176 – How to Build a Sitting Bench Step Stool (Part 1 of 3)

Marc: The Wood
Whisperer is sponsored by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, create with confidence. Marc:If you've been a Wood
Whisperer fan for a while you probably remember our old
introduction for the show. I had a few different
pictures of things that I made in the past and one of
those was this little guy. It's a children's stepstool sitting bench something or other, I don't know.

It could be a stepstool
or a sitting bench, but this was in that
original introduction. Over the years I've
gotten a lot of requests to actually make this on the show. Since I've gotten a lot of
support from the community lately with our website
problems I figure you know what a good way to pay
that back and say thank you is to build something that a
lot of folks have requested. I think this one is a long time coming, I think you're going to
enjoy it, let's dig in. Before we get into the
actual construction of this piece I thought I'd talk a
little bit about its history. When I first moved to Arizona
a number of years ago, I started my woodworking
business, and I was struggling.

Being a furniture maker that is a difficult way to make a living. Ask any pro it's very
hard and I was trying to find ways to make a few extra bucks. We had a local swap
meet, and it was called a swap meet but really it was just a bunch of people who had booths
and products to sell. I thought I might be
able to make a few bucks if I got myself a booth, and had a number of small projects that
were easy to batch out. That I could make 10 or 20 at a time, and that would allow me
to sell them for a fairly reasonable small price,
which would be something you would expect at a swap meet like this.

I tried to make this little
stepstool sitting bench. The problem was I fell short of my goal. I realized there was no way
that I could batch these out in any sort of timeframe
or quantity that would allow me to charge the $20.00 or $30.00 price tag that I was aiming for. So, a nice little project but it just wasn't right for that particular purpose. What I wound up doing was
giving it to my mother in law, and she's had it for a couple of years and she wants this one back. I needed to basically
get all of the angles and all of the curves and
everything I could off of this piece, and make
myself a set of templates. Because this was just a prototype before I didn't really put anything in stone.

I didn't keep any notes on it,
and in fact if you look very closely you'll see there's
a few joints here and there. Especially on the top, this
was made from two halves because I was making it from scrap stock. I wasn't expecting this to be
a piece that would be sold. We're going to improve on
some of those things as we go to the piece that
we're going to make today. All right, so speaking of the
actual material itself let me show you exactly what you're
going to need to make it. Voiceover:The top blank
measures one and 3/4 of an inch thick, seven inches
wide, and 16 inches long. The leg blanks measure
one inch thick, seven inches wide, and 11 and 1/2 inches long. The stretcher blank
measures one and 1/4 inches thick, one 3/4 of an inch
wide, and 11 1/2 inches long. Marc:So we've got our blanks,
and we have our original. But how do we go from point A to point B? Well we need some templates,
we need to look at the original and try to extract as much information as possible from it to make it very easy to reproduce this in the future.

The first thing that I want
to do is take a tracing of it. Just a piece of quarter inch
plywood is really all you need. Then you can trace the
perimeter and the inside, and just get an approximate
idea of the overall shape. All right, and these
lengths you can then take to another piece, and I like
to use MDF for my templates. I take measurements off of this, and transfer those to a piece of MDF. Now the cool thing here is we have an idea of what we want these curves to look like. In my tracing I can see a pretty good reflection of what the
original looks like. It's been a long time since
I made this, so my eye for design now six, seven
years later might be a little bit different
than it was back then. This is a good opportunity
to apply some of what I've learned, maybe try some new things. I don't really want to change it too much, but sometimes just a slight
little change in the severity of a curve making it a little bit
more curved or less curved.

Or, maybe moving the location
of the curve a little bit could make a huge
impact in the overall look of the piece, and how nice it looks. It's a very subjective
thing, so I don't really want to necessarily
delve too much into it. The point is you could
see we've got a curve at the top, curve in
the legs, and then two curves here on the connecting piece. That's going to be something you might want to have some fun
with, experiment with. Once you have the general
shapes you could put any curves you want in there,
whatever looks good to you. I pretty much did that, and
refined the curves a little bit. I didn't change very much and I've arrived at a set of templates that should help me through the rest of this process.

All right, so I think at
this point before we do any curve cutting we need
to focus on the joinery. Of course, because
joinery is always easier to cut when the pieces are square. If there's curves in them it
makes it a whole lot harder. Let's get started on what
could be a fairly complex piece of joinery here, and
that is the angled tenon. On this work piece I've
gone ahead a little bit, because I'm actually making two of these. You can see I've got
mortises on the underside, and this will eventually make up the top of our little stepstool. How do you create a work piece
that comes in at an angle? That can be very tricky
stuff, now one thing you might initially think about is
angling the mortise itself. So that the tenon can
come in at that angle. The problem is it's a little
bit tricky to come up with a jig that allows that mortise
to sit at the proper angle. I didn't want to have to go through that I wanted to simplify things.

