Introduction: Wood-turned Pallet Bar Stool

About: Long time crafter, new time uploader.

HI there.
I'm just sharing the steps I took to make a bar stool style seat out of some pallet wood.
I only wanted to make a stool in order to make other garage-based craft projects easier, so I wasn't standing on a concrete floor in thin shoes for hours at a time getting frozen toes.
I could have put thicker shoes and socks on,
I could have put down a scrap of carpet,
I decided, instead to pull apart a pallet and make a stool out of it - It seemed the most obvious solution to me at the time.
To date this is the largest and most complex craft project I've done and the first time I've ever made a stool too. The following steps are not so much as instructions, rather than a guide to how I did it. Therefore the following may not be the most straightforward or logical path to chairdom and other attempts by more competent craftspeople may result in an easier and simpler process. Apply common sense where needed.

I started making the stool without the intention of writing a guide too so some of the earlier steps are without photos. You may have to use your imagination.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

I can be a little stingy / resourceful sometimes and didn't disappoint myself here. Almost everything I used on this project I had already around the place. It almost broke my heart to go to the shops and spend a few Euros on new sandpaper, but that was medically necessary. I could have wiped my...face on the sandpaper I had, it was that bad.

I do also come from the incredibly lucky position of having access to one of the most well stocked garage workshops ever (My father in law is a builder with a sideline in doing everything else) Had I used my own tools it would have been held together with staples, sticky tape and coloured in biro. Also, it still would have been a pallet. Thanks for the tools Jerry.


Pallet wood - Some sort of pine or spruce. On a delivery to our house before winter I received my very first 'not-pulled-out-of-a-hedge-at-the-side-of-a-road-after-weeks-of-rotting-in-the-rain, pallet. A real one. I inexpertly but successfully managed to break it apart into planks, covering only my hands, arms and somehow face in the chemically dubious blue paint it was coated with.
Oh, and dear God make sure you've removed all staples and nails. The last thing you want is a rusty, broken nail whipping around at high speed on the lathe.

Wood Glue - Nothing too complicated, I used whatever PVA I had lying around the garage. I had half a squeezy bottle left over from another project and didn't run out of it on this one. Mine takes a few hours to set but I personally feel happier leaving it overnight.

Varnish - Again left over from a previous shed workshop I tried to stock myself. In honesty it was a miracle it was as workable as it was. I had left it for a few months with a small tinfoil hat as a lid as the previous one somehow transformed itself, in the process of removing it, into a spiked throwing weapon Ninjas wouldn't even carry into battle. I was expecting the varnish to be rock solid but instead it was still a thick opaque paste that goes on looking beigey-blue and dries clear and solid.

Wood stain and White Spirit - Not personally too familiar with these as they weren't mine but I wanted to give them a go. Knotty pine is still in vogue where I live and I wanted it to stand out a little. I tested it on an off-cut and found it quite dark so in a jam jar I mixed a generous few glugs of stain with an equal few glugs of white spirit to thin it out. I then applied it with an old sock wearing a plastic glove, on my hand obviously.

The tools I used, in no particular order, were;

Wood lathe - I am lucky enough to have access to a wood lathe which is around 1.5m long. I believe it is a carpenters lathe for making balustrades. It has 5 speeds selectable by moving a toothed rubber band between two gears - I only used the slowest speed for removing the bulk of the outside and the middelest speed for shaping.

Wood turning chisels - In this project I predominately used three chisels out of the five available to me; a spindle gouge, a skew chisel and parting tool. The spindle gouge did 90% of the work and I probably was using it not entirely as intended, but it got the job done. The others were used as and when I felt they were needed, and mostly when I was trying to look like I knew what I was doing in front of others.

Drill press - Mostly a hammer drill attached to a stand. It went up and down smoothly and accurately, I could limit the depth and it held the two drill bits that I was using. It was also approximately 1000db loud, bloody felt like it anyway.

16mm drill bit + 16mm spanner - After I made the legs I had a vague idea on how thick the tenon on the rungs should be in order to attach them. I used a spanner that had the same diameter as the drill bit, as a guide to know how much to sand off so the rung tenon would fit neatly into the hole. I recommend stopping the lathe when checking the diameter of the tenon rung. No one needs a spanner shaped hole in their head for any reason.

