My version Bench or Desk Stool

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    Mike I


    this will be a description of my first WWMC project – a stool for my son’s writing desk, based on the bench stool project. Thanks for looking.

    These posts will be too long, but I enjoyed describing the ups and downs and maybe some of you will be interested, and just maybe learn by avoiding repeating my mistakes too. I will split them up a bit to make them easier to read.

    I am still very much a novice – I followed the now familiar sequence of thinking power tools will compensate lack of skill and then been converted to hand tools by Paul’s teaching. I’m now enjoying a much freer, safer, quieter and more rewarding path.

    I have made a few things before with hand tools only, but this was my first WWMC project.

    Paul’s teaching on this series is excellent, as always, and the order of the video series makes the high level process easy to follow.

    Please feel free to comment, share and constructively criticise too.

    Mike I

    The ups and downs:

    The Wood: I was lucky enough to given some builders offcuts of thicker stock from a relatives house build. It was miscellanaoues SPF? Some smooth CLS sections and some rough sawn, covered in builders bootprints etc. It was otherwise destined for the skip (so extra eco-points to me!). Lots of ugly knots that I was able to cut around, but dry enough and some nice grain.

    I always struggle with softwood like this, because it can look really nice, but it’s very difficult to avoid damaging it during the build – it sometimes feels like even breathing near it will end up denting it. Maybe I just need to be more careful…

    Stock preparation: I do own a tablesaur (sic) but only use it when very necessary and it wasn’t for this project. I don’t have a jointer/planer thicknesser either. So I did all stock prep by hand. Although it is time consuming, I still find it rewarding. I have got used to any wood I get always being cupped or way out of square (even alleged PAR/S4S) so historically I have already learned the hard way that I have to square everything by hand anyway. Failure to do so would mean terrible layout and joinery.

    This project went well and I was pleased with the dimensioning and smoothing of all the stock. It is still exciting to me to see the transformation from ugly rough timber into something smooth, glassy and beautiful just by running a sharp plane over it… It almost saddens me to roughen the surface again with fine sandpaper to give tooth for the finish, but needs must.

    Mike I

    Layout and Joinery: For the most part this was straightforward. I was worried that I would lose accuracy with all the sloped tenon shoulders, and have gaps all over the place. However, the method of drawing it full size on a board and taking the angles from the board worked well. I didn’t use the mortice alignment jig, but did use the the router plane to ensure parallel tenon cheeks and tight-fitting joints. These are probably the best fitting mortice and tenons I have ever made.

    Shaping the legs: This part looked a bit complicated on the video – I found it hard to visualize the compound sweeps at the bottom of the legs and how the stopped chamfer worked together. In actual fact, it was quite easy to make the template and I found shaping the legs very much enjoyable. Once done, it seemed quite easy to understand, and produces a lovely and distinctive shape.

    Shaping the leg frame arches: The stop cuts, chisel and spokeshave worked well for forming the main arches. I made some mistakes with the part I thought would be easiest: softening the edges where the arches met the flat faces. Lack of experience with the curved-bottom spokeshave and the tight radius of some arches meant I chipped out the edges in a few places. Shhhh! No one will notice if I don’t tell them…

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 11 months ago by Mike I.
    Mike I

    Frame glue-up: This was where I made a mistake that I should have seen coming having read a lot of Paul’s blogs/advice… I was going to glue up two sides of the stool frame separately in one stage and then glue the two frames together after they dried. in my head that would be less stressful and need fewer clamps.

    Whilst in the middle of doing the first 2x side frames I suddenly worried that glue squeeze out in the top (interjoined) mortices would harden and prevent the other joints from seating properly aftwerwards. I also worried that I might in some way clamp the frames out of square meaning that the joints would not fit again when I came to assemble all four sides. So I decided, mid-PVA-glue-up, to clamp up all four sides of the stool in the same session.

    Problem: I ony had 8 wedges cut (not 16) and just about enough clamps if I used all the ones that were way too long for this job. Cue about ten very stressful minutes high speed glue-spreading and trying to arrange extra awkward clamps in a confined space. I was also surprised that it did need more clamp and mallet force than I expected to close some joints properly. Because I had not previously made such tight joints, the infamous “joint freeze” had seemed only a theoretically possibility. Hopefully I won’t have to learn that mistake again.

