Home > Woodworking > Shaker Step Stool – Part 3

Shaker Step Stool – Part 3

So this is how I’m beginning to feel about now:

Christmas is coming

I realized that I was going to have to work evenings if I was going to finish this project before Christmas. My beautiful and caring wife reminds me that this is a “totally artificial deadline”. When you think about it most deadlines are artificial or at least the vast majority of them. Perhaps the better way to phrase it is that my “goal” would be to have the Christmas gifts finished and at least shipped before Christmas. If transportation delivers them after the actual day, I’m perfectly OK with that.

Sunday’s Goal – Fit the legs

Because I didn’t work on the project Saturday, I found myself unable to complete all the leg tenons on Sunday. In fact part of the problem was that I was a little intimidated cutting and fitting my first “real” tenons. And I wasn’t starting with the simplest possible tenon either. These were double tenons and they had to fit. Never-mind I was cutting in pricey sapele and that these are gifts. No pressure right?

Rather than loading a dado stack (my original plan) I decided to go simple and use my regular combo blade and cross cut sled to cut the tenon face cheeks. For whatever reason I was just certain that I wouldn’t be able to properly locate and center the tenon cut.

Prior to  cutting anything on my table saw, I had to stop and figure out how to tighten the belt between the motor and the blade. The loose blade had been nagging me for a while and now the blade wouldn’t turn at all. It turned out to be a simple very simple fix but never having done it, I first referenced the user’s manual. Opening the saw also made it very clear that I wasn’t going to saw anything until I emptied the saw dust. All this delayed the inevitable, cutting and fitting my first tenon.

Using calipers, I measured both the leg thickness and the width of the actual mortise. The tenon thickness was just shy of 1/2″ as measure with my calipers and the depth of each face check would need to slight less than 1/8″.  I subtracted the actual measurements and divided that number in half to give me the cheek depth. I did my best to set my table saw blade to that that height which was difficult because it was less than 1/8″ and I don’t really have an actual gauge for this purpose. I couldn’t use my pine prototype because it wasn’t the same thickness as my actual project pieces but I had cut the stretchers over-sized so I used them. It only took me three adjustments to dial in the depth of cut I wanted. I was close on the first pass but it left the piece just a tad too thick and I’ve have to pare to fit them. I noted the hand wheel position before adjusting and raised the blade by less than a quarter turn of the wheel. This made the tenon loose, I didn’t want that. Splitting the difference I found what I considered a satisfactory fit. Wow, that wasn’t so bad. Using the “speed tenon” technique as discussed on Fine Woodworking Magazine, I cut both sides of both legs easily. I should make note that at first I moved the piece through the blade in multiple passes (forward and back, shift, repeat). This was of course very safe but it did leave ridges on the tenon. I don’t (yet) have a shoulder plane so I flattened the cheek by paring with a chisel which worked just fine but it took longer and was less accurate than a plane would have been. Later on in the process, as my confidence grew, I really did use the speed tenon technique (nibbling by moving the piece sideways across the blade) and this greatly improved the surface of the tenon cheek and reduced work required for clean up.

So far so good, on to the side cheeks.

Generally it is recommended that rather than measure, one precisely mark with a knife. My experience has been poor with the whole marking thing, especially on this project. For one thing when I did mark with my knife, I had a VERY hard time finding it again. I literally had to hold the piece directly under a lamp and put on my magnifiers to locate it. Sure I could feel it, but that doesn’t help when you’re trying to extend the line with a straight edge. I found that method a no go and in the end measuring with calipers and marking with a pencil worked well for me. I was simply careful to cut on the waste side of the line. I went low tech and decided to make all these cuts at the band saw. I lined up the first outside edge and set the fence. Initially I was setting and using a stop block to prevent me from cutting into the shoulder but after a while I found it took too long to setup each time and that it was unnecessary. If I paid attention, I wouldn’t cut into the should. I did and it worked fine. After the first outside edge cut I introduced (like that huh?) the kerf to the mortise to confirm I hadn’t screwed up then marked the other outside edge with a pencil. After doing this each time, I came to conclusion that I had done a fair job marking the mortise locations and that I could simple flip the leg over at the band saw and cut the other edge. To my recollection though I did mark each time just to be sure. The outside shoulders were cross cut on the band saw, aligning by eyeball and using my miter gauge. Again being careful I had absolutely no problems cutting in to the work piece shoulder.

Cutting both inside edges was pretty much an identical process with the only difference that I made multiple cuts about 1/16″ apart (the more the better up to a point of course). Think feather board with very narrow feathers. It is important not to get lazy and make the fingers too thick. If they are very thin they can be easily and cleanly chopped away with a single blow from a mallet and sharp chisel. If they are too thick they can be not-so-easily hammered out with mallet and chisel leaving a torn ugly surface that needs more clean up. Don’t ask me how I know this.

It was all being done for the first time so I wasn’t exactly confident but lo and behold it worked!

First of 6 to fit.

One down, five more to go. Actually I only finished three before it was time to clean up and take my family to town and diner. It would seem, I’m behind schedule already.

