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How to Build the Stool

Work Space

First, make sure you have a good area to work in.  If you have a shop or garage, clear off a work table to provide an area for measuring, cutting, assembling, and finishing.  If you must work in an apartment or house, it's always a good idea to protect the floor and furniture from sawdust, damage caused by the saw or hammer, glue, and any finishes you might use. 

The stool is a small piece of furniture.  But the work space must accommodate the full length of your boards (before cutting), and have some room for the partially assembled pieces to sit while the glue is setting up, room for you to saw, and so on.  It's often a good idea to cover the flooring with a plastic sheet and old newspapers.

Measuring & Cutting

Carefully measure the lengths you need to cut from the boards.  Always double check your measurements before you begin cutting.

For the top, cut 20 inches from the 1" X 12" board.  If one end is already square or very close to square, you can use that end of the board.  Otherwise, cut a square end about one inch in from the crooked one, and then measure 20 inches and cut. 

The legs for this stool are 13 inches long.  So cut two  more boards from the 1x12, each one measuring 13 inches. 

By this time, you may have noticed that the 1x12 isn't really 12" wide.  Nor is it really 1 inch thick.  Dimension lumber is measured before it is dried, so you will typically have a 3/4 inch flat board that is an inch or so short in width.  A 12 inch wide board is really about 11 inches wide.  Keep this fact in mind when the width is critical to a project, such as when you gluing up a table top.

The sides (aprons or skirt) of the stool should be about 3 inches shorter than the top.  This allows for the thickness of the two legs, and gives a little lip on the ends of the stool.  The combined thickness of the legs is about 1-1/2 inch.  And so if you cut the sides each 17 inches long, you will have just under an inch hangover on each end.

Cut 2 17 inch sides from the 1x8 inch stock.  Use the same rule as before on using one end.  If one or both ends is very square already, you can just use an end.  otherwise, move about an inch up from the end and cut a truly square end.

Gluing and Fastening.

Clean the edges of all cuts.  You don't need to do any sanding yet.  But you do want to remove excess burs and splinters.  You will make what we call butt joints, and you don't want sawdust or splintered ends to create gaps.

Note: When gluing wood, you want to cover the entire surface to be glued, but you don't want a lot of extra glue.  Excess glue does not make anything stronger, it just makes a bigger mess, which is more cleanup.  So only use as much glue as it takes to lay down a thin  (very thin) coat.

Before you apply any glue, though, you may wish to pre-drill the holes where the screws will go through the legs and into the side rails.  This will make actual assembly and fastening easier and faster.  The holes should be just big enough to allow the threading of the screws to slip through.

The obvious place to begin gluing is the apron or sides of the stool to the two ends.  The two legs and the side will all be flush at the top.  They will all attach to the top later.  So we want to glue them so that all the top edges are nice and even.  No gaps.


Before you glue anything, place a side against one of the ends where it will be fastened (see illustration above) and mark the position with a pencil.  This will help you know where to apply glue on the inside of the leg.  Do the same where both sides will butt against the leg, and then mark the other leg.

Also get your drill ready, and the screws you plan to use.

Apply the glue to the ends of both sides, and also inside the area you marked on the legs.  Be sure to cover the entire area to be glued, without excess.  Allow the glue to site for a few minutes and become tacky.

When the glue is tacky (not dry) to the touch, you can begin to assemble the legs and side upside down, using your floor or work table to keep everything flush at what will be the top of your stool. 

Holding one side rail tightly against a leg, put a screw through the leg at what will be near the top of your stool (see image of stool at top of page 1).  You want the screw to go all the way through and into the side rail, to pull the side up tight to the leg.  As mentioned above, pre-drilling the holes in the leg itself makes this step easier.

Go ahead and put the other two screws into the leg and side.  Be sure to adjust the position and angle of the side rail before adding the second screw.  And hold the side tightly in the proper position when applying the third screw.  Go slowly, making sure the screw is going in at the right angle to catch the other part.

Now do the same with the other side rail before attaching the other leg.  In every step, be sure to hold the pieces in the correct position while inserting screws.  The glue will be wet enough to allow some movement but should be tacky enough to help hold the pieces in position some.

When all four pieces are assembled, you can rest the stool upside down on the work surface and there should be no visible gaps.  But if there is a little gap somewhere, don't worry too much just yet.  You're about to square things up a little more when you place the top onto the stool.

Fastening the Top

Without applying glue to the top, position it on the parts already assembled.  See how it it should look.  Make sure it is even all the way around.  Now flip everything upside down and mark the correct positioning with a pencil along the underside of the top board.

It's also good to make sure you have the best side showing, in case you have any blemishes or chips you don't want people to see.  Mark your lines on the underside and make sure the "underside" is the side you don't want people to see.

Now you can glue the tops of the legs and side rails, and apply glue to the area on the top board where it will connect.  Allow the glue to become tacky, as before.

When assembling the top, keep an eye on the marks you made to the underside.  Check those marks before you fasten anything, and recheck before each new screw.  You will drive the screws right through the top, down into the tops of the legs and side rails.

You can look at the where the screw is going, by looking at the top and screw from one end of the stool, lowering your eye so that your line of sight is just even with the surface.  Go slowly, making sure the screw is going in at the right angle to catch the other parts.

You will not need more than 3 screws on each side, along the length of the top.  Or you can place two screws on each side (down into the side rails) and then 1 or 2 on the ends, down into the legs.  This will help to connect all parts.  Make sure all screws are down into the wood and that none are sticking up.

If the screw holes bother you, then use some good wood putty to fill them in.  You will need to try and match the finish color, if you plan to varnish the stool.  If you plan to paint the stool, then any color of putty is fine.  Just be sure to sand everything smooth before you try to apply any finish or paint.

Allow to Dry and then Finish

When the top is secure, turn the stool over to stand right side up, and allow it to just sit for a few hours, so that the glue can finish setting up without being disturbed.

The next day, you can clean up any excess glue that pushed out.  I use a chisel for this.  The glue can be stubborn, but will usually pop right out.  Try to scrape all glue from surfaces, careful not to scar up the wood.

Next, sand the entire stool, top to bottom, inside and out.  Make sure to nock sharp corners off all the edges.  You don't want anyone getting cut or getting splinters later.  Now you can color the wood with an oil-based stain or water-based acrylic colors (get these in tubes at a crafts center).  Be sure to rub off all excess color.  And make sure you're happy with the color before you apply a clear finish, such as polyurethane.

Or you can simply paint the stool.  Two thin coats should do it.  You may want to sand a little between coats, to keep the wood from getting too rough.  Follow directions with whatever coating or stain or finish you use.

Enjoy your new stool.

Alternative Project: Build a Simple Bench

Take a good look at the plans and instructions for building the stool above.  By adding some length to the top and side boards, you can build a bench instead of a stool.  A good maximum length is about 3 to 3-1/2 feet.  If the bench is likely to get a lot of use, you can use a 2" x 8" board for the top instead of the 1" board.  Remember to use longer screws or nails, if you decide on the thicker top board.  They should be about another inch in length.

You can also add a little more height, if you plan to use the bench with a table or work bench.  But if you make the bench higher, be sure to also make it wider, to avoid tipping.  There are a number of simple and creative ways to do this. 

Happy building!






This page last edited 04/17/14

All contents 2006 Jim Sutton

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