Have fun with your child building this ideal first project foot stool.
This simple foot stool project provides a wonderful beginner’s project to introduce a child to woodworking.
Cut the part blanks from the large piece of wood.
Lay out your cuts
Lay out the legs so you can visually what needs to be done.
Cut the legs on the scroll saw
Use a hand plane to smooth the leg sides. Be sure to adjust the plane iron so it makes a light pass.
Sand it smooth
Smooth the arc on the drill press
Ease the edge
Add a chamfer with a hand plane
Clean up the sawn bevel with a block plane
Position the legs centered under the seat
Splits are the pits
Drill stopped pilot holes so the wood doesn’t split.
Designing the Piece
The design for this foot stool is patterned after a foot stool I built as a child over 40 years ago and which I still use to this day. The design is simple and easy to build. Pine is an excellent choice for a first woodworking project because it is soft and easy to cut and work with hand tools.
Choose some clean ¾” thick by 8″ wide select pine from your building center. The board will actually be about 7 ¼” wide and slightly under ¾” thick. Try to find a board without any cup or twist. A bit of bow can be worked around fairly easily since the pieces are all short. The idea is to avoid having to joint or plane the parts. Fortunately, in my experience, most select pine comes flat and square enough for you to do just that. Assuming you can find a clean board, a 6′ length will be all you need for a single stool and a few practice pieces. If you can’t find a piece that is flat enough, get yourself a bit more stock and rough cut the parts sufficiently oversize that you can still run them through your jointer and planer to clean them up. The only significant problem that slightly thinner parts will introduce with this project will be a greater chance for splitting the wood when the screws are put in. Don’t cheat on the size of the screw pilot holes and splitting shouldn’t be a problem. Cut the pieces to finished length and width.
You are now ready to work with your child to create a project and more importantly, to create a set of memories that you both will cherish for years to come. I have a special thought to pass along before you begin working with your child: this is their project, let them do the work. Sure, the quality won’t be up to your standards and they will make some mistakes, but that’s part of the fun. You will enjoy the process of encouraging them and helping them learn. Relax and enjoy introducing them to something you love. You will find that there is no reward greater then seeing the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that your child will have when they complete the project. They will be proud of what they have created and you will be proud of them.
Preparing the Legs
The legs are the most complicated part of the stool, having three separate types of cuts to make. Laying out the cuts provides your child with an opportunity to get a little practical experience with arithmetic and measuring. First, use a combination square to measure and mark the notches for the sides. The notches are 1 ¼” wide and 1 ¾” deep. Next, lay out the tapers. Measure in 1″ at the top and then use a straight edge to connect these points to the corresponding bottom corners. Finally, select an appropriately sized template, such as a tuna can, to mark the semi-circle at the bottom of the leg. Measure the diameter of the template, subtract this from the width of the leg and use a combination square to measure in half this amount from each side. Then use the combination square to mark half the diameter of the template up from the bottom near half way across the leg. Use these three marks to position the template to mark a semi-circle centered at the bottom of the leg.
Back when I made the original stool, I made all of these cuts by hand with a coping saw. However, I just couldn’t resist letting my daughter use my power scroll saw for these cuts.
If you don’t have a power scroll saw, a hand scroll saw or coping saw will do just fine. For the tapers, use a coping saw to cut off most of the waste. Next, cut the notches for the stool’s sides. If you have them, a small back saw or dovetail saw would be a good choice for these stopped cuts. The third cut is to add the semi-circular opening at the bottom of the leg. Once all the cuts are made, clean up the long edges by planing down to the line with a smoothing plane to remove the saw tool marks.
Smoothing out the insides of the semi-circle and the notches calls for a bit of sanding. The arc smoothes out nicely with a sanding drum on the drill press.
