Introduction: Contemporary Kitchen Stools
I made these stools from black walnut (for the seat) and cherry (for the legs). I got the inspiration from a video that I saw from a French woodworker named Boris Beaulant. His stools were a little smaller. I adapted his design to make them taller and suitable to sit at a kitchen counter. I also adapted the methodology so that I could make them with my tools. His tools are pretty slick (and expensive), so I've adapted the process so that the stools can be made with tools that are more typical of a workshop in America. You can watch his video here and compare that with how I've made them.
Step 1: Rough Cut the Boards
For the seats, I rough cut the walnut to be 65" long. I was using a piece that was about 8" wide so that I could end up with eight 8" squares. After milling the wood, I ended up with a piece that was 7 3/4" wide, so a 65" length was all I needed. You can adjust the size of the seat pieces to suit your desired stool size. Anything from 7" wide to 8" wide should be suitable.
For the legs, I made the stool to be 25" high, so you can rough-cut the length to 26" or 27" to give you enough length to square up each end and put a 5 degree bevel on one end later on. Remember, they'll be angled 5 degrees, so you'll need pieces longer than 25" to get a 25" height. But it's not too critical. A 24" height would have been fine too.
You'll need enough cherry to cut 8 legs that are 3" wide and 26" long. The cherry that I had was about 10" wide, so I cut 3 lengths to be 26". That gave me enough material to cut 9 legs. That left me with one extra leg in case I made an irrecoverable error. (I was lucky and didn't have to use it.)
Step 2: Joint the Edge of the Cherry
I jointed one edge of the cherry to make sure that it was straight prior to cutting the legs on the table saw. If you do not have a jointer, there are other ways to do this. For example, you could clamp the board to a jig on your table saw to cut a straight edge, or you could use a hand plane.
Step 3: Cut the Legs to Be 3" Wide
With one edge of the cherry jointed straight and flat, set your table saw fence to be 3" wide and cut each of the legs.
Step 4: Plane the Thickness of the Legs and the Walnut Seat
Use a planer to plane the thickness of the pieces to be exactly 1". I used calipers to be sure that they were the exact thickness that I wanted.
Step 5: Plane the Exact Width of the Legs
Knowing that my dado set can cut a maximum of 15/16", I wanted the leg to be exactly 2 13/16" (3 x 15/16"), so I set the planer so that the legs would be exactly 2 13/16". I planed just a little bit at a time, and adjusted the height of the planer blades each time until I got 2 13/16". I used my caliper to test the width of the leg after each cut.
Step 6: Joint the Seat Board
I jointed the walnut to have a straight edge prior to cutting the width on the table saw. The board that I started with was about 8.5" at one end, and a little less than 8" at the other end. My goal was to end up with a piece that was 7 3/4" wide after cutting it on the table saw.
Step 7: (Optional) Fill Voids With Clear Epoxy
There were some voids in the cherry that I wanted to fill with epoxy. I used clear epoxy for some of the voids. For other voids, I mixed in some brown dye so that they would be more noticeable. This gives some character to the wood. It's really up to you to decide if you want to fill the voids and whether or not to use a color.
Step 8: (Optional) Fill Voids With Colored Epoxy
There was a bit of grain separation that happened after planing the walnut. I decided to fix this using dark brown epoxy. I filled this area with epoxy, then added wax paper and clamped it with a board so that the wood would be joined together. I let this sit over night so that the epoxy would be fully cured before sanding.
Step 9: Sand the Epoxy
After curing over night, I sanded away the excess epoxy. After sanding, the board was nice and flat and the voids were almost imperceptible.
Step 10: Plan the Cuts for the Seat
The seat pieces will just be squares in the end, so why cut all these angles and make it harder and use more wood? I'll basically cut 5 1/2" squares out of 7 3/4" squares, so it's clearly not the most economical use of the wood. There are two primary reasons to do this.
- First, all of the seat components will have the grain running in the same direction, which gives it a nice look.
- I'll have end grain on all the joints, which make it a strong joint and give it a nice look
However, it does use a lot more material and does make it more difficult to cut all those angles, so it's really up to you if you want to do it this way.
Step 11: Cut the Seats Into Squares
Now it's time to cut the walnut into 8" squares (actually about 7 3/4" -- the important thing is that they're square). I did this by putting a stop block on the fence of the table saw. This is important to prevent kickback so that the piece you're cutting does not bind against the fence. You could also do this in a safe and repeatable fashion using a sliding compound miter saw.
Step 12: Make a Couple of Test Pieces
With the stop block still in place, it's a good idea to make a couple of test pieces with extra material. In this case, I'm using some leftover MDF. These pieces will be very important for setting up the joints that I will cut into the walnut seat pieces. It's very important to get these cuts set up perfectly so that I do not make any errors.
Step 13: Using a Jig on the Table Saw
It's vital to make accurate and repeatable joints. I decided to make a jig that fits over my table saw fence so that I could make cuts with my dado set. I could have used a router instead, but I would have had to purchase a new bit and I'm not sure it would have been any better. I think I made the right choice given my tools.
I made the jig out of MDF. The jig runs along my table saw fence and has two sides. One side will be used to make two cuts into each seat piece; the other side will be used to make a single cut into each of the legs.
Since I'm making two cuts into the seat pieces, I will want to set up the jig so that I can make the first cut and then flip the piece over to make the second cut so that they are symmetrical. This is where the test pieces come into play. It took multiple test cuts to make the final cuts symmetrical.
