Introduction: Build a Step Stool in an Hour

About: I build, I write, I film... Mostly a woodworker.

I built the painted step stool shown back around 2008 at the Toronto Woodshow. It was a beginner project that kids who visited the show could build right there at the show.

I was one of the staff who would take a child through a workshop guiding them (one on one) through the building of one of these simple step stools. At the end of the weekend I had built a few extra for myself which I took home for my own kids -- hence the bright and colourful paint job on this one!

I have simplified the build process so you can build this with just three common power tools: a Drill, a Jigsaw, and a Miter saw. I think it is a very beginner-friendly project. It teaches several basic woodworking skills, and at the end you have a useful compact step stool.

And you should be able to build this in less than an hour.

All you need is a short length of 1x3 and 1x8 pine from your local building supply store.

For absolute beginners: In North America these types of boards are readily available at most large building-supply stores. A 1x8 board is 3/4" thick and 7-1/4" wide. A 1x3 board is 3/4" thick and 2-1/2" wide. (the 1x8 refers to the rough dimensions before the wood is planed smooth, but I agree that this terminology can be confusing to beginners!)

Here are all the major dimensions: The Top and legs are both cut from some 1x8. The Top is 12" long, and the legs are 6" long so you only need roughly 2ft of 1x8.

So the Top is 12 x 7-1/4 x 3/4, and the Legs start out 6 x 7-1/4 x 3/4. The Center support is a 10" piece of 1x3 -- so 10" x 2-1/2" x 3/4".

For my metric using friends, the dimensions are: Top 305mm x 185mm x 20mm. Legs 152mm x 185mm x 20mm. Centre Support 250mm x 65mm x 20mm

Step 1: Option: Video Build

If you prefer, a detailed video of the build is available

Step 2: Straight Cuts First

Start at the miter saw and crosscut the top to 12" in length, and the two legs to 6" in length, and finally cut the centre support to 10" in length.

My saw cannot cut the full width of the 1x8 so I need to flip it over after the cut and cut a second time to finish the cut.

Step 3: Curved and Angled Cuts

There is a semi-circular cutout at the bottom of each leg. First draw a line down the center of the board. We will also need this later on to guide where to drill when assembling the project, so draw it the full height of the leg.

Then set a compass to 2", and draw a semi-circle centred at the bottom of each leg. I find it easier to mark out for the semi-circular cutout while the legs are still rectangles, which is why we do this step before going back to the miter saw to cut the angles on the legs.

Now Back to the miter saw.

Each leg is angled inward at about 7-degrees. Set the miter saw to 7 degrees and cut this angle onto each leg. There is no need to measure or mark lines, just position the leg so that the cut starts at the outside corner of the 1x8 leg piece and make the cut.

Clamp the leg to a bench and use a jigsaw to carefully cut out the semi-circle from the bottom of each leg. You may need to stop part-way to reposition the jigsaw (I did) if the clamp blocks the jigsaw from cutting the entire semi-circle at once.

Step 4: Sanding, Marking, Drilling

The pieces are all cut out, so you are almost ready for assembly. First take some time to sand the pieces smooth. If you have a power sander, you can use it. However, pine is quite soft, so you can also hand-sand it very quickly using 150 grit sandpaper. How far you take this step depends on how you plan to finish the step stool. If you are going paint it, then 150 grit is plenty smooth.

Lay the centre support on the leg and use it to gauge where to make a few cross-marks on the centre line, so you know where you will drill two holes for screws. The two legs will each have two screws attaching it to the centre support.

Use a countersink bit in your drill to drill pilot holes into the legs. In the photo I have positioned some scrap wood under the legs so that I don't drill into the workbench beneath it.

Step 5: Assemble the Base

To help with positioning the pieces together, I brought the previously marked centre line around to the other side of the legs, and then made a tick mark 3/8" on either side of the centre line. That adds up to 3/4", which matches the width of the centre support. This will help with positioning the centre support so it is nicely centred on the legs.

(If you are working in metric: If your centre support is 20mm thick, then you would make a tick mark 10mm on each side of the centre line -- half the thickness of your centre support.)

Apply a dab of glue to each end of the centre support, and then position it between the two legs. In the photo, I have it laying upside down the the top, just to give it a nice flat surface. I used a clamp to hold the pieces together so that they would not slip while inserting screws. It is not shown here, but I first drilled again with a drill bit to extend the pilot hole into the centre support. I had fairly long screws and I wanted to be sure that they would not split the centre support.

Step 6: Attach the Top

Next, flip everything over so it is upright, and position the top beside the legs and use that to mark the center of the legs onto the top. LIGHTLY draw this line across the top, to guide where you drill through the top, so you drill/screw directly into the center of the thickness of the legs. Draw lightly, so that you can easily remove the pencil mark later!

Add some glue along the top of the center support and the two legs and then carefully position the top and lightly clamp it into place. The clamp keeps the top from slipping while you drill and screw it down.

(This clamping photo was taken AFTER I had attached the top, due to a camera malfunction, so you can already see three of the screws in place.)

I measured in 1-3/4" from the edge for the location of each of the four screws. It is best to measure, so that it looks nice and consistent. Drill pilot holes with the countersink drillbit and then insert four screws.

Step 7: And You're Finished!

That completes this project. (Various views of the completed project are included)

It's up to you to now finish it as you wish.

The dimensions were given above, but don't be afraid to change them. Do you want a longer stepstool? Just lengthen the top and center support by a similar amount. Or, make the legs a LOT taller and wider (and increase the size of the top proportionally) and you will have a bench. Make it even bigger and give a larger overhang around the edges for the top, and you've got a coffee table.

I think that this little project show a lot of different techniques that you should be able to bring over into building other projects.

If you watch the video of the build, at the end of the video there is a quick sequence where I take things up a notch, using more tools, and building it out of cherry, and plugging the screw holes with wood to make it look even nicer. This is just an example how a simple beginners project can also be made fancier.

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