Build the three-legged stool you didn’t know your home needed

The perfect multi-stool.

a wooden three-legged stool on a brick patio
You may find this little seat has countless uses around your home.Courtney Starr

When I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Durham, North Carolina, it represented an important new freedom—I finally had the space to set up a shop and start woodworking again. One of the first projects I worked on when I moved was this humble three-legged stool. A simple stool comes in handy in any home; it can be used to tie shoes, for extra seating, or to prop up your feet at the end of the day. It’s surprisingly versatile.

Stats

Time: 6 hours

Material cost: $15 (wood only)

Difficulty: moderate

Materials

  • 1 (2-inch-thick) pine board (enough to make a 12 ⅜-inch square)
  • 3 (17-by-1 ½-inch) pieces of ash (or other hardwood)
  • 3 small wedges (made of scrap hardwood)
  • Milk paint
  • Osmo Polyx-Oil

Tools

Build it

1. Create a plan and select your wood. I find carefully planning a woodworking project makes it more enjoyable and reduces my stress at each step. I like to sketch out the final product from different angles and quickly lay out what wood I’ll need before I head to the lumber yard. This enables me to stay focused and only buy what I need. Consider exploring locally owned stores that offer environmentally responsible lumber (such as Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood) whenever possible.

a notebook with plans for a three-legged stool made out of wood
Planning can be cathartic, but it'll also ensure there's less of a chance that you'll mess up catastrophically.Courtney Starr

2. Cut the pine for the seat. Break down the yellow pine board into three 12 ⅜-inch-long pieces using a miter saw. Then use the table saw to cut the wood into three 4 ⅛-inch-wide pieces that will be glued together to make the seat.

  • Note: A hand saw can accomplish these tasks if you don’t have access to a miter saw or table saw.

3. Flatten the boards on a jointer and bring them to 1 ½ inches thick at a planer. If you’d like, you can leave the boards a little thicker than 1 ½ inches and shape them to their final thickness once they’ve been glued together.

4. Glue up the seat. Once your pieces are ready, you can glue them together to create the rough shape of the seat. Use a few clamps to the keep the boards aligned while you’re gluing. Let the seat dry for 24 hours and, if you haven’t already done so, use a power or hand planer to smooth out the seat and ensure a final thickness of 1 ½ inches.

a person clamping pine wood together with glue to form the seat of a three-legged stool
We do not recommend trying to hold the wood together with your hands until the glue dries.Courtney Starr

5. Shape the seat. You’ll want to use a compass to draw a 12-inch circle—the final width of the seat—and an 8-inch circle that will help you lay out the holes for the legs. Keeping your compass set to a 4-inch radius, “walk around the circle,” making marks 4 inches apart. Three of these will be where you’ll bore the holes for the legs. Once your layout lines are drawn, cut out the seat using a band saw.

  • Note: You can also cut the shape of the seat with a coping saw or jig saw.
a person using a compass and a pencil to draw circles on pine wood to make the seat of a three-legged stool
Don't try to draw a perfect circle by hand. A compass will make it much, much easier.Courtney Starr

6. Drill a 1-inch hole at a 12-degree angle through the seat bottom for each leg. You can use a sliding t-bevel or digital angle gauge to get the correct angle. If your drill press table tilts, set it to 12 degrees. If it doesn’t, simply put a wedge under the seat until the seat is at a 12-degree angle. I draw sight lines through all my layout lines to help me align things at the drill press. As pictured below, keep the sight line for whichever hole you’re drilling perpendicular to the drill press. If you do this for each hole, they will all have the same angle.

  • Note: At this point, it’s important to keep track of which side of the seat is the bottom. This is the side you’ll attach the legs to. I like to use a drawknife to give the bottom edge of the seat a nice curve. Using a freely guided hand tool for this job gives the stool a unique handmade look, and it simply feels nice when you pick up the stool.
a pine stool seat under a drill press as a person bores holes for legs
The sight lines run across the diameter of the seat and will help you stay properly oriented as you bore the holes for the legs.Courtney Starr

7. Craft the legs. I selected ash for my legs since it’s a sturdy, beautiful wood that will look nice in contrast to the seat top. Cut three pieces of wood 17 inches long by 1 ½ inches wide. I octagonize my legs before making them round on the lathe in order to reduce the waste I need to remove. I also like to give the legs a slight taper toward the top.

8. Finish the legs. Create a 1-inch-wide tenon on the side of the leg that will be inserted into the stool. You can quickly create a tenon by using a skew chisel on the lathe. Make sure to check the diameter often as you’ll want a tight fit in the mortise. I make my tenons 2 inches long so there’s a little extra to trim off after I drive the legs through the seat.

9. Cut a slot in the tenon. You’ll drive a wedge through this slot in order to ensure a tight fit in the seat.

a person using a mallet to drive wooden wedges into a slot in the tenon of the legs of a wooden three-legged stool
Drive those wedges with purpose, but not too much. You don't want to hurt your beautiful stool.Courtney Starr

10. Assemble the stool. One of the most exciting steps is to drive the legs through the holes you drilled in the seat. Add glue to the ends of the tenons and work quickly before the glue sets. Then drive wedges into the ends of the tenons on the legs in order to create a sturdy fit.

  • Tip: I learned a great technique from Windsor chairmaker, Elia Bizzarri, that makes leveling the legs extremely simple. Flip the stool upside down and use a carpenter’s square with a pencil attached to it to scribe lines on the legs. Make sure to clamp a small square perpendicular to the bottom of the carpenter’s square to keep things plumb. The final height of the stool is 15 inches.
a person using a carpenter's square, a pencil, and a smaller square to ensure they draw level lines on the legs of a wooden three-legged stool
With a carpenter's square, a pencil, and a smaller square, you can rig up a contraption to ensure your stool's legs are level.Courtney Starr

11. Finish the stool. You’ll notice I painted the bottom of my seat with green milk paint before assembly. I wanted to give the stool some added character and create a striking contrast between the legs and the seat. Lastly, I applied two coats of satin Osmo Polyx-Oil with non-abrasive pads to protect the stool and give it a great feel.

12. Sit back and relax. The nice thing about working on a project like this is that you can take a seat and relax when you’re done!