Step Stool - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Home Project: Get a step up on things with this handy little kitchen or shop accessory.


Step Stool

Illustration by Mike Del Rizzo



We’ve all been there, standing on our tiptoes, stretching for all we’re worth trying to reach an item on the top shelf. Or worse yet, we reach, while perched precariously on the edge of a chair. With this handy step stool you’ll be able to step up and reach for the top with confidence. This stool also makes a great companion to the Kitchen Island Table (Dec/Jan '07, Issue #45).

Originally I had planned on using screws with plugs on this project, but the two structural joints in the stool are in end grain, and screws driven into end grain have very little holding power. To ensure joints that are strong enough for years of use, I’ve used dowels to assemble the parts of this project. A dowelling jig assures that everything fits together perfectly. If you choose another method, adjust the instructions accordingly.

I wanted a rigid stool that would not deflect under weight, so I used stock that was 1 ⅛" thick, milling it down to ⅞". With careful layout I was able to get all the pieces from one 8" x 8' board. If you don’t have access to wide stock, glue up narrower stock and adjust the thickness as required. Almost any wood will suffice for this project.

• Mark out the eight pieces for this project on your rough stock, grouping them so that you can cut the board into manageable lengths. I was able to cut my 8' board into two 4' lengths.

• Mill the stock straight, square and to final thickness.

• Cut all the pieces for the project to finished dimensions, but leave an extra inch in length to be trimmed off later. When cutting the piece from either end of the board, allow some extra waste, as there may be checks in the wood that you will need to cut away.

• Cut the short risers (A) and the long risers (B) to final length. Place the two sets of risers together in such a way that the pattern of the grain on the two pieces makes the glue line less visible. Using the bottom edges of the risers as the reference edge, drill dowel holes to join the two risers. As the stool will be subject to some stress, use the maximum number of dowels that the width of the material will support. Don’t glue the risers together just yet.

• Cut the two treads (C) to final length.

• Using the back edge of each riser as the reference edge, drill dowel holes into the tops of the risers.

• Drill corresponding dowel holes in the underside of the treads. If you are using the Dowelmax, strip it down
to the core guide block and clamp a wooden block to the underside of the tread to act as a fence. Use the fence on your table saw to keep everything aligned and drill a row of dowel holes in the underside of the treads. After you drill the first hole, insert the guide pin to lock the jig in place.

• Dry fit the two riser assemblies and then fit the treads to the risers with dowels. Measure the actual distance between the risers and cut the front cross brace (D) and rear cross brace (E) to length.

• Drill dowel holes on the inside faces of the risers using the top edge of the risers as the reference edges. If you’re using the Dowelmax, place the back of the risers against the table saw fence and use a block of wood to act as a spacer for the row of holes. Remember to reset the depth stop on your bit or you may drill through the opposite face.

• Drill the corresponding dowel holes in the end of each cross brace.

• Set up a ⅜" round over bit in your router table to round over the edges of the treads. Begin with the ends and let the long grain cuts remove any tear out left behind by the end grain passes. For two of the end grain cuts you will need to back up the tread with a block of wood in order to prevent tear out.

• Dry fit the parts together to ensure everything fits perfectly.

• Carefully take the stool apart and be sure that you have sufficient dowels and glue on hand. Before the project can be assembled the four risers have to be assembled into the two ends.

• Using dowels and glue assemble the long and short risers into a pair of ends. Spread a little glue on the edges of the two pieces as well as in the dowel holes. After about ½ hour, remove the clamps and scrape off any glue that has squeezed out of the joint, it should still be stringy and should peel off easily. Then let the assembly cure.

• Before assembling the rest of the stool, sand all of the parts. If you are building this as a companion piece for the Kitchen Island (Dec/Jan '07, Issue #45), finish it with Home Hardware’s Fine Wood Maple Stain #723. To leave the stool with an easily cleaned and durable surface I followed this with a couple of coats of polyurethane. Be careful not to get finish in the dowel holes.

• With all of the parts finished, it’s time for the final assembly.

• Begin by putting glue in the cross brace dowel holes in one of the ends, then put glue in the holes in the cross braces. Insert the dowels in the risers and tap them in with a mallet if need be. With these dowels at full depth, insert the braces into the corresponding hole on the ends. Repeat this for the other side.

• Apply glue to the dowel holes in the risers and the treads. Insert the dowels into the risers first and then set the treads in place and push then down evenly onto the risers. When everything has been assembled clamp the whole assembly together to draw the joints tight, and let the glue set.

• Give this project the maximum time recommended by the glue manufacturer for the glue to cure.
Once the project is completed head for the kitchen and go hunting for the cookie jar on the top shelf.


Michael Kampen