Preparing the Top
Beyond cutting the top to size, which you have done already, the only thing to do with the top is add a chamfer to the upper edges. This provides a nice introduction to the use of a hand plane to create chamfers. Start with the end grain edges. Lay out a pencil line ¼” in on the top and the side. Tilt the smoothing plane to 45° and plane down to the lines. This is a good opportunity to explain a little bit about wood structure and why one planes the end grain first. I have always found that describing the wood fibre structure as a bundle of straws works well for explaining why tear out occurs when you cut across the end grain, and doesn’t when cut along the long grain.
The Center Support
The center support and its interaction with the legs provides the primary structural support for the stool. The center support is wider next to the legs to provide greater racking resistance. Along the bottom, measure and mark at 1 ½ inches and three inches in from the each end. At the 3″ point, use a combination square to measure and mark a point 1 ½” up from the bottom. Now use the combination square to lay out the 45 degree lines and a straight edge to lay out the cut line between the two 45 degree lines. Remove the waste with a coping saw or scroll saw. Smooth out the cuts with a spoke shave and a bit of sanding.
The purpose of the sides is to provide the means of joining the top to the legs. Prior to joinery, the only thing to do to the sides is cut off a couple of triangles at each end. Start by laying out a line ⅜” from the top edge at each end of both sides. Next, on one face of each side, lay out lines at 45° from the side lines to the bottom edge. Use any technique you feel comfortable with for cutting off these triangles. A small back saw or dovetail saw used with a mitre box is a simple approach. Once the cuts are made, the saw tool marks on the angle can be cleaned up with plane. This is a good opportunity to introduce the use of a block plane.
Joinery and Assembly
In keeping with the basic approach of this project, the joinery for the foot stool is also very simple. It consists of a series of clearance holes and corresponding pilot holes for the screws that will hold the project together; no gluing required. Use 1 ½” #10 round-headed screws to attach the sides to the top and the legs to the center support. 1 ½” #8 round-headed screws to attach the sides to the legs.
Start by preparing the sides to attach to the top. Drill a pair of clearance holes in each side from top to bottom about 4 ½” from each end. Then, from the bottom of each side, use a ⅜” brad point drill bit to counter-sink a hole that will allow the screws to protrude about ½” into the top. To attach the legs to the center support, lay out a center line from the top of each leg. Mark points along the center line ¾” and 2″ down from the top. Drill a pair of clearance holes in each leg at these points. The clearance holes should allow the screw to just barely pass through without any difficulty. Position the legs and the center support together. Use a clamp to keep the relative positions steady while you push a screw by hand through the clearance holes in the legs to mark the locations of the pilot holes on the center support. To position the clearance holes in the sides, place all the parts on the top face down. A pair of scraps hand-planed to the right thickness work well to center the legs on the top.
When everything is in place, draw a pencil line on the outside of each side piece that lines up with the center of the notches in each leg. Mark points ½” and 1 ¼” down from the top on each of these lines. Drill clearance holes at all of these points, four for each side piece. Put the parts back together on the face down top as before and use a screw to mark the position of the pilot holes on the legs and in the top. Center punch each of the pilot hole identifying marks you made with the screw to make them easier to find and to make starting the holes easier. Now drill the pilot holes – about 3/32″ diameter – in the center support, top and legs. Use a depth stop when drilling the pilot holes. Getting the depth of the pilot holes correct is not critical on the legs and center support but it is essential on the top.
With all the holes drilled, the stool is now ready for final smoothing and assembly. To assemble the stool, screw the legs to the center support, the sides to the legs and, finally, the sides to the top. Once the stool is assembled place it on a flat level surface and check for wobbles. Note the feet that are high and use a block plane to trim the high legs down until the wobble goes away. This may take a while. I found my daughter was rather timid at first removing wood for this sort of adjustment.
Shellac makes a good first finish for a beginner to work with. It is simple to apply and quite forgiving if you make a mistake. We used three coats of super blonde wiped on shellac. Unfortunately, Shellac is not a particularly tough finish, so we followed it up with two coats of wiped on polyurethane.