Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shaker inspired step stool

If I were an apprentice and I asked to make a dovetailed piece, the master would no doubt tell me to work on my sawing to the line some more first, but some cherry scraps begged to be made into a step stool, which my wife has been wanting, and I decided to test my progress.  There are some things you can only learn under game conditions, right?

I really like the look of the traditional Shaker step stool, but the top step is just too narrow for her to stand on safely and comfortably while she gets out and puts away dishes, at least in my opinion.  I therefore widened the top step considerably, which doesn't look as good but meets our needs better.  Since I was departing from the traditional design anyway, I also decided to move the dovetailed stretchers from the front of the steps to the back.  No good reason, just thought I would like them that way.

While the dovetails aren't perfect, they represent a considerable improvement for me. Full disclosure:  these didn't fit like this off the saw.  I spent a fair amount of time paring.

My effort to improve has been very satisfying and has benefits that go well beyond dovetailing.  By a process of trial and error, I found a sawing technique that works for me, based on this video.  I saw across the end of the board to the depth of the teeth and then saw down the face at an angle before bringing the saw back to horizontal to finish the cut.  I think this works because it is easier to see and maintain the correct orientation of the saw this way.  I still have to constantly remind myself to keep a very loose grip on the saw, which makes a huge difference.  Posture matters.  I expect that eventually this will all mesh into a single smooth motion.

At this point, it's just practice.  I am trying to get into the habit of sawing to the line on a scrap a dozen or so times each day I go into the shop.  With a dovetail marker, it takes just a few minutes.  For me at least, this is a whole lot more worthwhile than making a five minute dovetail.


  1. Very, very nice. They look perfect to me.

  2. Andy, I don't know how it happens or when it happens, but eventually you don't think about it any more, you just pick up the saw and there are tails or pins and you go on to the next thing and you don't know how they got there. They may still not be perfect but you make it work. If you look at a lot of old work you see that they didn't spend a lot of time on the dovetails like we do now but then they didn't feature them like we do now.

  3. I think the shakers would approve of your stool. They favored function over looks. Millcreek makes a good point. For me I over thought what I was doing. Things got better once I loosened up and just did it.

  4. Awesome step stool I actually built one just like it for my wife also haha. But anyway I'm the same way with dovetails but I think I'm starting to worry about them less and less. All the dovetail talk on woodworking websites pit them so high on a pedestal that we harp over them when I think it's just like any other skill in woodworking, with practice and patience it just comes...I hope. Good luck and thanks for sharing!