For the cuts into the leg pieces, I did not need additional test pieces because I had cut the legs to be extra long. I was able to carefully cut short test cuts into the end of each leg. I did multiple test cuts and tested the fit into the leg each time before finally arriving at fit. After setup was completed, I made the cuts into the other end of the legs; the ends with the test cuts would be cut off when cutting the legs to the proper length.
Step 14: Cut the Slots in the Seat Pieces
Rather than making the full cut of 1" high by 15/16" wide in a single pass, I made the cut in two passes. I made each cut (16 in total; 2 cuts in each seat piece) only about 1/2" high in the first pass. I made the first cut, then flipped the board around to make the second symmetrical cut.
Then I set the blade to be slightly higher than 1" for the final pass and repeated the process.
Step 15: Cut Slot in the Legs
Next, I flipped the jig around so that it could be used for the legs. I used the extra length on the end of the leg to test the cut to ensure that it was dead center, and then tested the fit with the seat.
After the test cuts were perfectly aligned, I made the 1" cut into each leg.
Step 16: Cut First Angles on the Seat Pieces
I used a table saw sled and a 45 degree miter jig. I also used a stop block to set the position. This made it quite easy to cut the first set of 45 degree angles since everything is symmetrical. It was just a matter of cutting the first angle, then flipping the piece over to cut the second angle.
Step 17: Cut Remaining 45 Degree Angles
After cutting the first two angles, now set the table saw fence to cut the remaining angles. This will cut the corner off and make it parallel to the 45 degree angle that you just cut. Again, it's a matter of making the cut and then flipping the board over to make the next cut. It's a lot simpler to execute these cuts than you might think.
Step 18: Test the Fit
Now it's time to do a test fit. Everything looks pretty good!
Step 19: Fifth and Final Cut of the Seat Piece
Now it's time for the final cut of the seat piece. This is to cut of the interior corners of the pieces so that they will form a square at the center of the stool when assembled.
Step 20: Set Up the Drill Press
The angles are going to be set at a 5 degree angle (i.e., 85 degrees to the floor). I need to put corresponding 5 degree mortises into the seat pieces to join them together with floating tenons.
Step 21: Drill Mortises Into the Seat Pieces
I used a mortising attachment with a 3/8" bit on my drill press. I felt this was the best option to create the mortises because I don't have a dedicated mortiser. It worked quite well for me. Another option would have been to use a router with a 3/8" bit and a mortising jig, but it would have been more complicated to set up the 5 degree angle.
It is VERY IMPORTANT to mark the top side of each seat piece prior to drilling the mortises. If you accidentally drill any of the mortises with the wrong side against the fence, the angles will be wrong and the assembly will be impossible. I put a piece of blue tape on the top side of each piece to make sure that I didn't make a mistake.
I drilled the mortises to be 3/4" deep, 3/8" wide, and 1 1/4" long. I used the stop mechanism on my drill press to ensure they were all drilled to the same depth and stop blocks mounted to the drill press fence to ensure they were all the same length.
This was a tedious process, but it worked well in the end. It's important to be patient and let the bit do the work. I had to drill 32 mortises in total, and that probably took about 2 hours of work.
After drilling the mortises, I cleaned them up with a chisel.
Step 22: Cut the Tenon Strip
I used my calipers to measure the length of the mortise and then cut a strip of walnut to the same width. Then I did a test fit to make sure I had a very tight fit.
Step 23: Cut the Tenons to Length
I used a stop block and set the cut to be 1 7/8" for the tenon. That would allow 1 1/2" for the tenon to sink into the mortise (3/4" on each piece) and then leave approximately 3/8" exposed between the seat pieces.
Step 24: Glue and Clamp the Seat to the Leg
I applied a liberal amount of glue (Titebond III) to all surfaces of the joint and then clamped it in place. It is very important to ensure that the seat is 90 degrees to the leg so that everything will fit together in the end. It's worth checking more than once, especially after the clamps are tightened.
Step 25: Sand the Joints
After the glue sets up, the joints need to be sanded smooth.
Step 26: Bevel the Bottom of Each Leg
Set the table saw blade to have a 5 degree bevel and then trim the legs to length. It's important to use a stop block on your miter gauge to ensure that all legs will be the same length.
Step 27: Assemble the Stools
This part is a little tricky because of the tight tolerances between the tenons and the mortises. It's helpful to trim off the corners of the tenons to make them easier to insert. You can do this with a chisel or a sharp knife.
Step 28: Let the Glue Cure
This is the finished stool. It needs to have the glue cure over night and then it's ready to finish.
Step 29: Sand the Stools
I started with a random orbit sander using 120-grit paper and then used 220-grit. After that, I did plenty of hand sanding. All of the edges of the seat were pretty sharp, so I rounded over all the edges and corners with 220-grit sand paper.
Step 30: Apply Cork Pads to the Feet
I bought some cork tiles and cut pieces to fit on the ends of the legs (about 3" x 1"). I applied a liberal amount of glue to both the cork and the feet and then turned the stools right side up to let the glue harden over night. Then I trimmed off the excess cork with a sharp knife and lightly sanded the edges of the cork with 220-grit sandpaper.
Step 31: Apply the Finish
I used tung oil finish by wiping it on. This really accentuated the contrast between the walnut and the cherry. I applied five coats of finish with a light sanding between each coat.
Step 32: Wax the Stools
As a final step, I applied paste wax to smooth and protect the surface.
Step 33: Final Result
Here are the finished stools in our kitchen. They stack nicely if you want to put them out of the way.
Watch me make these stools on YouTube by clicking here.