What I did was I introduced
the angle in the tenon. You can see with this work piece that's exactly what I've done here. All right, so we're going to
cut these at the table saw. I'll show you how to do it in a minute, but you could see when you
put that into the straight mortise you get the
angle you're looking for. Of course this tenon is still a little bit oversized needs to be cut down, but you could see what
we're aiming for here. This way I only have to
worry about making an angle on the tenon, and the mortise itself can be perfectly 90
degrees to this surface. There's nothing tricky or
unusual about this mortise. Everything on this angle
is focused on the tenons. Let's cut the mortise first,
because as always it's nice to have your mortise
cut ahead of time, and then you could fit your
tenon perfectly to the mortise. I've got both of my mortises
laid out here already, and since the pencil is a little difficult to see I've got some masking tape showing the actual
location of the mortise.

It's very easy to layout,
all you need to do is measure in three inches from the end, and then an inch and
a half from each edge. Now the second line you could
certainly put that in there. It's going to be a half
inch further along, but if you use a half inch
bit to cut this you really only need to be concerned
about that first line. All right, the cut is going
to go 3/4 of an inch deep, and that should give us a
four inch long mortise here. If it's a little over or
under it's not the end of the world, but you're
aiming for that four.

Of course these lines will be our start and stop points for the router bit. I extend those, because I need to be able to see them while I'm routing. The other thing I want to point out here is more of an aesthetics thing. This is something you
should always keep in mind. Look at the work piece,
and see if you have one side that looks nicer than the other. If you have a crappy looking side, you could put that on the bottom. Make sure the side you're
cutting the mortises into is the side that you
would call your B side. It's not the one that
looks the best keep your best side for the face that
everyone is going to see. Now I've got my edge
guide set up to make sure that the bit is located three inches in, and I've got my depth stop
set for a 3/4 inch cut, and I'll make it in two passes.

Three quarters of an inch
is quite a bit to take off in one bite so I'll
make it in two passes. You see I'm using a 1/2 inch spiral bit. (saw whirring) All right, so we've got a
couple of sexy mortises there. Let's go work on those tenons. Step one is to cut a
bevel on the end of the leg piece where we're
going to put the tenon. This way I can make a nice little bevel cut that goes right to the corner. You don't really want to remove any more stock than you have to. Even though we do have a little bit of extra length included in the leg blank.

Just set your saw to 15 degrees, line everything up and make the cut. Of course, make sure you have that piece clamped in place too. (saw whirring) My set up for cutting these
tenons at the table saw is really the product of
a lot of trial and error. Hopefully I've worked out
all the kinks so I could show you exactly what to do, and
save you a little bit of time. I also had some inspiration
from Jeff Miller's blog. Jeff Miller is a very
talented furniture maker, and he has an article on
how to cut angled tenons. That's with reference to
his chairs that he builds, but the same concept applies here. He makes a really good argument for why you can't just tilt the blade. That you actually get better
results by keeping the blade at 90 degrees, and
tilting the work piece. All right, and what I'm using to tilt the work piece here is a tenoning jig. I've had this guy for years
I don't use it that often, but I think they're actually a pretty good investment if you are
cutting a lot of tenons.

You can get really good clean tenon cheek cuts using something like this. They only cost about 65, 75 bucks. Now if you don't have one of these, you have to figure out a
way to tilt the work piece at a 75 degree angle, and
run it over the blade. You could probably build a
pretty simple jig that you would basically cut some
75 degree wedges out of some scrap ply, and then
put a nice face on that. So that you could rest the
work piece up against it, clamp it in place securely
and run it along your fence. You might have to put a little thought into designing that, but it can be done. I'm going to use this
because it's what I've got, and I need to get moving on this project. Let me show you what we're
doing with the blade here.

What I've got here is my dado stack. I use the Infinity Dadonator Junior, which is fun to say five times fast. I have it raised to about
three quarters of an inch, and the actual width of the dado is about three eighths of an inch. Basically you want to be over a quarter if you can, and that way you could take these with one pass on each side. Once that is set up it really is just a matter of getting the alignment here. This is where test cuts come in handy, so you know exactly what to expect.

