Introduction: Modern Shop Stool From Two 2×4s
Most projects start with a need. This project? It started as a challenge.
A challenge issued last year (2017) by the Modern Maker Podcast to build something (anything) out of two 2x4s. I really enjoyed the constraint, and thought for a bit before coming up with the design for this stool. I refined the design in Fusion 360 before heading out to the shop to get building. The end result was a modern looking stool, built from construction grade lumber.
No metal, only glue: I wanted to build this stool without any metal fasteners at all, so I used a few different types of joinery and it is put together with only wood glue.
Read the last step before building! After building this stool, I have some changes I'd make related to the angle of the legs and height if I build another one. The measurements and angles I present below are the original design the photos and video show. However, check out the final step for info on the revised design that I want to build, but have not yet built.
Step 1: Materials, Tools, Jigs and Template
- (2) 2x4x8' boards (1 1/2" x 3 1/2" actual dimension)
If you don't have a band saw, pick up an extra 2x4 so you can cut the strips for the foot rest on the tablesaw instead. If you want to select the best grain, you may also want more than just two 2x4s to pick from.
- (3) 3/8"x1 1/2" Dowels
- (2) 3/4"x17"x17" Scrap Plywood (to make the footrest clamping form)
- A couple small scrap pieces of wood and 1/4" sheet scrap (For apron mortise jig in Step 9)
- Wood Glue, I used Titebond II
- Wood Glue with longer working time for footrest, I used Titebond III
- Paper or Cardboard (for the seat template)
- Towel (won't get damaged)
- Black Trash Bag
As with most woodworking projects, there are several ways to accomplish a task. I'll list the tools I used and a couple suggestions on alternatives, but feel free to use your creativity to build this with the tools you own.
- Table saw
- Band saw or Jig Saw
- Drum Sander or Thickness Planer (I used the planer, but the drum sander would have worked better)
- Sanders and Sand Paper
- Drill Press with Sanding Drums (Optional)
- straight bit with guide bearing on the side nearest the router.
- round over bit
- chamfer bit
- Crosscut Sled (Mine is loosely inspired by this one by Nick Ferry)
- Taper Cutting Sled (I used a Multi-purpose Sled I built from Jay Bate's video for this)
Template and Measurements
- Use the attached PDF as a reference for the parts and sizes.
- The PDF also includes a template for the seat you can print.
Step 2: Prepare the Seat Blank
Either print the template from the previous step to scale, or use the measurements to transfer to a piece of cardboard.
I used the cardboard method, and cut it out on my bandsaw. (If you use the bandsaw to cut the cardboard, cut directly on the lines to begin with as the bandsaw didn't trim cardboard well unless it had zero clearance support.)
Cut several lengths of 2x4 (See PDF for suggested sizes), enough to fully cover the template.
Next, cut the rounded corners off the sides of the boards to give you a nice tight fit. Depending on how rounded the boards are, you may end up needing to use some extra scraps to add enough wood so the full seat template fits on the blank.
After you have figured out the orientation for the boards, draw a large triangle on the boards so you can easily line them up again after applying glue.
Apply a liberal amount of glue, and them clamp the boards to dry. After they have dried, scrape the dried glue off, and transfer the outline of the template to the seat blank.
Step 3: Cut and Shape the Seat
Using a band saw or a jig saw, cut out the shape of the seat.
Use a card scraper if you have it to smooth up the boards, otherwise an orbital sander will work just fine.
Be sure to sand the sides of the seat as well to remove the marks from the band saw or jig saw. If you have one, a drill press with sanding drums works great for this step.
Round over all the top edges and ends of the seat with a roundover bit and a router. You can also perform this step with files and sandpaper.
Step 4: Make the Legs
To get the correct length for the legs, start by cutting an angle 5º off of 90º on the ends of the legs. You can use a miter gauge on your table saw, or use a miter saw to make this cut.
Next, measure from from the point of the leg and mark where the top of the leg is to be cut (29 1/2"). To avoid having to change which side of the blade you cut on, make this second cut 5º off of 90º in the other direction (For instance, first cut is 85º, second cut is 95º)
To cut the taper on the leg, mark the start and stop of the taper on one of the legs (See PDF). Next, align those marks with the edge of a tapering jig, or a multi-purpose sled, and clamp the leg down.
Next, hot glue stop blocks to the sled that sit against the bottom and back of the leg so you repeat the cut on the other two legs.
