As usual, click any photo to bring up a larger version.
I built the stepstool in this photo 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 kid and walk them through a workshop guiding them (one on one) through the building of one of these simple stepstools. 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 colourfull paint job on this one!
I was thinking of building us a new one, this time out of cherry. This gave me the idea to also put together a video and article showing how quick and simple it can be for a beginner to make one of these stepstools. I will do this with just a drill, a jigsaw, and a basic mitersaw. Those three tools are usually pretty commonly available to beginners. In fact, you could build it with just the drill and jigsaw, but the mitersaw does make it a lot quicker and simpler.
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 hardware 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 at woodworking!)
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")
Start at the miter saw and crosscut the top to 12" in length, and two legs to 6" in length, and finally 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.
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 heigh of the leg.) Then set a compass to 2", and draw a semi-circle at the bottom of each leg.
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. (this is more clearly illustrated in the above video.)
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 stepstool. If you are just going to let your child paint it, then 150 grit is plenty smooth.
Lay the center support on the leg and use it to guage where to make a few cross-marks on the center line, so you know where you will drill two holes for screws. The two legs will each have two screws attaching it to the center support.
Use a countersink bit in your drill to drill pilot holes into the legs. I have scrap wood under the legs so that I don't drill into the workbench beneath.
To help with positioning the pieces together, I brought the center line around to the other side of the legs, and then made a tick mark 3/8" on either side of the center line. That adds up to 3/4", which matches the width of the center support. This will help with positioning the center support so it is nicely centered on the legs.
Apply a dab of glue to each end of the center suport, and then position it between the two legs. It is laying upside down the the top, just to give it a nice flat surface. I used a clamp to hold the pieces to gether 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 center support. I had fairly long screws and I wanted to be sure that they would not split the center support.
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. (This photo was taken AFTER I had assembled the piece, due to a camera malfunction, so you can already see three of the screws in place.) The clamp keeps the top from slipping while you drill and screw it down.
I measured in 1-3/4" inches 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.
That completes this project. It's up to you to now finish it as you wish. Some more photos follow.
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 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. This little project shows you a lot of different techniques that you should be able to bring over into building other projects.
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