    Luckily, despite the stress on me, the joints did seat well (for me anyway). The only damage was a few small clamp marks where I did not have the wedges pre-cut to pad the clamps. The marks actually came out well afterwards with the wet cloth and iron trick (thanks again Paul!)

    Mike I

    Seat Making/shaping: This was the bit I was slightly dreading as it had all the hallmarks of one of those things Paul makes look easy, but isn’t for normal people.

    Glueing up the seat went as expected and I was pleased with the grain matching that I got from the the miscellaneous pieces.

    I had ordered an new Ashley Iles #7 sweep 37mm gouge and thought I would “give it a go” with the seat carving as it looked interesting thing to try – worst case I could alway make another flat square or oval seat and soften the edges. The Ashley Iles gouge was wonderful – It came paper-slicing sharp and I found the tool more intuitive than I had thought. Roughing out the seat went much quicker and better than I expected… or did it?

    Actually my lack of experience with the gouge meant that I didn’t know what I was doing well or badly… Although the rough shape appeared and matched the intended shape well, I hadn’t got smooth transition areas where the flat of the seat curves up at the sides. Although they were the right shape, they were a bit rough. This caused me to need to do a lot more hand sanding to get them as smooth as desired. I did not make the curved bottom plane so I tried square card scrapers on the seat pan but found the corners would dig in at the worst possible time and make matters worse, so just gouge and sandpaper it was for me. Next time I hope to do less sanding and try the curved bottom plane and curved scrapers…

    Mike I

    Finishing: Time for some more mistakes. I had previously used shellac and beeswax successfully and thought this would go well as the project was looking good and super smooth to the touch.

    I had previously used 0000 steel wool with no problems, but this time I tried to rub down the shellac with 0000 steel wool between coats and found that my steel wool was crumbling to dust all over the place (despite being allegedly crumble and dust resistant). I think there may be some problem with that batch as it was unlike others I have used. It has put me off using steel wool.

    Most of the steel wool dust came off, but other tiny parts were impossible to remove completely . So some of the project has some dark areas of ingrained steel fibres which at this stage annoyed me greatly. Due to the inherent arrangements of parts in a stool, it was also more difficult to use the shellac flawlessly, than on some other simpler pieces. There are a lot of tight corners and always vertical surfaces whichever way you position the stool, and so more potential for drips and flooding corners etc. So the finish was not as good as I hoped, but I think the overall look is fine and I guess only someone looking very closely and critically would notice the flaws.

    Overall: I am very happy with the way the project turned out and still have a lot of scope for skill improvement

    Most proud of: No electrons were harmed in the whole project other than lighting. My son has something unique and truly handmade.

    Thanks Paul and staff!

    Matt McGrane

    You should be happy with this stool – it looks great. Your description says you have angles on the tenons, but the pictures make the legs not look splayed. Am I seeing that correctly? It looks like a little more splay would make a more stable chair.

    The seat looks really smooth. Great job with just a gouge and sandpaper!! I had the same problems with a scraper digging in, though I used it anyway.

    As far as steel wool is concerned when rubbing out shellac, I had to stop using it because of all the steel dust. Now I use sandpaper. But I had to change the type of sandpaper I used because the gray stuff left grey sand bits in the pores of an oak project. Now I use a light colored sandpaper – I think it’s an aluminum oxide paper.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016:

    Mike I

    @mattmcgrane thanks for the comments. I saw your post where you made this stool project a while back, so it’s nice to get feedback from someone that knows the project. The advice about steel wool/shellac is really useful, and I am now reading your blog as it looks like you have made some really interesting and high quality work!

    About the splay… I can see the photos do make it look quite square. It’s not very steep, but the legs are angled at about 1 in 12. I think that a combination of a poor lens and the raised perspective (a poor workman blames his camera!) are not showing it quite how it is in real life. It’s also quite short – only two foot high – as it is for a 5+ year old, and that may mislead the eye slightly. It feels stable enough, but if I made another, I might well increase the splay…


    Nicely done! I too have found the seat shaping (for me, on a windsor chair) to be a real education in reading grain direction. It helped me to make a small round-both-ways plane to scoop out the seat.

    FWIW when I am using SPF for projects I tend to use nice 2 x 10’s and rip them. I find they are more stable and have less knots than the 2 x 4 or 2 x 6. Those pin knots are rally hard o the edges of my tools.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 10 months ago by sodbuster.
    Mike I

    @sodbuster thanks – and that is a useful tip about stock selection.

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