Forstner bit - For making the hole in the seat for the legs to fit in. I started this project with another bit in mind that was smaller and, in retrospect, entirely unsuitable. I found the Forstner bit at the bottom of the 'drill bit bucket' I was using much later and had to adapt my already made legs to the new bit which worked much better anyway. In future, a little more planning and observation wouldn't have gone amiss. Then again most of the tools aren't mine and were just on loan so I can't possibly be held responsible for what I didn't know was there. The defence rests.

Dremel + high speed cutting bit - I used this for making a recess to inset a nut into the end of my wood I was turning. The lathe I was using only had an inch and a half coach screw or similar to attach to whatever it was you were turning. Eventually the wood just ended up being held static by the chisel while the screw turned in a now un-threaded hole. To fix this I found a threaded bolt that fit the lathe, mounted the bolt and inserted a corresponding nut into a rebate I carved out and tightened the two together. I felt like a genius when I came up with this. Wish I could say it was a real Dremel too, it's a cheap equivalent but it does the job.

Wood saw - It cuts wood, and if you're not paying attention, fingers and knuckles. I paid attention so I could say I only added sweat and tears into my project.

Rasp - Ffftttpppppppppppppp :-p
It's like a file but with bigger teeth. I used it for removing the chemically dubious paint from the pallet wood.

Vice and clamps - I had quite a few clamps but only one vice - beer. Hah hah hah

Bungee cord - I initially used a couple of these to dangle a finished stool leg above my lathe so I could try and match it as accurately as possible. Towards the end I needed to hold all the legs together in the right position tight while giving even pressure to the rungs and seat. Three of these did the job although attaching them on was like playing Buckaroo, or setting a trap.

Sandpaper (80, 150, 240, 400 grit) - I was using some hideous, pound shop, twenty sheets in a packet affair which had the audacity to have the picture of a well known, home renovation television personality, pretending to advocate it. I bit the bullet and got some real stuff. Wasn't that pricey and it genuinely changed my life. Well, that bit of it that sands wood anyway.

Safety stuff - Safety goggles, dust mask, ear defenders. Because what's cool about getting high speed wood chips in your eyes, choking on chemically dubious paint and going deaf from the LOUDEST PILLAR DRILL IN THE WORLD?

Extras - Little things to help make the job easier, notably; pencil, eraser, spirit level, brushes, disposable gloves, carpentry square, tape measure, hammer, tea, radio, no distractions, window view, en suite and a patient gaggle of family and friends who you insist on showing every scrap of progress to, whether they are interested or not.

Step 2: Design and Plan

On starting a project like this, most normal people will begin by having a need or a problem they require a solution to. The next step would be to sketch out a few ideas. Look on-line for inspiration using several well known image and video repositories. Visit a local library and borrow a few books on woodworking, furniture making and interior design.
I am not normal people.
I had already made a chair leg before I knew I wanted to make chair. Well, almost.
I did have a half formed plan but was a while before anything tangible appeared on paper, and when it did, it wasn't a good plan and it wasn't a big piece of paper either.
A brief web search of what I tried translate from the fireworks of my brain resulted in an image of the closest approximation to what I wanted to achieve. I also wasted an hour on the website I found it on - I don't get distracted, you get distracted!
I then ham-fisted what I loosely call a 'technical plan' with some numbers around it to make it look authentic. Believe it or not those numbers really mean stuff, although it's stuff that'll be referred to later when I remember what it all meant.
The plan was, apparently, to create three legs, three rungs and a seat bit. Without any pieces of wood thick enough I thought it would be a novel idea to rip a plank of pallet wood in half and glue them up. The planks that I used had a depth twice the width so I only had to cut once right down the middle. I did that three times and a similar thing to some smaller bits for the rungs. For the seat bit (I'm sure it has a technical name but what the hey) I measured the length, of three widths placed in a row and cut that to make a square. Glued them together and made another set, placed and glued them at ninety degrees on top for added strength.