Don't underestimate
how difficult it is for your brain to get wrapped
around the locations of these cuts when this angle in play. Test cuts are absolutely imperative. (saw whirring) Now you'll notice I changed work pieces while I was still using that same setting. I want these to be exactly
the same if possible, so of course I keep the
setting of the jig in place, and just swap out the work piece. This first cut, what we're
looking for is for that shoulder to be just a little bit
over a quarter of an inch. All right, and if we do
that that should let us get a nice half inch
tenon, and leave us with a little bit of extra
shoulder on that side. That's also just a little
over a quarter of an inch. It should be roughly
centered, and frankly if that tenon is not perfectly
centered doesn't really matter. That'll all be worked out in the end. At this point we can move the jig this way and make the second cut.

This is one of those things where you may want to sneak up on it though, and test your fit with
your actual mortise. What I'm aiming for now
is to have the outside edge of my teeth just
outside that pencil line. I'm going to cut it
oversized intentionally, and then sneak up on the fit. (saw whirring) As expected the fit is a little bit tight. We'll make a slight adjustment to the jig, and see if we can get a little bit closer.

(saw whirring) Let's see how we did, and
that feels like a nice slip fit that's pretty much perfect. All right, so now that we
have this piece cut we can go to our second piece
and make the cut on one shot because now we know
the setup is perfect. (saw whirring) Now, in order for our leg to
sit properly at this angle we not only need that bevel
that we cut at the top, but we also need to cut the
same bevel at the bottom. Otherwise you see the leg just kind of sits on that corner which is no good. We need to cut the same
exact bevel down here, and let me show you how I lay it out. I'm basically going to
measure back from the forward most shoulder
here 10 and 1/4 inches.

I'll put a line right on the edge, and with my bevel gauge set at 75 degrees. I'm going to line it up
with that pencil mark, and draw my line back for reference. Now before you make any
cut, double check yourself. You want both of these
bevels to be parallel. If you have one going this way, and one going this way
you've got a problem. They should both be in
the same orientation. I've got my bevel angle set at 15 degrees, in fact I haven't changed
it, and that's a good idea. If you can keep it at
its setting and never change it for this process
you'll be better off. I've got it clamped in place
securely and I have a stop lock because I only drew my line
on one piece for reference. This way both of these will
be exactly the same length. I'll just use the lines that
I made on my first piece, and then I'll be able to
slide the second piece right in there to make
the second bevel cut.

They'll both be exactly the same. (saw whirring) The next order of business is to use the band saw to cut out the
curvature in the legs. When it's all said and
done you should have something that looks pretty close to that. We need to transfer the
curve from our template onto the edge of the work piece here. Just make it flush with
the tenon at the top. Again this is a curve
that you don't necessarily need the exact curve that I've got here. You could make your own,
whatever looks good to you. Once it's even, and flat in the back, even with the tenon
trace the curve on here. I would also recommend doing
this on the other side, because that's going to
give you a visual reference. Especially when you are
making a cut like this at the band saw you want to make sure
that it's tracking properly.

pexels photo 6315305

Just because you're cutting at
your line at the top doesn't always mean that the blade is
going perfectly 90 degrees. You might wind up cutting
in a little bit too far. This is a good way to
double check yourself, and make sure you haven't
cut on some sort of an angle. All right, let's head to that band saw. (saw whirring) Now on this side I'm
right on my pencil line.

It looks really good,
but when I flip it over I've got a little bit
of extra material here. Interestingly enough
this did not happen on the first piece that I cut, and I do know that my blade is 90 degrees to my table. The issue comes in where
we're trying to rest this on a three quarter inch strip here, so obviously it's very easy
to tilt one way or the other. You can go off just a little bit, so you want to be real careful there. This is the best case
scenario because I'd rather have too much material than not enough. An easy fix for this is to
run the piece through the band saw this way now, and
this will actually just remove some of this
extra material up there. It basically is going to
save us a lot of time when we're cleaning the rest
of this material up. We can get rid of it right
to the line, and then we may have some material in
the center to clean up later. (saw whirring) One thing I failed to mention is safety. When you're making cuts
like this, and you have this much blade exposed
that's scary stuff.

You want to make sure that you use some sort of a push block. You don't really want
your hands to have the opportunity to go into the
blade, and especially on the second round of cuts
as you're pushing through. This type of cut has
a tendency to give you a lot of resistance
and then suddenly break loose as you get through the material. You a lot of times will have your hands jumping forward into the blade. That can be very scary,
so what I tend to do is I actually push with a push
stick here, and that helps put the forward pressure,
and puts another four to five inches between the
work piece and my hand.

It gives me some buffer
zone, and I use the back of the work piece to help stabilize things. This way when it goes through,
because it always seems to happen and it hits one of those
release points you may push forward a little bit, but
you're in a good solid stance. You've got some buffer
room, if you have your hands here and that happens it's very easy for your hand to go right into that blade. My left arm is around on the back of the piece doing most of the work.

