Introduction: Kid's Kitchen Helper Stand
How it all began...
The great thing about being a shop teacher (or just a handy person in general) is you can build a lot of things instead of buying them. So, when my wife tells me she wants some form of a kitchen stool/tower/stand thing that our son can use to get up to counter level, I say "OK I can probably build something like that."
Finding time to focus on designing and building something from scratch usually takes more time than I have these days. At least more time than what my wife has in mind for getting these projects done (usually in my mind too). Needless to say she doesn't ask me to build much. On the rare occasion she does ask/allow me to actually make something for her I try to take advantage of the opportunity. This 'ible walks through the design and build of a Kids Kitchen Helper Stand.
YouTube Video Side Note: I'm a teacher and currently I have been having to create video/remote learning lessons. I like to have a projects to work on to help me learn new skills. In light of having to try to create engaging, relevant, and useful video lessons for my students I thought starting a public YouTube channel might help me learn and refine my video editing and teaching skills faster. The embedded video above is my first real attempt at creating a start to end video using real video editing software. I know it's not the best video but I thought it turned out alright, I learned a lot, and it was fun making it. If you watch it and you have useful video recording/editing advice I'd greatly appreciate any tips to help me improve. Ok enough of my ramblings back to the project.
-Laptop & CAD program
-4' x 4' CNC Router (You can do this with a Jig Saw if you wanted to)
-1/4" End Mill
-3/4" x 4' x 8' Sheet Plywood
-3/4" x 36" Dowel Rod (2)
-120 Grit Sandpaper
Step 1: Research
I honestly didn't have much of a clue what my wife was asking for when she first brought up the topic of a kid's kitchen stand. She told me it was similar to a fold up step stool but looked better, should be safer, and was specifically made to be used by kids so they can help in the kitchen/wash their hands/see what's happening/etc. She showed me a picture of what she wanted, it looked doable.
A Google search or two later, with varying degrees of success finding the right information/products, and I had the basic idea of what I my wife wanted me to build.
Side Tangent: I don't know if these kid helper stand products sell very well, but holly crap they are expensive! I don't know how many designs I saw that were literally just a few 2x4s screwed together with a piece of plywood slapped on for the platform that had an asking price of around $100 or more!!!! Maybe I live in a lower cost of living area, maybe I don't value these products as much because I know how easy/cheap it is to build, maybe I'm just a total penny pincher! But by golly if those 2x4 stands are actually selling on a regular basis I'm in the wrong line of work. Alright tangent over back to the real reason you're probably here.
The nicer designs I found online were all made primarily out of plywood. The designs I liked usually had one step, a standing platform, and most had multiple heights the platform could be set. I liked the multiple heights feature as we plan to have more kids in the future. From what I understand kids can come in varying sizes. Our only kid at the time of this writing is in the 99th percentile in height. His doctor (and pretty much everyone else that sees him) won't stop talking about how tall he is. Which his dad doesn't mind as he is banking on his son making the NBA, so keep growing kid! My guess is our other kids are going to be more average in the height department (those poor suckers). Anyway being able to adjust the height on the platform I believe would come in handy down the line when we have more kids of varying heights in the house.
Step 2: Design
I'm lucky to have access to a CNC router that has a 4'x4' work table. I don't generally have a lot of time to devote to working in the shop for my own projects. I do tend to be able to find time where I can sit with a computer and design projects using CAD software. With the combo of CNC router and ample time to design in CAD I based my design around being able to cut all the parts of this Kitchen Helper Stand with the CNC router.
The design is pretty simple and only took me about 20 minutes to get the basic structure completed, and then maybe another hour or so to refine it. Below is the first iteration of what I came up with.
You'll see a few differences in version one above and the final design. I generally use the CAD model to get feedback or just a better understanding of a design before I actually make it. In this case I made two slightly different sides and let my wife choose which one she liked best.
I also ended up changing the safety bar slots on the top, back of the stand. When my son tried out the first prototype version of this thing he could easily just pull or knock that dowel rod out, which didn't really provide any additional safety.
The platform slots were the part that took the longest to get right in the design.