Still with me? Good. Set sail for the workshop, it's about to get...choppy.

Step 3: Cutting, Rasping and Gluing

The basis of the chairs' measurements stemmed from the lengths of the wood I was already working with, and my lack of market research in looking at what a suitable height for a barstool should be. Had my stool somehow worked out exactly as I had planned I would have had to make a smaller foot stool in order to get on the main stool.
I had three long planks approximately 80 cm long, 8 cm wide and 3 cm deep. These were cut straight down the middle with a handsaw while I was waiting for our deep fryer to cook some chips one evening. Funny how you remember the little details.

I then clamped it in the vice and used a rasp to tidy up two sides, removing the blue paint and to even out the areas to be glued. The rest of the blue stuff would be removed by the lathe and then used as confetti at a wedding of of people I dislike.

Holding one length in the vice, I went to glue town. I used an old nail to get an even coating along both edges and then left glue town and headed towards clamp county. Held in the middle with the vice I clamped it every few inches from either side with everything I had. Small clamps, big clamps, ridiculously oversized G clamps and Clamps from the robot mafia. I may have even used a mousetrap on the two ends to ensure they wouldn't open up once I started inserting the threaded bolt that mounds the wood on to the lathe.

That was repeated for the long planks and the shorter lengths which were around 30 cm long.

I also rasped all sides for the square bits to be used for the seat bit as I didn't want any blue stuff to be visible between the planks. I may have used a hand plane at one point but the only one I had was a dull as a tie I once owned, and I once spent ten minutes looking for for that tie on a beige carpet. Once devoid of blue stuff and glued into a square, I cut off the corners to make it fit in the lathe and make it a little easier to turn.

Step 4: First Turning.

OK, honesty time.
Before this project, my wood turning experience consists entirely of a small wooden mushroom, a small bowl for loose change, a failed honey dipper, and an attempt to coax a rotten piece of driftwood into a tealight holder. The first two I did when I was fifteen, under the patient tutelage of a parent who is already resigned to do most of the work*. And the last two were done a few weeks ago, a mere eighteen years later by a man who is convinced that watching YouTube videos counts as practice and experience.

This, however isn't intended as an instructable on how to do wood turning. I assume (I hope) the viewers reading this have had some past experience in using a lathe, and presumably have more expertise than I have at pointing a chisel at a rapidly spinning hunk of wood.

That said, I shall attempt to describe (remember) the process I took.

I initially drilled a pilot hole in to one end for the screw that secured it to the lathe. The screw however was too small and ended up loosing group in the wood resulting in the chisel holding the wood static while the lathe continued turning. I put up with this for a single leg before carving a nut shaped hole and hammering in said nut, attaching it to a bolt the same size as the screw which prevented the lathe from free wheeling in the wood. Pretty devious if I do say so myself.

Using a spindle gouge, I gently caressed the firm, hard surface. Slowly, I teasing the outer layer off, leaving it in tatters on the floor. I worked along it's length, whispering sweet nothings as I continued to strip away it's rough edges until a naked cylinder was all that remained.

After a cold shower, I marked up where I wanted the features of the leg to be. I marked up where the nut approximately was and left some space where the tail stock held it in place. I marked the positions of proposed swells, hollows, middle points, coving and beading would go.

That almost sounded like I know what I'm talking about.

The first leg was carved by eye to what looked right and I was expecting to do a lot of fine tuning with sandpaper anyway. I went through the grits from 40 to 250 and by that I mean I went straight from 40 to 250. Told you I wasn't an expert.
The only adjustment I would make if I was to do it again is to make sure the end that went through the seat was an even cylinder and not tapering. Also that it matched the diameter of the Forstner bit.

*Actually, I remember making that mushroom in it's entirety and I freaking owned it!

Step 5: Repeat X2

After trimming off the end where the rebated nut was, and showing everyone in the neighbourhood that I wood turned something with the giddy excitement of a seven year old schoolgirl, I used a couple of bungee cords to dangle it in front of my nose for the next leg.
I was still figuring out the lathe screw/ bolt and nut affair here, so there was several trimming of the ends in order to match the length of one leg to the other. This resulted in the two legs getting progressively shorter like some sort of reverse Roald Dahl story.