Cut all three legs using this setup.
The final step is to add a chamfer to the edges opposite the taper over at the router table or table saw.
Step 5: Prepare Mortise for Legs
With the seat turned upside down, transfer marks from your template to determine the location of the legs. Hold the legs in position and trace them to get an accurate position.
Important: the photos might be confusing here because you see the mortise is cut before I score the lines. Learn from my mistakes, and score the lines BEFORE routing out the mortise. It is easier!
Score the outlines of each of the legs with a sharp knife and a straight edge.
Next, set a router with a straight bit to a depth of 3/8" and freehand route the mortises, getting close to but not going past the lines you scored.
Finish up by using a chisel. You can set the chisel in the groove left by the scoring cut, and use a mallet to control the cut.
Step 6: Add Dowel Reinforcement
Since the ends of the legs are end grain, simply using glue may not be enough to keep the stool strong – so I added a 3/8" dowel to reinforce the location. It doesn't matter where in the top of the leg you drill this, but make sure the hole is straight.
Once drilled, place a dowel center in the hole, and transfer the hole to the seat. Be very careful to not drill too deep in the seat!
Step 7: Make the Aprons
Resaw the 2x4 in half, and cut the aprons to length.
To mark the angles, you could either print the template to scale, or use a scrap piece of cardboard using this method:
Mark the start and stop of the angle on the boards, and then add registration marks for the corners on the cardboard so you can easily move the other pieces in to place after the next step.
Finally, find the spot on the cardboard where a compass will draw an arc that crosses the start and stop marks on the board. Draw the arc.
Now you can move your other pieces into the registration marks on the cardboard, and repeat drawing the arc.
I cut this out on my scroll saw, but you could just as easily use a band saw or jig saw.
Step 8: Cut the Mortises for the Aprons (Method One)
With the legs dry assembled into the seat, position the apron in place and mark the position. Darken up these lines on the legs, and mark the correct depth.
The first method I tried (and it worked) was to cut two guide blocks out scrap wood. The first needs a 30º angle, the second needs a 60º angle (I reference 120º in the video, but 180º - 60º = 120º).
Align the 60º angle block with the side of the leg with the chamfers, and chop away with the chisel. Use the 30º block on the opposite side to clean up the cuts and finish the mortise. You'll end up flipping back and forth some to finish this!
Now, do this 5 more times! Or check out method two if power tools are more your style.
Step 9: Cut the Mortises for the Aprons (Method Two)
Follow the marking steps from Method One, and then continue here:
I used the 30º angle scraps to glue together this jig. I cut a square hole in some hardboard, but any sheet good product will work. The left, right, and bottom are what really matter with this jig. The top is just to help support the router.
After the jig is made, install the straight bearing bit in the router, and configure the depth to cut no deeper than the marks on the end of the leg you marked earlier.
Clamp the jig down, and cut, starting at the top and slowly taking deeper and deeper cuts until you get to full depth.
Clean up the rounded corners using a chisel (or round over the mating sides of the aprons).
Step 10: Dry Fit
At this point, the stool should be able to be assembled (sans foot rest). Do any refining to the fit at this step and ensure it all fits together.
If done properly, the stool should hold together and allow you stand it upright!
Step 11: Prepare Strips for Foot Rest
Here is where having the right tools makes a huge difference.
Since this was for a challenge, I didn't want to waste any wood as I was limited to two 2x4s. Because of this, I used my band saw to rip thin strips of wood (Roughly 1/8" thick). However, I didn't own a jointer at the time, so the cuts got worse and worse as I wasn't cleaning the face up after each cut.
If you don't have a jointer or planer, I'd suggest using a little more wood and ripping these thin strips over at the table saw. It will produce a better end product with less frustration.
I took the strips and tried to clean them up at the planer, but it ended up tearing the ends off several of the strips. A drum sander is the right tool for this – but we use what we have, right?
Step 12: Make the Footrest Form
The footrest has a 17" inner diameter, so the form needs to have a 17" outer diameter.
Cut two 17" x 17" square pieces out of cheap 3/4" plywood, and screw them together.
Next find and mark the center.
I made a makeshift circle cutting jig for my band saw by screwing a Kreg 2 1/2" screw through the middle to act as a pivot, into another scrap. I pushed the whole assembly into the band saw until I was about half way through the 17" side. After clamping it, I spun the plywood around the pivot to cut a circle.
