How to Build a Step Stool: DIY Step Stool Instructions


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May 28, 2023

How to Build a Step Stool: DIY Step Stool Instructions

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Leftover wood and some paint become an attractive furniture project.

There was a time, not very long ago, when short cut-off pieces of wood left over from larger projects were considered scrap destined for the burn pile or trash. But when lumber prices more than quadrupled a couple of years ago, those pieces of so-called scrap were suddenly too valuable to simply toss out. And even though lumber prices have fallen—slightly—they still haven't reached pre-pandemic levels.

So, with that in mind, I decided to design this Shaker-inspired step stool made entirely from scrap wood. This is the first in a three-part series. Stay tuned for the other two: a wall-mounted coat rack and a hardwood cutting board. (And you can check out other scrap wood projects of ours, such as this spice rack, this bench ,and the beautiful industrial coffee table with a top made from recycled wide-plank flooring.)

The challenge of building with scrap wood is that you have to design to suit the materials you have, not materials you will buy. To do that, I rough out a design on a piece of paper or on the scrap wood itself. With the design work done, I set up my machines and get to work.

Below are some tools and supplies that can help you build this. Below that is the simple play-by-play by which I built the stool.

I built this little stool with a benchtop table saw, a miter saw, a cordless drill, and a Kreg pocket screw guide. Lacking a table saw, you can build this project with a circular saw if you cut carefully enough. I would recommend a miter saw, however, for accurate crosscuts.

Crosscut the two stool sides to length, mark the notch in the pieces, and make the notch cut on the table saw. There are several important things to note about making this cut. First, you raise the blade above the workpiece by about ¼ inch and place the inside face of the workpiece against the saw table. Next, cut right up to the point of intersection where the two cut lines meet. When you flip the workpiece over, you’ll find that the saw blade has slightly overcut the intersection. But you won't see this over-cut intersection once the step stool is assembled. The waste piece created by the notch cut should drop away. If not, finish the cut with a jig saw or a hand saw.

Also, note in the photo that the saw's fence is adjusted so the saw blade cuts just on the waste side of the reference line.

Mark the arch-shaped cut line on the outside surface (the side that will be visible when the stool is built), and use a jig saw equipped with a 10-teeth-per-inch wood-cutting blade. I use a reverse-pitch blade for these because it leaves a very clean surface on the cut edge and on the top of the wood. This blade produces little or no breakout (splintering).

Crosscut your rails to length as shown in the drawing and bore two pocket screws at the ends of each rail. Also bore a pair of pocket screws through the back of the sides at each tread location. Now You’re ready to paint and assemble.

Lay the parts down on a drop cloth or some masking paper and apply a coat of shellac-based primer-sealer. This primer works particularly well on pine, which may have the occasional small pocket of pitch or a small knot that will show through the paint if not sealed. Depending on temperature and humidity, the primer dries in anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. Sand the first coat with 220-grit sandpaper and wipe off dust with a tack cloth.

After you wipe the parts down, topcoat them with two layers of spray paint (I used Behr Surf Spray Paint). Be careful to keep paint off the end grain of all parts, which will prevent the parts from fitting tightly together. Next, rip and crosscut the treads to the dimensions shown in the drawing and apply two coats of satin polyurethane to them. Sand the first coat with 220-grit sandpaper, wipe it down, and apply the second coat.

When both the paint and polyurethane dry, assemble the bench by driving 1¼-inch pocket screws through the stretchers into the sides. Then invert the bench and drive the pocket screws through the sides into the treads.

There are a couple of things to note about the assembly process. First, check the assembly for square as you work. Even though parts may be cut square, things can go out of alignment. Monitor your work as you go. Second, be sure to position the stair treads so that they have an equal amount of overhang at each end. Placing a simple tick mark on the bottom of the tread is enough to align the stool base and the tread during assembly.

And with the last pocket screw driven, there you have it. You’ve built yourself a nice little stool and converted some scrap wood from kindling to furniture. Not bad for a day's work.

Joe Truini is a former carpenter and cabinetmaker who writes extensively about remodeling, woodworking, and tool techniques. He's the author of eight DIY books and is a long-time contributing editor to Popular Mechanics.

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