I needed the slots to be tight but leave enough of a gap so the platform could slide in and out relatively easily. I knew if I made the gap exactly the same thickness of the material the parts wouldn't fit together. I also knew from prior experience that the cuts the machine makes are not always exactly the same as you designed them to be. The toolpaths will run close to the original design but tend to either be a few thousandths of an inch too big or small. (This is probably mostly due to my current limited understanding of toolpath/tooling tolerances) I ran a test of five or six different slot widths working in .005" increments starting at 0.755". The largest gap at .78" worked just about perfect and that's what I used in my design.
I wanted to try and make the assembly portion of this project as quick and easy as possible. I added in few places that would be engraved during routing where the cross braces would need to be installed. My hope was that these engraved locations would make it easier for me to ensure my parts were level and square.
After everything was said and done, with feedback from my wife, I ended up with the design shown below.
Step 3: CNC ROUTER WORK
I used a program called Aspire to program the toolpaths I needed to run on my CNC router to cut out the parts for the stand. There are two basic types of toolpaths I used for this project, which were PROFILE and POCKET toolpaths.
Profile Toolpath - Think of these as line followers. Basically this type of toolpath is just a big game of connect the dots. Your design is translated into a bunch of X, Y, and Z coordinates which the computer then uses to plot a path. As it hits points along the way it will change direction when needed so that it will cut out/engrave the shape you want. Usually multiple passes around your desired outline are needed to completely cut out the shape you want.
On a very basic level its similar to the white board example below.
Pocket Toolpaths - Think of these as a robotic vacuum, the Roomba of CNC toolpaths. These toolpaths work between boundaries. You're tool will go back and forth removing material in stages. Every time it hits the boundary you identified or an area the tool has already removed material it will change direction, just like the way a robot vacuum will change direction when it hits a wall or a piece of furniture. When finished you are left with some form of a "pocket" in your material.
Again on a very basic level pocket toolpaths act similar to the examples below
The hard part of this whole CNC process is getting your design right. Once you have that finished, the actual programming of and running of the parts on the CNC machines is pretty straight forward.
-Load up and secure your material to the router table
-Insert the right tooling into your router
-Load your toolpaths onto your machine
-Keep your appendages away from any moving parts
-Repeat that process until you have all the parts you need.
Eventually you'll end up with something like this.
I programmed tabs into my toolpaths to be left as the CNC router ran the profile cuts so the parts wouldn't move during the CNC operation. Tabs will look something like what is shown in the image below after your CNC router is finished.
If you don't include tabs in your toolpath your parts are pretty much ready to go when the CNC router finishes doing its thing, which is faster but it has it's drawbacks. Primarily, without tabs you risk your parts moving before the CNC actually finishes fully cutting out your parts.
Aside from your parts potentially being ruined, having parts move while the CNC router is still cutting can become pretty unsafe. If the parts move before your tooling is clear of the material the material can break apart and throw chunks across the room at very high speeds. Or on the less dangerous side your tooling can break which if you don't have extra, can really put the breaks on your project. All of these lessons I've learned the hard way.
I think most people should use tabs if they can in their CNC program. Tabs will keep parts connected to your overall piece of material while the CNC router runs, which in the long run will save you a lot of frustration and down time. The tabs have to be cut out and cleaned up after the fact, which generally isn't a very big deal.
Step 4: Post CNC Clean Up Work
As I mentioned before after the CNC router finished running all of my parts, they were all still connected to my sheet of plywood with tabs. You can cut through the tabs in any number of different ways, I generally just use a simple jig saw.
Once all the parts are cut out the leftover tab holdouts (as shown in the picture above) need to be cleaned up through some sanding. I used a belt sander to get all the edges of my parts flush. The big thing here is just not to rush. Keep your parts moving along the sanding belt at a nice consistent speed with light pressure. You don't want a big divot showing up on the edge of your parts from sanding too much material off.
It's a rookie move I'm guilty of making far to often.
Before I moved on to testing how all of the parts fit together I used a couple of power sanders with 120 grit sandpaper to give all the parts a good once over. I'm not sure if I'm going to paint this or maybe just give it a nice clear coat, but it is way easier to do a majority of the sanding prior to final assembly.