I'd rather not push with
this any more than I have to. What actually happens is
the left hand is pulling the work piece, and my right
hand is really just steering. The less I push with that hand, the safer this cut's going to be. It might look a little
weird, but that really is, in my opinion, the safer
way to make this cut. Of course, the curve right off of the band saw is going to be pretty rough. You're going to want to clean this up and finesse the final curve. There's a number of ways
that you can do this. You can certainly just hit
it with a sander right away. If you want to go that
route, but I like to refine things with hand tools if I can. Just to make sure I get that
curvature right where I want it that minimizes the amount
of sanding that I need to do.

The tool I'm going to use is a spokeshave with a slightly curved bottom. That's going to allow
me to scoop into this curve and clean it up real nicely. The thing is a spokeshave usually is used for narrower pieces, so we're going to get a little bit
of chatter as we do this. But it's nothing that we
can't clean up with some scraping and sanding after the fact. I will also mention that you can use a rasp on a piece like this. Especially if you have a little bit of unevenness from one side to the other. You could take the rasp,
and hold it nice and flat, and just work it back and forth.

(rasp grating) Because the rasp is flat
on this side you should wind up taking down the high spots. Making sure that both sides are even, and both sides go right
to that pencil line. If you still see some of
your pencil line there, you could use that as
a guideline to decide where you need to remove material. For me, just a bunch of passes with a spokeshave should do it. (spokeshave grinding) Now my card scraper's going to allow me to further finesse the surface a little bit, and just clean up any
of those milling marks.

(card scraper scraping) After scraping the
surface looks pretty good, and some might be happy with that result. I like to do a little bit of
extra sanding after the fact. I don't want to use my
random orbit sander for this, because just the nature of
a round disc on a curved surface is a little bit hard to work with. This little sheet sander
here, if you have a quarter sheet sander or something
that'll work too, is nice and flat and it's narrow. I can actually work it
back and forth like this, and help flatten out that
curve, and even everything out very nicely, it's fairly easy to use, so that' what I'm going to do. (sander motor revving) The next order of business
is to take our newly curved legs, and cut
out the profile angles.

This really is limited by your creativity. Some may want to just
keep it solid like this. You may like that look, you don't have to do anything else to it
if you don't want to, but I'm going to do a little bit more. I like to thin it out at the top, and I think that gives it a nice contrast. Sets off the top of the
stool really nicely. I think it's cool to relieve
a little bit of material down here, to give you
the impression of a couple of feet, just makes it look sturdier. The only thing you really
need to be concerned about, like these angles and how much of a curvature to put down
there that's all optional.

The only thing you need to pay attention to is the tenon at the top. If you are coming in at an
angle you certainly don't want to make this tenon too small. What you need to do is
measure in one inch and then measure in an extra
half inch from there. Basically one inch, this is what I recommend would be your shoulder. If you're going to bring
an angle down like so that would be the shoulder of
the tenon and a half inch from there is the actual tenon itself. This area here that's the
business side, that's what's going to go into the mortise and
this will be our shoulder. If you see what I've got
here with my template, basically at the top it goes
right up to that shoulder line, and then later we'll cut the rest of that material off with a hand saw. This looks like it
should work pretty well. The other thing I want to point out here see the curvature there? Obviously a flat template
doesn't fit on a curve properly.

If you make your templates
out of very thin stock all you have to do is push it
in, and you should be able to trace your shape on there
with no problems at all. (saw whirring) (grinding) Of course if you have a
tapering jig or something for your table saw you can use
that to make these angle cuts, but I find it just as easy
to go to the band saw. Rough cut it, and come back with my smoother to clean up that edge. (spokeshave scraping) On the original, you
can see I have a pretty standard semi-circle
here, and frankly when I look at this that's
just not good enough. There's something about that
that I think we can improve on.

It just looks too basic,
and too geometrical to me. I decided in my template I
would decrease that curvature there and actually make it just a little bit of a hint
of a semi-circle there. It's a little more subtle, and then the more I got into it I
started to think I could probably do something cooler than that. I'm not really a hundred
percent sure exactly what it's going to be, but I'm just going to grab my rasp and start working. We'll see where we get, and
hopefully I won't regret this. Even though I don't know
exactly where I'm going to end up with this, I can
show you some of my logic. This is not something
I've ever been trained on, these are just things
that make sense to me.

