toggle clamps to hold the workpiece down. Place the side piece in the jig, hold it in place it with toggle clamps, and attach a C-clamp to secure the workpiece.

    Rout one side. Then flip the workpiece over and rout the other side. This is important to avoid a climb cut. The router should leave a nice clean cut.

    Then, you’ll just need to fine tune the whale’s tail with a chisel, to remove the nub where the router could not reach.

    Then the sides will be complete. In the next episode, McKenna shows his technique for cutting the tenons.

    Stay Tuned
    Be sure to stay tuned for future episodes. We'll be rolling out new episodes every week through September and October 2011.

    Now Playing: Introduction
    Now Playing: Milling and Mortising
    Now Playing: Pattern Routing
    Now Playing: Tablesawn Tenons
    Now Playing: Prepare for Wedges
    Now Playing: Assembly and Glue-Up

     

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage

    Tenons and Tapering
    Once the whale's-tail profile is cut, finish the side pieces: cutting the tenons and tapering the sides.

    Cut the tenons
    Lay out the tenons using a marking gauge. Get the exact dimensions from the mortises in the top piece. Cut the tenons using a dado stack on the tablesaw. First cut the tenon cheeks.

    Then lay out the tenon shoulders and cut them at the tablesaw. Finish the tenons using a shoulder plane and chisels.

    The stretcher mortises
    Also lay out the mortises for the stretcher tenons. Hog out the waste using a drill press, then square up the mortise using chisels.

    Taper the sides
    Once the joinery is cut, it's time to taper the sides using two easy-to-make jigs. Make the jigs using a 3/4-in. plywood base. It should be a bit wider than the width of one of the side pieces. Loosely attach a fence at the bottom of one jig using a screw. Lay one sidepiece on the base, resting the "feet" against the fence.

    Then, mark where the taper begins at the top of the workpiece using dimensions from the plans. Pivot the fence so the taper mark lines up with the edge of the jig. Then screw the fence in place. Attach a second fence to support the other side of the workpiece as shown in the video and trim the jig using the tablesaw.

    Cut tapers on one side of each step-stool side piece with this jig. Then, make a second jig, using the same method, to taper the second sides of each piece.

    Once the tapers and tenons are cut, it's time to work on the stretcher. In the next episode, McKenna shows how to fit and join the stretcher. He also starts prepping for the wedges.

    Stay Tuned
    Be sure to stay tuned for future episodes. We'll be rolling out new episodes every week through September and October 2011.

    Now Playing: Introduction
    Now Playing: Milling and Mortising
    Now Playing: Pattern Routing
    Now Playing: Tablesawn Tenons
    Now Playing: Prepare for Wedges
    Now Playing: Assembly and Glue-Up

     

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage

    Preparing for Wedges
    Once you complete the step-stool sides, it’s time to work on the stretcher. Dry assemble the sides and the top and check for square. Use the assembled step stool to get the exact stretcher length. Then cut the stretcher to final dimension.

    Tenon the stretcher
    Lay out the tenons on the stretcher and cut them out using a dado head at the tablesaw. Once the tenons are cut, refine the fit with a shoulder plane and chisels.

    A simple wedge-cutting jig
    Next, prepare the wedges. Cut them using a bandsaw and wedge-cutting jig. The jig is straightforward to make and assures perfectly sized wedges. It uses a 1/2 in. plywood base, a small handle, and a fence. Cut a notch into the fence using a 3/16-in. rise and a 2-in. run.

    Once the jig is complete, it’s time to start cutting the wedges. Use a thin piece of plywood as an auxiliary table to keep the small pieces from falling through the bandsaw’s throat plate. Attach the auxiliary table with double-sided tape.

    Using the jig, cut the wedges out of hard maple. Cut them across the grain to avoid splitting and make a few extra just in case. Use a push stick as needed to keep your fingers away from the bandsaw blade.

    Slot cutting
    Next, lay out slots in the tenons for the wedges. Then cut the slots with a handsaw or using the bandsaw. Drill a hole at the bottom of the slot to avoid splitting as you drive the wedges home.

    Angle the mortise walls
    The final step in prepping the joints before glue up is to angle the mortise walls. This will help you achieve maximum strength. As you drive the wedge in place, the angled mortise walls will help you to lock the tenon in place.

    Once all the joinery is cut, it’s time to complete the step stool. In the next episode, McKenna will show you how to glue-up the piece, insert the wedges, and then trim them flush. He’ll also share a foolproof wipe-on finish recipe.

    Stay Tuned
    Be sure to stay tuned for future episodes. We'll be rolling out new episodes every week, through September and October 2011.

    • Now Playing: Introduction
    • Now Playing: Milling and Mortising
    • Now Playing: Pattern Routing
    • Now Playing: Tablesawn Tenons
    • Now Playing: Prepare for Wedges
    • Now Playing: Assembly and Glue-Up

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage

    Assembly and Glue Up
    Glue up the footstool, insert and trim the wedges, and apply a wipe-on finish.

    Chamfer the top
    Before the step stool can be put together, rout the bevel on the underside of the top piece. At the router table, use a chamfering bit. Rout the end-grain first using a backer board to prevent tearout. Then finish up front to the back.

    Surface prep
    Chamfer exposed edges with block plane to soften the edges. Once all pieces are sanded, lay them out and prepare to put the step stool together.

    Putting step stool together
    You will need glue and a bunch of clamps to complete this project.

    Before using glue, do a dry run, double checking that all parts fit nicely together.

    First, glue the sides to the stretcher. After double checking your work, add the top of the stool and clamp all the pieces together.

    While the clamps are in place, add put glue on the wedges and drive them home, one at a time.

    Let the stool sit overnight so the glue can cure.

    Trim wedges flush
    Once the glue is dry, trim the wedges. Clamp stool down for stability and cut down the wedges with a flush-cut saw.

    Use a block plane and chisels to get the wedges absolutely flush. Wetting the end grain will make it easier to cut.

    Sand the stool
    Once all of the wedges are trimmed, use sandpaper to do the final surface prep. For the areas that are still proud use P150 grit paper. For all other areas use P220 paper.

    To achieve a smooth surface dampen the wood and let it dry to raise the grain before you sand.

    Finishing
    Before putting on a topcoat, clean the surface of any debris leftover from sanding. For an error-free finish use gloss polyurethane that is thinned. Use a ratio of 3 parts mineral spirits to 1 part finish. This finish should dry rather quickly.

    Let each coat dry and sand in between coats using ultra-fine sanding pads.

    Put on as many coats as it takes to reach the desired sheen.

    Once the finish is complete, it's ready to put to use!

    Video by: Gina Eide; Editing by: Michael Dobsevage