The turning got easier with each leg. I started in the middle with a V cut and shaped out the two central beading form. From there I started at the middle of the swell and worked down towards either end of the leg (or rather, the point just before the end so I didn't take a chunk out of the nut or tail stock) or the middle bead and match up the thicknessessess.

Once the basic shape was made I just refined it and tidied up as I went along.

The one issue I did find was that because the legs were long and thin (They went all the way up baby!), I was picking up some bad vibrations . The centre of the leg (or knee, if you will) would occasionally oscillate madly, sound horrible and threaten to snap. Not wanting a broken leg I paid my debts to the mob and eased back with the pressure I was applying with the chisel. I've since seen contraptions to support long wood turnings that look like three spring loaded roller blade wheels in a circular mount. But as the stool itself was a project to help with another project, I wasn't about to start a project, to help with a project that helps with a project. Down that route, madness lies.

Step 6: Seat Bit.

With three legs done, it was time to make the bit for yer butt.
As illustrated earlier in my Art Naïve take on a technical drawing, I glued together a couple of glued up planks, on top of three other glued up planks and trimmed off the corners, possibly involving glue.

Rounding the shape was straight forward enough. If you lay the chisel gently on top of the wood while it's turning you can tell if it's still not yet rounded by the bumping of the tool on the wood. When it's rounded it should just hum like a humming bird humming Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm in an electric car on a smooth road. Pro tip - use the long middle bit, not the sharp pointy bit.

Once perfectly round, or to the nearest thousandth or a degree, I rounded off the edges. The top edge more so that the bottom to enable easy sliding off/on action.

Moving the tool rest to along the front of the seat bit, I scooped out the middle to make it slightly concave. Not too much now or they'll be no getting out of it, I was making a seat not a bucket.
I then scooped out the reverse side to as far as I could fit the tool rest between the seat underside and the main spinney bit. Stopping the lathe to position the tool rest and checking it had freedom of movement before turning it on to avoid that whole 'knackering up the lathe and wood scenario'

I didn't scoop it out as much as the top side but just enough to make it look nice and to remove all my notes, bad maths, graffiti and lewd drawings I did while procrastinating. It did leave a bit in the middle where the spindle was but I was happy with that.

I had my nice sandpaper by this point and smoothed it up until I could see my upside down ugly mush in it. Concave remember - science!

Step 7: Putting Holes in the Seat Bit.

Right, we've been having fun so far but from here on, we're getting technical.

After researching my subject a little further (one video on stool making, four videos on pets opening doors) it dawned on me that the legs of the stool might have to be splayed a little for stability, and we should really be wary of cats. If the length of the legs, coupled with the size of the seat were straight up and down it might feel a little to much like sitting on a fencepost, or at least a fencepost with a beautifully circular and smooth seat.

I had already marked out where the legs were to connect with the seat, and I already had a solid idea how long the rungs would be. I also knew the length of the legs and, where on the legs the rungs would connect.

If only there were some way to insert all this information into some handy formula. A formula filled with meaningless letters, to then convert those letters into meaningful numbers, say, where the legs were to connect with the seat and how long the rungs were etc etc. Then have that formula deduce the angles at where they all connected.
Flashback eighteen years ago *wibbley noises*
Mr Henderson - "You boy, pay attention."
Me - "But Sir, when will I ever need to use trigonometry outside of school?"
Mr Henderson - "If you want to succeed in life boy, you have to know that there are 360 degrees in any four sided polygon" *wibbley noises*

Using the power of maths, and mostly an app that did it all for me, gave me the angles when I plugged in the lengths, I determined that the legs, in order to fit a rung 30 cm long, 22 cm from the floor when connected to the seat, needed to be splayed a little over 6.5 degrees. With a little further maths, this time without an app - I'm not completely useless, it equated that the seat bit needed to be tilted 2.5 cm while I drilled a hole vertically. Most of these notes I made on the underside of the seat (I went back to the lathe after the three leg holes were drilled and carved/sanded out my notes just in case you maths nerds out there started pointing out errors.) I started by drilling a pilot hole right down the middle while the seat was clamped up tight, then went in with the Forstner bit to make a angled, straight hole 3 cm wide for the legs.

