Home > Woodworking > Shaker Step Stool – Part 4

Shaker Step Stool – Part 4

Well the plan was solid and I was able to meet the minimum goals toward completion of the this project. I was however, never able to get ahead with each step taking twice or three times as long as I would have estimated. The upshot was that I managed to complete the build by the end of Sunday but I was unable to apply any finish. All in all, I have worked hard and I’m satisfied with my effort.

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

I had been contemplating the problems I had with my previous evenings effort in wedge making and it occurred to me that I should try again. I felt that I had made too large of an angle in my jig and thus the wedges came out thicker than I felt would work. In the moment I was too tired to fix the issue but having slept on it I realized it was a simple thing to slice off the edge at the table saw and remake the notch. I did and it worked beautifully. I was able to quickly make new and improved wedges.


Cutting the “little” wedges


Tall wedges for the legs.

Wedges in hand it was now time to cut some kerfs in the tenons. Should be simple right? Well it was pretty dang easy to make the horizontal cuts in the stretchers as I could do it with one fence settings at the band saw. Make a cut, flip the piece then swap ends, repeat then the next piece. I was finished in a few minutes.

Now I needed to make the vertical cuts in the center of each of the dual tenons. This proved much more challenging. If I had taken the time to build a tenon jig for the table saw, this too could have been trivial to cut. I decided to make these cuts by hand and it was a bit challenging. For one thing, I just can’t seem to get my rip saw started and I have practiced. I know it’s very important to lift the blade while getting it started (otherwise it doesn’t budge) but inevitably I end up bouncing the saw out of the kerf and marring the surface.

IMG_0849 IMG_0851

This process proved so challenging that I pulled out pretty much all of my saws in the effort. The cross-cut saw didn’t prove any more efficient starting the cut so I went finer. My Xacto fine tooth detail saw worked so I started all the cuts using it then switched to my rip saw when I had the start of a cut. A few of them went OK and a couple of them I ended up making some nasty gashes. Hate that but there you go, it’s woodworking and I’m learning how to do it. Although I’m glad for the hand practice, in the future I will be building a tenon accessory for my table saw. I like to have options when it counts.

Another operation that went nominally was chamfering the underside of the three tops. I setup the bit in my router table and took a practice swing on my pine prototype. That went well so I proceeded to bevel the three tops without incident. Well, there was a little bit of burning which would need to be addressed but no tear out to speak of so all is well.

Saturday – Glue-up? (NOT)

With all the pieces in place, I started Saturday morning hopeful that I would be gluing up stools.

Stool "kit"

Once again I grossly underestimated that work that was required before glue up. First off, I needed to do surface prep which included removing burn marks and fixing the whale tail crotch area. Then surface sanding through all the grits. I then remembered that I am supposed to bevel the tops of the mortises to give the wedges a place to expand. Once again this proved to be a drawn out and time-consuming process. First off, I was stymied on how to clamp the work piece and the bevel gauge together. I made several failed attempts at my bench and in hindsight, I probably should have tried using a hold fast for at least part of the solution. As it turned out I figured out a somewhat clever way to use my moxon vise. The bevel aid was clamped to the front jaw using Rockler fence clamps. (Writer’s Note: these seem like a wonderful idea but I have to tell you I bought four of them over a year ago and this is the first time I figured out a use for them. That said, I think they probably will work OK to hold auxiliary  table saw fences in place. Perhaps one day I won’t be able to live without them. I keep waiting.)

Excavating bevels.

This idea worked and I methodically chopped two sides of all 12 top mortises and all 6 stretcher mortises. I can’t say that I found this part rewarding.

Sunday – Finish Bevels and Glue Them Suckers

Because I didn’t re-tape and/or back the backside of the mortises (I wasn’t supposed to exit the back side) I had significant tear out in a couple of instances. I also didn’t know how much to expand the bevels. I attempted 1/16″  but I now see that this was far too much or perhaps my wedges were too thin or perhaps the angle in the mortise wasn’t ideal. In the end I ended up with gaps around the mortises on the tops. Even worse I had great difficulty getting the top wedges started in the grooves. I pretty much had to hammer them in to get them started which worked well in 75% of the cases. The other 25% bent and split and otherwise disintegrated. I was able to pull one out but two of them were driven too deep to be easily removed and they had glue all over them and in the kerf. My solution was to apply another narrow wedge beside it. Not ideal but serviceable and I was really beginning to weary of this project. Clearly the 1/2″ wedges were far sturdier than the 2″ wedges and I’m dreaming up ways they could be improved. Widening the kerf would be the most obvious solution but also I am considering cutting off the tips to make them stubbier then shaping a bevel on the edge.

Other than final surface prep, the last step was to saw off the wedge tops and flush them up with the chisel. Truthfully this wasn’t difficult because I’ve had practice flushing up lots of screw plugs on previous projects. That said, it does take time and I was running out of my weekend. (Today’s Tip – wetting the end grain before paring really does work!). I will be using this tip again I can tell you that. Wetting the end grain not only softened the fibers but also helped to loosen the drying glue which I will make a big difference when I go to apply finish.

Ladies and Gentleman, behold “the Lads”.

Three Shaker Stools


I don’t have much time, “Christmas is Coming….” I considered lacquer and although I could build finish quickly, it would be out gassing for the next 3 weeks. Not cool as I also need to box and ship them. My next best option was to spray the General Finishes High Performance Top Coat that I used on my night stand. I have it, it doesn’t stink and it dries very quickly. I could apply enough finish in one day and ship the next. My only concern there was that I had purchased a gloss surface and for this I would have wanted a satin. I wouldn’t want socked feet slipping off now would I? Then I was riding home on Friday and listening to FWW Shop Talk Live. Mike’s  “All time favorite technique of all time for this week” was shellac followed by paste wax. Perfect solution for this project and I had both on hand. The recipe is a dilute seal coat followed by a light sanding then apply full strength for another 3 or 4 coats. All can be done in an hour or two and this is followed by a paste wax / steel wool rub out. So this is my task at hand for tonight.

Today I need to start hunting for shipping boxes…… Christmas is coming……

Start Woodworking classed this a beginner project but for me, I thought it well in the intermediate range. Perhaps because I was making three and not one stool but I rather think it was because there were new things to learn and tackle at each step. I would encourage anyone to give it a try however. Cutting and fitting those first tenons was real energy boost and I began to see that anything was possible. My advise is to “just get out and make something……”

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