I used the sanders to soften all the sharp edges and corners too. Originally, I planned to use a hand held router and a round over bit to clean up the edges. But, I ended up not having access to one when I was working on this project. The sanders worked just fine. The edges don't look as uniform and neat as they would have using a router with a round over bit, but they look good enough and you can't really see any mistakes unless you are looking for them.
Step 5: Assembly
The downfall of building things by yourself is you never have enough hands. I imagine any DIY-er, maker, builder, and/or hobbyist has run into this issue before. You go to start putting all the components of your project together and ........ NOPE. Granted, this can lead to some real solid ingenuity and problem solving. In the moment though I either feel dumb or frustrated (usually both). I kept my cool pretty well during this build, but boy there were some times I felt real dumb.
I was happy to see my engraved brace locations worked great and really helped make it easier to position the braces in the correct and level position. The first fit test showed I had a flaw somewhere in my design as the stand had a decent size wobble once I got the whole thing clamped together.
My first thought was I had inconsistent pressure on the clamps. So, I adjusted the clamps to see if that would decrease the wobble, but no luck. I came to the discovery that my step was to wide.
I'm not sure if this was an issue from my original CAD model, the exporting of the design to Aspire, or a problem that occurred due to my plywood being bowed/warped before I cut it on the CNC router. In any case I ended up having the same issue with the standing platform too. To fix the wobble, and make the platform work, I used the belt sander to slowly remove material from one end of each of those parts (the step and platform) until they fit the way they should.
After taking off about an eighth of an inch of material from each and clamping all the parts back together the wobble was gone.
Because I'm not entirely sure what caused those two parts to not work (most likely it is just an error in my CAD model) I didn't go back fix the step and platform widths in CAD. I figure if I make any more of these for families or friends I'd rather have the parts cut slightly too big and then sand or cut them to fit. If these helper stands become something I make all the time I'll most likely go back and optimize my CAD model. If you decide to make your own one of these stands from my design files (included below) keep that in mind.
Kitchen Helper Stand Files
The assembly struggle bus didn't stop after figuring out the issues with the step. I currently suck at these types of glue ups.
One thing I preach when I'm teaching my students, but always seem to forget when I'm working on my own projects, is planning and patience. I did plan out the order of my glue up during the dry run. What I didn't do is test or plan out the best methods to get all the parts together without getting glue everywhere.
The whole thing wasn't a complete disaster, overall my process worked out fine. It just wasn't the smoothest ride. There was a little more glue cleanup once everything dried than I would have liked. The worst parts of the glue squeeze out were either underneath or on the inside where those mistakes will mostly be hidden when the stand is on the floor. If I end up painting this thing you won't even be able to tell.
My tip on gluing up this stand is to take your time and plan out your order of operations. If you can convince someone to help, four hands will definitely be better than two here. If you accomplish this feat completely by yourself and you find some cool technique to make this whole process easier, let me know.
I contemplated using screws as well but I wanted a nice clean look on the exterior. After the glue dried I ran a quick structural integrity test by standing on the helper stand myself. I weigh around 170 pounds and the stand felt solid under my weight. Considering my kid only weighs about 30 pounds I believe using only glue will be fine. I can always go back and add screws later if needed.
Step 6: TIME TO PUT THE KID TO WORK!
Nothing left to do but put the kid to work cooking and cleaning the counter tops!
This kitchen helper stand works great! My son is a big fan of his new found independence and now wants to wash his hands by himself every time we get home. As he grows I think he'll really enjoy helping us out in the kitchen. My wife seems to think I did an ok job and she is looking forward to having our son help stir things as she bakes glorious, delicious confections.
I'm happy I was able to build something useful for my family and practice some CNC skills along the way. I do think it needs a coat of paint or something to really bring the project home, but we're going to live with it for a bit and see about that later.
Step 7: The End Bit
Thank you so much for checking out my project. I truly appreciate any engagement people have with my work. I hope this was helpful to you in some way or at the very least somewhat interesting.
Check out more of my work on my website Shop Class Builds.
Find me on Instagram @shopclassbuilds
Again thank you for taking time out of your day to scan through my project.
Participated in the