Step Stool Morning

One of my neighbors was looking for a step stool they could use outside in the garden. He couldn't find what he was looking for so he asked if I'd build one when I had a chance. That was in the neighborhood of two months ago. I decided to finally get around to it. 

I started with a couple of 1x12 offcuts and zero plan, but the end results turned out really nice. I was sad to see the stool go, I kept some measurements and may build another couple as time permits. 

I started by cutting the two ends of the stool and went a little "By Hand and Eye" using the spread width of my hand to set the length (open hand - distance from pinky tip to thumb tip) After cutting one end I used it to measure the second end, Then I squared the two to each other. 

I knew I wanted a strong corner joint, so it was off to dovetailing, marking out wide strong tails and gang cutting both sides together, making sure the "outside" faces of the boards were indeed facing out. Dovetail saw, coping saw and chisel to the scribed line and done. 

I used the ends to mark the mating part for the top. Repeat the dovetail saw, coping saw, chisel routine and we have a joint. There was a gap I would have shimmed on a fine walnut cabinet, but this is a pine garden step stool. Let's just move forward. 

I started to think about the ends again. I wanted a cut out to make legs but the standard arch or ogee just wasn't feeling right. By this point I'd started thinking about the step stool as a riff on a six board chest's design. I remembered a couple boarded chests I'd seen at the Chipstone collection exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum a few years ago

Off hand I'm not certain of the nomenclature for this style of cut-out, my memory calls it "bootjack" but I'm unreliable. At the time in the shop I didn't even bother to go in and look up these photos, I just cooked something up from memory and tried to proportion it well to the size without removing too much wood and thereby strength.

The end result was successful to my eyes. Just what I was looking for. Now I weighed my options for supporting the span of the step and decided keeping with the boarded chest theme to make notches in the ends and rip another 3/4" off each side of the top to make space for sides to be nailed in place.

At some point along this path I drilled a couple 1 1/4" holes along the center of the step and with a little more chisel work made a pick up hole. I glued up the dovetails, nailed on the sides and started to clean things up for finish.

I eased all my corners with spokeshave and chisel and sanded everything down to 120 grit then set the piece aside for the rest of the day.

 I wanted a somewhat durable finish for the outdoors that wouldn't be too slick with a little wet or dirt. Again my memory kicked out reading about glue finishes and I decided to give it a try. I diluted down some PVA glue with water in a 1:1 ratio and brushed on the concoction in three layers, allowing 45 - 60 minutes in between. I shook a little fine sand between the 2nd and 3rd layers to add a little texture to help shoes grip.

The finish came out alright, it sealed end grain and gave a little bit of an egg shell shine without modifying the color of the pine. What more are you looking for? The proportions of this build seem to hit the right notes to my eyes, and that might be the most fun.

I think this is an important exercise. From time to time enter the shop with a vague idea for a simple project, no plans, no measurements, and trust yourself to come up with something on the fly. It tests your problem solving, your creativity, and your skills. Have fun, it's only woodworking.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Good looking step stool! How about posting some dimensions for those of us who'd like to build one for our selves?


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