Once the circle is cut, pick an inner diameter. It doesn't need to be a special size – but make it big enough to give you room to use multiple clamps at once. Once you draw the inner circle, move your screws to be in between the inner and outer circles so the parts remain together.
Now, I highly recommend you DON'T cut this on the scroll saw like I did – I really don't know what I was thinking. A jig saw is a better tool for this job, and would have been much faster too.
Step 13: Curve the Parts
As it turns out, while pine is quite flexible – it doesn't like to be bent in small strips. It just breaks. If you build this out of something like oak, you may be able to skip this step.
After discussing with a friend, I set out a garbage bag, then a towel, and then set the strips out on the towel.
Next, I poured boiling water over the whole setup, and quickly wrapped up the towel and the bag while I boiled more water. I then repeated this process once more and let it sit for a while.
After a little time, I unwrapped the setup and started bending the pieces around my form. I clamped and unclamped as I went, juggling between a few clamps to get all the parts clamped. I set them up in front of a fan to dry.
I let them dry about 24 hours before starting glue up.
Step 14: Glue the Foot Rest
Ok, here it is, the most tedious part of the build!
Cover the edges of your form with clear plastic tape so you don't risk gluing the pine to it permanently.
Starting with a couple strips at a time, glue the strips using a long work time glue like Titebond III. After a few strips are clamped, let them dry a few hours before unclamping and adding more strips.
After you have several layers, you can remove the ring from the form and continue to add strips.
Once you have the thickness you want, let the glue fully dry.
Remove it from the clamps and sand the top and bottom flush.
I rounded over all sides except for three parts of the inside of the ring that would be glued to the seat. You can use a dry fit to locate this area, or just pick three spots 120º from each other. Be sure to hide your initial seam behind one of the legs.
Step 15: Notch Out the Legs
This is the one step I wish I could give you better guidance on. If you are following the measurements in the PDF, and you got the angles fairly close, then you can base the location for the notches off the PDF.
If you made any adjustments along the way, you may need to either use math or assemble the legs and seat and mark where the ring sits around the outside of the legs. You'd then start your cuts a little lower to allow for it to be inset into the legs some.
Once you have the location marked out, set your blade to 5º off of 90º and make several cuts. You can fully remove the material at the table saw, or use a chisel (or scrollsaw – I know, I'm lazy) to clean it up.
I used an off-cut from the form I made and glued on some sandpaper. I then used this to make the notches on the legs curved a little to better fit.
Step 16: Glue Up
You'll want a good combination of taking your time, but moving quickly to glue this together.
Start by setting the foot rest on top of the seat before installing the legs and aprons. You'll want to get the ring in place early, but don't clamp it until after all the legs and aprons are locked together. Once that is done, clamp the ring to the legs.
Suggestion: I was able to break the glue bond on my stool when I put weight on the foot rest, now the foot rest rotates around the legs. I'd recommend adding a through dowel, 3/8" on each of the joints where the foot rest meets the leg. If you don't like that look, you could do a hidden dowel reinforcement, but either way – it is an easy way to make sure the foot rest doesn't spin around.
Step 17: Apply Finish and Take Photos!
I used a Tung Oil Finish on this stool which kept the woods natural color. Use whichever finish you prefer – I imagine a stain would look really nice on this too!
I tried a number of photos inside, but ultimately the outside photos turned out much nicer (Glad my wife suggested it!)
Step 18: Closing Thoughts and Iteration
(Image is a 3D rendering from Fusion 360)
After I finished the stool, there were two things I didn't like about it:
- Too tall. I am almost 5' 10", and the stool was just tall enough to be uncomfortable for me in the shop. I ended up cutting a couple inches off each leg to make it shorter. This will be different for everyone, so pick a height that looks good for you – and don't be afraid to shorten the stool a little after it is done – just be sure to make the cut at the correct angle!
- A little tipsy. The legs are not angled enough to provide as stable a support as I was looking for. I think angling the legs more than 5º would fix this.
I've put thought into a revised version of this build, but since I've not actually built it yet, I can't claim for certain it will work. That being said, if you'd like to try the revision (See the 3D rendering above), the primary change is to angle the legs at 10º (so all the steps that called for 5º off 90º would now be 10º off 90º), and to make the legs shorter. I also want to build this out of hardwood (cherry) so the rendering above shows the slightly thinner stock I could use since it is not pine.
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Stick It! Contest