Step 8: Adjusting the Legs.

A little victory won for me, maths and memory, now it's starting to come together.
The tops of the legs were tapered as I wasn't thinking when made them, how to connect them to the seat. That actually worked out in my favour a little as it gave me a little wiggle room if any adjustment of the rungs were needed. Fortunately they all slid through up to where the width of the hole matched the width of the leg (I say!). As the Forstner bit drilled a straight sided hole, it meant it left a gap around where the leg was to be cut off flush with the seat. Initially I was going to (try) do some clever joinery by cutting a gap down where I cut the legs off at the top and insert a wedge to spread the legs (I say!) and wedge them against the hole. I've seen woodworkers on youtube do it all the time and it looked simple enough but I didn't want to risk splitting the legs so I didn't.

That was a bit of an anti-climax, sorry.

After spinning, as opposed to turning (I'd already finished that stage), and adjusting the legs around in the holes I got them to a point where the seat was level. I marked where the legs met the bottom hole (I say!) and their orientation so I could match them up exactly.

Step 9: You Rung?

Rung rung. Rung rung

Making the rungs was good fun. They were like smaller legs that didn't vibrate in the middle, took less time to make and somehow had a nicer shape. The grain in the wood was pretty straight too and ended up making a nice patterns where I rounded though the variations in colour.

Like before I took my time and made one nice one then used it as a template to mark on the other blanks where the features should be. I had pretty much nailed the nut marking and rebating procedure so that was smooth sailing and didn't need much adjusting in length.

I had even picked out a drill bit I was going to use to drill into the side of the legs to fit the rungs in. Displaying a level of forethought not common to me I also used a spanner as wide as the drill but to measure when exactly the rungs were at the right diameter. And also then I drilled a test hole in a scrap bit of wood with said drill bit and made sure the rung tenons were a snug fit.
Sanded to a stonkingly high smoothness. I also trimmed off the legs just above where I marked them so I could fine tune the fit to make sure they were flush with the seat.

Step 10: Drill Up and Glue Up

With the rungs finished, it was time to find a home for them.

I had planned putting them into the thickest part of the bottom half of the leg, or calf if you will. I was actually pretty apprehensive about doing the drilling here. Being kind of close to the end meant that if I screwed up here I would have screwed up much more than if I had screwed up earlier so it was worth double checking everything to make sure, when I was drilling into the leg it was at the right angle with the right sized bit and that I was drilling down to the right depth. Although in the end the sheer fiddleyness of it all resulted in a certain degree of winging it.

The issue was I was drilling a hole about 2 cm deep and then another hole a mere 60 degrees further round with isn't much when the widest bit of the calf was only 12 cm in circumference and I was in danger of drilling out the middle but between the two holes and making, instead of two rung friendly sized holes, one giant rung un-friendly sized hole.

I also didn't take any photos here so you'll have to imagine a leg on a drill press instead of a seat from a few steps earlier.

And not a real leg, a wooden leg

And not a Long John Silver wooden leg, my wooden leg.

And not my wooden leg...

With six successful holes drilled and the perspiration wiped from my eyes, it was time for the dry run.
With the legs in place and at the right orientation The rungs went in pretty damn well. The hole for the rungs was a bit rough and I didn't want to clean it up too much in case the fit was no longer snug. As, in the end it was kind of freestyle drilling (as opposed to slalom or half pipe) The depths for the rungs weren't as uniform as I had intended so some of the holes were a little shorter than others. This resulted in a short back and sides for some of the rung tenons and a little extra orientation making to make sure the short tenon rungs ended up in the right hole. It's not inappropriate, you're mind just made it sound like it is.

Once everything fitted together correctly and I did a little dance of happiness, I broke out the glue and bungee cords and made it all real.

