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Shaker-style Stepstool

Every home needs a stepstool.

When you need to reach the top shelf of the cabinet, or when your child needs a leg up to reach the counter, reach for this classy and sturdy stepstool.

My original goal was to build a faithful historic reproduction of a Shaker stepstool. Unfortunately, after research through several books and websites, I was left empty handed. The authentic Shaker stools which I found were either short little one-step stools, more suited for use by a rocking chair, or great big 3-step stools which were tool tall for modern houses. No one wants to bang their head on the ceiling when climbing a stepstool!

I was left with no choice but to adapt those designs and adjust them to suit my own needs. The result is true to the roots of shaker design, adapted to present day needs.

I chose to use maple for the body of my stool, and Jatoba for treads. I really like how the reddish jatoba contrasts with the clear pale maple.

My rough stock was thick enough, and true enough, that I only needed to joint and plane it to about 7/8" of thickness. You don't NEED to plane your wood down to the "standard" thickness of 3/4". I like leaving my wood extra thick when I can, and when the extra weight does not serve as an impediment. In this case, a little extra weight makes for a more stable stepstool

Here is all the pieces you need, cut out and trimmed to size.

A dryfit of the base of the stepstool. The dowel that you see is not just for looks. This project was assembled with no metal fasteners. The pieces are affixed together with glue and dowels (and a few hidden biscuits).
Another dry fitting shot, this time with the treads roughly in place.
Oops! Something went wrong. After I glued the crosspieces in place, I discovered that the notch on one side of the legs had not quite been perfect, resulting in a small gap between the crosspiece and the tread. It was small, just a hair under 1/16".

Fortunately, this was fairly easy to fix. I ripped a 1/16" thick piece of maple, cut it down to about 3/4 of the length of the crosspiece, and glued it on. I next handplaned it flush.

It's not easy to see, so I also marked up the photo to show you what I mean.

All assembled and ready for finish. To the right is the can of Circa 1850 "Tung and Teak" oil, which I used. Under the stool you see a pair of scrap boards on which I am testing the finish. Always test out a finish on scrap -- well, if it is a new finish, or a new finish/wood combination. Best find out any problems before you apply it to your masterpiece!


Here are a bunch of photos of the finished project, from different angles to give you a good look at it.

If you think that this project looks a touch familiar, you might be right.

I designed and built this stepstool in 2005, and wrote an article about it which was published in the October 2005 Canadian Home Workshop magazine. I also produced a very brief web page at the time, so as not to compete with the magazine. Enough time has passed that I felt I could now revisit this project with more photos and details.


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