When I start to go in to I guess you would call it free form mode. Where the round over
slopes up here I'm going to basically put a mark there,
because whatever I do with this area I don't really want
to go any further than that. I'll put another pencil mark on this side, and I've got a center line
here right in the middle. That just helps me keep
things symmetrical. What I'm thinking I'm
going to start doing here is introducing a little
bit of a curve in there. The outside face, this has
a curve going this way, but now will also have a slight curve at the bottom along this orientation. Whether or not this works
out, I don't know we'll see. I also decided that I
needed another marker here. Basically I want to have a bit of a semi-circle from point to point.

I just grab whatever I have
sitting around the shop that's big enough to do what I need
it to do, that's close enough. (rasp grating) I've gone to my pencil line
here, and that's not too bad. It's not quite what I want
yet, but I have introduced a nice curvature on the
bottom of the foot here. This is okay, but I think
what I'm really looking to do is actually scoop out quite
a bit of material up here. I may wind up going as high as this, and bringing my curve up this way. If done subtly, that
looks silly right now, but if done right it could
be a nice smooth transition. We'll go a little bit
further see what happens. (rasp grating) Right now that's about as far as I want to go with that, I think for now. I'm going to hit this with a little bit of sanding and see what happens. (sander motor revving) That may not look like
much when you view it at this angle, but check
out what happens when you actually put it in the
orientation it's going to go.

Look at the angle that
we've created the curvature. Really gives this leg a whole lot more depth than it had before. I've drawn an additional
curve on the bottom here, and that's going to give a little bit of relief to the bottom of the leg. I'll be honest I have no idea
if this is really a smart thing to do, and I guess we'll find out. (grinding) As I examine the work I've done so far, I like this extra curve at the bottom.

I think it adds a nice
little look to have a bit of a lift there, but there
is a problem with it. There's something I
don't, at first I couldn't put my finger on it, and when I look at the inside this is just a straight line. It's completely lacking
any sort of definition, and I started to realize
there's one simple thing that we can do to not really add
much in the way of curvature, but just to make a slight tweak to what we've already done here. This curve I basically sanded it on the oscillating spindle sander at 90 degrees. That's why you can see this face here is sanded the way it is. What we really need to
do is sand at 15 degrees. If we do that then that
curvature will show up on the back edge and that's exactly
what I've done with this piece.

You can see the curve now
goes all the way through. Now when you look from the
front you've got a nice elegant curve there to look at and on the inside that curve is there as well. It truly lifts the center so
that you really are resting on these two points, which
should help us make a more stable stool when
it's all said and done. I'm going to go back to the
oscillating spindle sander, sand to this existing line,
but I'm going to tilt the table to 15 degrees, and it's going to remove this extra material right here.

(oscillating spindle sander grinding) There's more that we need to
do to this leg for instance, I want to add a nice round
over around the edges. I'm probably going to finesse
the curvature a little bit more as we go, but
this is pretty darn close. I think when you're designing
on the fly like this it's usually a good idea not
to go too far in one day. I like to let a change sit
for a little bit, so I can approach it the next day
with a fresh set of eyes. That sometimes allows me to see things that I can't see at the end of a long day. I'm going to let this sit,
but for now we can turn our attentions to the tenon,
because it's very clear what we need to do with that to
make it fit into the mortise.

Because our legs are so
oddly shaped there's really no great way to cut this
with a power tool, so I'm just going to use a hand
saw to trim the ends of the tenon off, and I'll just
follow my pencil line. (saw grinding) I'm just going to stay
clear of my shoulder, I could always clear that
up with a chisel later. (saw grinding) (saw grinding) I'll just clean up the shoulder. (scraping) We all know that you can't
fit a square peg into a round hole, because we
made these mortises with a router bit the ends are rounded over. You could either square
off the ends of the mortise with a chisel, or what I think
is the easier thing to do is to round over the ends of the tenon. Here's how I do it, with a chisel I can undercut the corners a little bit. To sever the fibers that
I'm going to be removing during the round over,
or I could just make real quick work of it with a flush trim saw.

(flush trim saw grinding) Now I just grab my chisel
and round over the base. (chisel knocking) Then I use a fine rasp to do
the rest of the round over. (rasp grinding) Cutting the material at
the base first basically prevents me from having
to take the rasp all the way down to the shoulder,
which can do some damage that would be visible later on. (rasp grinding) All right, so now we can do a test fit. See how we did, oh that's snug. Yeah, I love it, look at that, it's exactly what we're going for. Voiceover:Next time on The Wood Whisperer. (oscillating spindle sander grinding) (rasp grinding) (table saw grinding) (drilling) (hammering) All that and more coming up in the second installment of our stepstool
sitting bench series.

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