Starting with the top end of the legs, lets call them thighs, I glued them into place with liberal amounts of glue to account for the extra space around the top of the seat. Once in place there was a clichéd momemt where one run was glued and in, then fell out when another was put in, then all of them fell out with the third one, oh it was hilarious. Inevitably, all legs and rungs were in place and with three bungee cords wrapped around the stool twice from each leg to keep even pressure on all items being glued up. I then exhaled for the first time in forty minuets.

Step 11: Sand, Stain and Shine

I gave the stool a good couple of days to let the glue dry in a dryish warmish garage-ish workshop. Ish.

I had a fear of an exploding Buckaroo chair all the same when I took of the bungee cords. But the glue held and even managed to support my weight and ego combined when I tentatively sat on it to prove a point to myself and all the spiders in the workshop watching me, judging me.

With the glue all dry it was time to sand this baby down. I started with getting rid of the protruding leg bit sticking up through the seat, lets call them... the appendixes?

Using a dremel-like contraption with a rounded cutting bit, I reduced down the protuberances singing 'You shava da face' while Johnny Depp did a better job of it next to me. Matching the profile of the seat took a little time because it was all end grain and I was attacking it from a strange angle but got t to where I wanted it. I didn't want to have to re-sand the whole top of the seat but managed to get away with a mostly smooth smearing of the legs into the seat, just like its creator.

Seat bit finished I went over the whole thing with 250 grit sandpaper. I hadn't decided on the finish yet and I had read that sanding too fine prevents wood stain sinking in properly. I was torn between staining it a boring colour, or oiling it up a boring colour. I kind of wanted to show off the fact that it was cheap, piney, pallet wood with nail holes and knots but everyone and their mums are making things with pallets these days; like farmers and farmers mums, so I favoured a dark disguise.

Pub stool wise, I'm no expert. I've fallen off a few but not regularly paid attention to their colour. As long as none of them suffer from a case of SBT (Sweaty Bum Trail) I, however did warm to the idea of a nice, dark, heavily varnished seat that looks like it grew up where it stood, in the ambiance of a warm quiet drinking establishment.

Testing an off cut from the stool with some stains, I settled on a tin of Jacobean Dark Oak I found hiding in the back of a cupboard with the rest of the Jacobites. I thinned it down with 50% white spirit so the grain showed through a little, I applied it with a sock over a disposable glove. Or even, I applied it over the wood with a sock and a disposable glove. I was wearing other clothes as well but the disposable glove was to stop me looking like I had a bit part in the Only Way is Essex.
It somehow, didn't work and our bathroom sink ended up looking like it was carpet bombed with gravy.

A good idea at this point would be to rub down the seat and legs (I say!) and rungs with white spirit to remove any trace of wood glue. This stops the stain looking patchy when applied around the glued areas, but I didn't want it soaking into the joints and affecting the glue doing a sterling job at keeping my mousetrap of a seat together so I just put up with it.

Leaving the stain to dry for a day I went back at the stool, lightly with the 250 grit sandpaper. This is to give the first coat of varnish a key to Klingon to. Once this was given a day off I tickled it further with 400 grit to give the second coat a place to live on and then let it dry for 24 hours at gas mark 1.

Step 12: Finished Article

And there we have it. One stool made from pallet wood. Ripped down, rasped, glued, turned, sanded, stained and varnished. From start to finish it took me a little over two months but then again I wasn't at it everyday and I did a few projects in between just for the variation.

As for the stool itself, It's grrrrreat! feels solid, not too heavy and it'll carry my meagre frame (No laughing). I've not used it for long periods yet, it's just sitting in the spare room looking pretty.
If I could change one thing about it it'll be the size of the seat, it's a shade on the small side, the diameter is only 24 cm and my arse hangs off the side a little, but it does that with most chairs anyway.
Now all I need are three more stools, a bar and a pump, and we got a stew going!

Thank you for reading and kudos if you're still with me. I bet you didn't expect this instructable to ramble on for the length it did. To be honest neither did I, but it beats doing the dishes.

I've always believed that there is a carving in every log, there is a portrait in every pot of paint and a statue in every stone. But remember, as the old saying goes - you can't polish a turd, but you can sand a stool.

Trash to Treasure

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