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Put a spring in dad’s step

Tools & Materials

•   Drill driver

•   Random orbital sander

•   Kreg jig

•    Router

Project guide

Difficulty: Intermediate

Estimated time: 1 hour

Cost: ±R150

Step stools have myriad uses around the home


By Aarifah Nosarka


•  Carpenter pencil

•  Wood glue

•  38 x 50mm-long wood screws or pocket screws

•  2 x 75mm butt hinges

Figure A: Front view of the step stool

Step stools are nifty pieces of furniture. They can get you to hard-to-reach places in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, garage or workshop, they can offer easier access onto a high bed, or they can simply function as a stand for pot plants or your woodworking books. They can also be used to work the hips and legs.


Here’s how to make one:

Pine was used to build this step stool. Decide on what type of wood would best suit your taste. You can choose from a variety of timber, be it hardwood or softwood. I’ve noticed quite a few step stools for purchase made from Baltic birch - a type of hardwood that is generally smooth, pale and lightweight. Pine is a lightweight softwood that is straight-grained and resistant to shrinking and swelling.


For the joinery, we used pocket holes. This is a technique I recently became acquainted with at the Vermont workshop in Midrand. I remember what a pocket hole is by recalling how it is created and the reason for its precision. My explanation is that a simple hole is drilled at an angle, forming a pocket for a screw. The pocket hole jig’s design guides the drill bit through the wood at an angle, which produces an engineered hole where the screw rests. The result is a tight joint that is as strong as a mortise-and-tenon joint, but takes much less time to assemble. The step stool project was an idea introduced to The Home Handyman duo, myself and Candida, by Vermont’s Greg De Villiers.


When we arrived at the workshop, Greg showed us a completed step stool, so we had an idea of what the outcome of our project would be. My first thought: “This looks like an intricate project to tackle, given that it consists of a foldable step.” Of course, in Nelson Mandela’s words, it always seems impossible until it’s done. In the end, the project turned out to be fairly simple.


Step stool construction

Step 1: If you have not provided your cutting list to a timber merchant then this is the first step. I find it takes a load off having the wood pre-cut. It becomes a matter of joining the related timber parts as per instructions.


Step 2: Mark out curves in [1] and [4] as these pieces need to be cut and shaped. You can use a bread plate to mark out curves just as picture 2 illustrates. Mark off positions of where the rails will be situated on the side pieces as well as the underside of the stool top, [3] and [7].


Step 3: Cut the curves marked off using a bread plate. This can be cut using your jigsaw. I still have difficulty keeping my hand steady when using a jigsaw. My attempts at sawing through curved cuts have always resulted in a cut way beyond the marked line. I currently consider the jigsaw my least favourite tool, though so many others find it user-friendly. This is a tool I need more practice on to hone my cutting skills.


Step 4: Use a router to clean up each of the cut-out corners; it does the job in a flash and minimises final sanding. If you do not have a router, this step can be bypassed by using a rasp to shape the curved cuts, followed by a quick sanding.


Step 5: Use an orbital sander to sand each of the wooden pieces so you have smoother, neater wooden units.


Step 6: Drill your pocket holes through each of the marked areas on your wooden pieces. You don’t have to use pocket holes, long wood screws will suffice.


Step 7: To fix the stool sides to the front rail, start off by using wood glue at each end of the front rails before laying it on a flat surface. Place the two stool side pieces [1] on either side of the rail [2] and drill your screws through the sides of the rail to secure the partly complete piece.


Step 8: Turn the unit over because you need to join the stool sides to the rear rails. Use wood glue on both ends of the rear rails and place them between the two stool side pieces. Secure it to the rails before screwing the side pieces to the rails.


Step 9: Your step stool is almost complete. To screw on the stool top, position the stool top [3] on top of the two stool side pieces [1] to ensure that you will be fixing the correct pieces accurately. Then apply glue to the top of the stool side pieces and place the stool top back onto the stool side pieces before drilling your screws through to better secure your unit.


Step 10: Grab your step front [5] and rear rails [6] and apply glue to the ends of each rail before positioning it between the two step side pieces, which is identified as [4]. Clamp together and drill your screws in, two on either side to complete the step frame.


Step 11: Glue the top of the step side pieces [4]. Place the tread [7] against the top of the two side pieces [4] and secure with screws.


Step 12: Your step stool is ready for hinges to be attached. Ensure that the hinges are 30mm in from each end before attaching them using a clamp, followed by securing the hinges with screws to the bottom of the step rail [6].


Step 13: Make a mark to illustrate the middle section of the stool side pieces [1] before fixing the step to the stool. Once this is established, screw the loose ends of the hinges to the front stool rail [2].


This particular step stool does not need to be varnished, stained or painted. Should you wish to go a step further and have it blend in with its surrounds, there are various options for a perfect finish. You can varnish it, stain it or even create a distressed finish, which can be achieved by using chalk or milk paint.


•   [1] Stool sides – two 235mm x 19mm x 381mm

•   [2] Stool rails - three 90mm x 19mm x 338mm

•   [3] Stool top - one 235mm x 19mm x 400mm

•   [4] Step sides - two 235mm x 19mm x 181mm

•   [5] Step front rail - one 90mm x 19mm x 263mm

•   [6] Step rear rail - one 69mm x 19mm x 263mm

•   [7] Step tread - one 235mm x 19mm x 325mm

Figure B: Stool side view

Figure C: Step side view

A bread plate was used to mark the required cut-outs

An orbital sander is being used to smooth the individual pieces before assembly

The first step in assembly is attaching the front support rails to the larger sides of what will be the top step

Flip the stool over and fix the rear support rails to form a frame

The top step is finished off with the addition of a step on top

Ensure that the hinges are 30mm in from each end

The assembled lower step will fit inside the main frame

Hinges allow the lower step to fold into the top step  to save space

The completed step stool in the fold-away position

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