Monday Night’s Goal – Complete Fitting Legs

Not much to report here except that in my haste to “finish” on Sunday I had decided to change-up my method. Instead of cutting all those little fingers I was looking for a quicker was to cut out the center material. Hey, I just purchased that groovy new fret saw that worked so well for me cutting out dove tail tails. I’ll just saw with confidence along the shoulder and botta boom botta bing, done with little paring clean up required. Wrong…. unfortunately. I did a passible job on the visible side all the while cutting in to my project face on the back side. Now it turns out this will be mostly covered by the stretcher but only after I made the command decision to not make that side the face. It was the better side originally, not any more. Which was another wake up call. Note to self: When cutting, chopping or whatever ALWAYS give consideration and preference to the face side. Why didn’t I saw with the face facing me? I didn’t think about it at the time. Seems obvious until you are busy working hard to make stuff happen and it doesn’t occur to you until you’ve made a mistake.

Tuesday Night – Band Concert

No work can be completed my youngest has her very first band concert. She plays the french horn.

Wednesday Night – Fit the Stretchers

Given my experience fitting the legs I was hopeful I would make up time on the stretchers but alas this was not the case. Having said that, it actually went pretty well. I fit the legs to the top and squared up the legs with a small combination square. Some of the stretchers even had the face cheeks cut on one side. They looked fine, so I measured and cut the opposite end to length and added the face cheeks. Pretty much a repeat of procedure at the band saw followed by paring with chisel. It all went well until the very last tenon which stubbornly wouldn’t fit into the prepared mortise. I blame the mortise and after struggling with multiple operations on the tenon side, began paring inside the hole. Of course I ended up getting careless, forgetting the cardinal rule to carefully pare from each side and of course the protective blue tape had been removed. Eventually I got it to fit and ended up with undesirable tear out to boot. Goal was met, I was tired and hungry.

Stretchers Installed

Thursday Night – Taper Legs, Make Wedges, Saw Tenons to Receive Wedges

After a quick bite to eat, I was back in the shop. I began by making a simple tapering jig for the legs. I am such a tightwad and I’m always looking for just the right pieces to make my jigs. It bothers me to use a piece of wood for scrap that I believe could be used for higher purposes. I know, you just have to get over it but to some extent I believe this is only right. Reduce, reuse and recycle right? Fortunately I am drowning in scraps and was able to locate suitable pieces for this purpose.

Tapering Legs

Making the jig was uneventful and before putting it to use I tested on my pine prototype leg. The pine piece was shorter than my project legs, other than that it was a go.

After all legs were cut on one side the jig had to be adjusted to cut the other side. I used the same jig of course simply moving the right hand fence to the new correct angle which was now doubled. A test cut proved that I had to shift the (right) fence in just a tiny amount or I would be left with a flat on the other leg. I did this and finish this procedure without incident.

Next I was to cut two sizes of wedges that will be used to wedge the tenons of course. I have spent entirely too much time worrying about these dang wedges. First what material? Project calls for hard maple and I have none. Should I cut up my guitar finger board blanks for this purpose? I have maple, zircote and macassar ebony which I could sacrifice. Did you read my last paragraph? Do you think I’m going to cut up an $18 fingerboard blank so I can make some wedges? I decided against this. Off I went to the Internet to see what I could possible use as an alternative to hard maple. I quickly found a post from Chris Schwarz on how to make wedges. Chris likes to use white oak, now you’re talking. But then he goes on to call red oak “a weed”. OK so here’s my admonishment to you Chris. You’re awesome, I appreciate you and I respect you. Unfortunately many people actually worship you and when you say stupid things like that it somehow becomes a tenant of woodworking. It comes off not like a personal preference, ” I prefer to make my furniture from mahogany rather than pine” but more like, “if you make your project from red oak it is somehow inferior”.  You were making a joke and I get it just remember people tend to take you way too seriously. Stating an experienced preference is fine, implying that people are wrong but choosing differently is divisive. People need to stop caring about trivia like that and just make things (Making It) . Now I REALLY have spent too much time worrying about stupid wedges!

So I go to make this wedge jig for the band saw and I although I watched the video and took note of it, I couldn’t reproduce it from memory. So I pulled it up again and proceeded to make a jig. I didn’t get it right and the wedges came out thicker than I wanted but I kept going anyway. I was having trouble figuring out how to make the wedges tall enough for the top tenons. This is an instance where experience is that only way I was going to really “get it”. The upshot was that I spent the rest of my evening struggling to cut all the wedges I needed for glue up. I had hoped that I would have been able to actually make the saw kerfs but that will come with the next session. Not a lot of mystery in that process.

Friday Night – Kerfs for Wedging, Beveling the Top, Chamfering Edges, Surface Prep

My original goal was to glue up the stools by Friday night so I would be essentially ready for finish on Saturday and Sunday. I can see now that probably won’t happen. My revised goal is to cut for wedging, and bevel the tops. I can also see me doing some initial surface prep but my concern is that I’ll rush the job.

Stay tuned for the final episode to conclude this weekend…..

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