Canadian Woodworking

Build a Turned Stool

Author: Mark Salusbury
Photos: Mark Salusbury; Lead Photo by Rob Brown
Published: October November 2013

A stool is a compact, versatile perch and the three-legged style is the best. It never rocks, offers support for your feet, and has leg clearance while supporting you in style. It can also be customized easily. Let’s explore how to make a 24″ tall counter-height version.


The seat is the key. It’s 13″ around with 10° of splay underneath. Precise measurements and piston-fit joinery are the goal when making any furniture. Begin with a square of quarter-cut hardwood +13″ square and a uniform 1-3/4″ thick. On the bottom of the seat locate center and with a compass scribe 4-1/2″ dia. and 13″ dia. circles. Cut it to a +13″ dia. circle with a jig-saw or bandsaw.

Next, center and secure a small chuck or faceplate no deeper than 1″. Turn the disc to a square shouldered 13″ dia. then mark a line around its circumference 1″ back from its show face. To create the 10° splay, turn a straight taper from the 4-1/2″ circle drawn earlier out to the 1″ line. Sand the taper to final grit using a sanding block, then measure 2-1/2″ in from the seat’s o.d. and lightly pencil a circle around the taper’s face; an 8″ diameter. Now, orient the grain for visual effect then locate three equally spaced points along that circle for the leg mortises. To divide any circle into thirds equally, set dividers to its radius then walk the dividers around the circle, locating six equally spaced points, then choose every other point.

Soften and contour the seat’s rim and show face (no more than 3/16″), sand the seat overall to final grit and remove the assembly from your lathe.

Securely Fixed
To drill the mortise holes in the stretchers, a simple V-block is required. To keep this specific stretcher from rocking, two small V-blocks support either end of the stretcher during drilling.

Two-Stage Drilling 
With the drill press table still at 10°, and with a simple shop-made V-block clamped to the table, bore the 2" trim recess, then replace the 2" Forstner bit with a 1" bit and drill the mortises to accept the three legs.

Finish Under the Seat
With the seat re-mounted on the lathe, remove as much evidence of its initial mounting as possible, then finish sand the area.

Final Assembly
Once epoxy has been added to the mortises and tenons, assemble the parts and use tape to hold everything in place while the epoxy cures.

The Support System

Three matching tapered legs are from blanks 24-1/2″ long and +2″ square, turned straight from 2″ dia. at the top down to 1-1/4″ dia. at the foot. At the top, turn a 1″ dia. x 7/8″ long tenon, sized with a 1″ mortise bored in a scrap block using the same Forstner bit you’ll use for the leg mortises. Sand the taper to final grit with your sanding block then lightly pencil a line around each leg 7″ up from its foot.

The stretcher comes from a blank 12″ long and +1-1/2″ square. Turn a 1-1/2″ dia. cylinder, mark the 6″ center then turn 3/4″ dia. x 3/4″ long tenons on both ends, sizing as above using a 3/4″ Forstner bit. Turn tapers from the 6″ center down to the shoulder of both tenons and sand as above, avoiding the tenons and preserving the center.

The stringer is next, turned 10-1/2″ long x 1-1/2″ dia. with 3/4″ x 3/4″ tenons on both ends. Taper the cylinder from 1-1/2″ at one end down to the shoulder of the tenon at the other then turn a steep taper from 1-1/2″ dia. down to its adjacent tenon to complete this part. Sand as you did the stretcher.

Time for Mortises

With the stretcher cradled in a shop-made V-block, 12″ x 4″ x 1-1/4″ with little Vs leveling the ends, center the stretcher on the Forstner bit, set the drill-press to slow, set its depth stop, and bore a 3/4″ x 3/4″ mortise.

Mortising the legs involves tilting the drill-press table to 10°. Using the same V-block centered on the 3/4″ Forstner bit and a stop-block, bore a 3/4″ x 3/4″mortise 7″ up from the foot of each leg after orienting the show side outward.

Mortising the seat to receive the legs requires a shop-made V-bracket centered squarely on the table’s axis, so a 2″ Forstner bit is centered on one of the three mortise sites. Bore a 1/8″ deep trim recess followed by 1″ dia. x 15/16″ deep mortises centered on each 2″ recess using a 1″ Forstner bit to receive the legs.

Back at your lathe, turn out and finish-sand the center under the seat, removing evidence of its initial mounting.

Final Assembly

Before assembling the stool, I apply a finish to all surfaces, short of the wood that comprises the joinery.

Once the finish has cured, do a complete dry assembly, with the seat inverted on your bench. Follow this with final assembly, using G2 epoxy or equivalent, applying a thin coat to both parts of each joint. Assemble the stretcher/stringer firmly first. Next, carefully insert this assembly into each of the three legs while they are loosely perched within the lip of the seat mortises. With all components loosely inserted, draw the legs together fully onto the stretcher/stringer while firmly pressing/wiggling the legs into the seat. Taut strips of tape stretched from leg to leg will hold them together nicely. Now invert the stool onto its feet on a flat surface and weigh down the seat until the epoxy cures.

Finally, mark and trim the feet flush with your  bench-top.

MARK SALUSBURY - [email protected]

Whether it is joinery or turnery, Mark has enjoyed designing and making furniture, decorative and functional items and home remodeling ... anything to do with woodworking, for over 35 years.

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