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Thursday, I wrote that I was going to make a “Step-Chair” (U-BILD plan No. 102) for my niece, per family tradition. What I didn’t mention was that I felt the need to complicate things (of course); that turned what could easily have been accomplished in an hour into a 27-hour project. 

Instead of using a piece of 8″-wide S4S lumber as directed, I decided to glue up the necessary panels so that I could use some walnut shorts left over from a magazine project, rather than BORG pine or red oak. So first I had to process the rough stock , and boy was it rough. And, I decided to use my grandfather’s jointer plane and do the final thicknessing and flattening by hand (I also felt the need to justify having bought a shiny No. 4). Oh , and I used hide glue. The set time was 24 of my 27 hours , what , you thought I was really  _that_ slow?! Also, the plan calls for two lengths of 5/8″ dowel, and you can’t get walnut dowels at the BORG , so I thought I’d turn them and perhaps add some decorative beading…until Glen scoffed and said, “why not use the router table?” Well, because I already knew how to turn (if only in a workaday fashion) and I didn’t know how to make the same shape on the router table.

But now I do. Maybe this is common knowledge, but it was new to me , so in brief, here’s how to go about it. Insert into your router table a roundover bit of the radius of half the diameter of the dowel you need. Capture the bearing flush with the fence, with the bottom of the blade flush with the table top (and run a few test pieces to make sure you have things lined up properly , otherwise, you’ll have some ridges to sand off). Square up a length of wood a few inches longer that the final length of dowel you need, but of exactly the same thickness. (I needed a 16″ 5/8 dowel, so I squared a 20″ x 5/8″ square blank.)

Now, starting at least an 1″ from the end, carefully move the blank into the spinning router bit and make a short cut before moving your left hand to hold the remaining flat against the fence as you complete the cut , and don’t run the stock all the way through; pull it away from the blade with at least an inch left square (that way, you’ll have flat surface to ride against on all four cuts, and your hands will stay safely away from the blade). Repeat three more times, turning the stock a quarter-turn with each pass. Et voila. Dowel in whatever species you want , and if your router bit is both prefectly aligned with the fence and table and it’s sharp, you likely won’t have any sanding. Apparently, ours was not sharp; there was much sanding. I hate sanding.

So anyway, after three hours of actual work, I got the “Step-Chair” all put together. A few coats of finish, and it’s ready for my new niece. I just hope in a couple years when she’s older, she doesn’t decide to paint it. Hmmm… maybe I should go buy some S4S pine from the BORG.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. This plan seems to no longer be available on the U-BILD site…I hope that doesn’t mean it’s been outlawed by the safety police , does anyone know? A lot of Fitzpatricks have survived it thus far , but if so, I should mention it to my brother.

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Showing 15 comments
  • Paul M

    Hmmmm… "Apparently, ours was not sharp; there was much sanding. I hate sanding."

    I think that would have been a great job for the lathe.

    Looks like a great project. Thanks.

  • David A

    A lot of my family members survived that stool as well…my Grandpa made us each one when we were kids. I’ve been keeping it in mind for when my nieces and nephews have kids. I’ll look forward to Chris’ version!

  • Dave G

    Hey ICDT. Actually I just did build one of those for my daughter this past December (santas workshop). I copied the design from a beat to heck one a friend of mine picked up at some antique shop years ago. It survived two kids of his and had much character to it. I think it is a great design. Every dowel placement has a direct effect on the performance of the piece. E-mail me and I can send you a few pics of the version I did. It has a few slight differences but overall it’s the same piece. I am thrilled to see a version pop up on this blog and learn a little on where the design may have originated. Thanks for sharing.

  • megan

    I gave it a week, but didn’t get an answer from U-BILD on using their plan – however, Chris has a plan for a similar piece, and we’re going to build it as an I Can Do That project with dimensional lumber in an upcoming issue.

  • megan

    I suspect they are supposed to hit the floor – I believe my copy of a copy of a plan isn’t quite as accurate as it should be. So, I’m trimming off the bottom of the feet to make sure the side pieces do hit the floor — otherwise, it tips a little bit when used as a stool. I don’t remember the one my grandfather built for me as tippy…but it was a long time ago!

  • Steve


    Do the side pieces rest on the front dowel when the seat is in the "step" position? That’s what it looks like in the bottom photo. It seems to me that it would be more stable if the "ears" on the side pieces hit the floor before the side pieces hit the dowel. The dowel, then, would serve to keep the side pieces from swinging down if you picked the chair up off the floor, but otherwise the step would be firmly planted on the floor via the ears.

  • megan

    Steve, you’re right – I’m easily confused with math terms – and I’ve fixed that in the post above.

    This would make a great ICDT project, if made with dimensional lumber. But, it’s still under copyright by U-BILD, so we can’t print it or share it without permission. I have an e-mail in to U-BILD asking why the plan is no longer available, and if they don’t plan to being it back, if I can share it (assuming it’s not dangerous) on the blog, if not in the magazine. So hopefully, I’ll hear back from them today with good news.

  • Eric R

    Sounds like a good "I can do that" project Megan.
    It came out very nice by the way.

  • Merlin Vought

    Thanks for the pic Megan you may be a bit more tenatious that some of us to get done in a certain amount of time, But you did a great job. Now that I’ve seen pic I have a pattern that I made of a stool somewhat like it. Guess its time to get at it as have grandchildren now married will probably be in need of another stool.

  • Frank

    I wonder if you could give us some of the basic dimensions seeing as the plans are no longer available. I think I could come up with profiles I like, but the size and height of the seat would be great? Also maybe the inner and outer radius of the two main legs? I think I could probably wing it after that but having a young son who’s just walking I’m really tempted to try and build something like this for him.

  • Paul Stine

    Are you sure this isn’t an upcoming "I Can Do That" project?

    Sounds like it could be one; home center material, basic tools (assuming you use a standard sized dowel) …

  • Steve

    The router bit has to have the same radius as the dowel. You’re getting your radius and diameter mixed up.

  • Gye Greene

    Maybe it just wasn’t a seller: Once they sold that print run, they D/C’d it.


  • megan

    Chuck, you’re absolutely right.

  • Chuck

    Nice job, Megan! I’m sure your niece will love it. And, don’t worry if she decides to paint it. Maybe doing so will launch her creative side and she will be rewarded twice!

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