Stool with Sculpted Seat

This project actually started over eight years ago, but in a very different form.

While down in California working a trade show for Lee Valley, the crew and I made a detour to Sam Maloof’s house in Alta Loma. We got a very inspirational tour of the very unique house which he had built for himself and left me very inspired to make a sculpted chair.

I bought a copy of Sam Maloof, Woodworker which Sam signed for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him.

Sam Maloof Autograph

Back home, I started by making a maple seat. I beveled the edges of four boards and glued them together to create a blank curved to the approximate shape of the seat, then sculpted it with my Arbortech carbide wheel on a grinder, and sanders. That’s as far as the chair progressed until I rediscovered it when I was cleaning out my old workshop earlier this year.

To turn the chair seat into a stool seat, I needed to shape it further. The chair required square edges to join into the frame members, but the stool seat was designed to be supported differently.

Curved workpieces have always been challenging to hold securely while working them, but that task was greatly simplified by using the Festool VacSys Vacuum Clamp at my workplace, Ultimate Tools.

Stool Seat on Vacuum Clamp

To make the seat look less bulky, I wanted to thin out the seat towards the edges. I started with a jigsaw, tilted at a 45 degree angle, followed by sanders.

Bevelling with Jigsaw

I designed a simple base and selected a suitably-sized board of Gary oak that I had bought years ago. I milled it into square sections and cut them to length to make three legs and two stretchers. I cut the angled dadoes by hand, and cut the mating open mortises with my table saw.

Stool Bridle Joinery

With carving gouges, I shaped round tenons on the tops of the three legs. I paused to admire the polished surface on the tenon shoulder left by my sharp tools. Then I assembled the base to locate where mating holes needed to be drilled in the underside of the seat.


It have always found it satisfying to push together a well-fit joint. Or four. Or seven. It was a little nerve-wracking pounding the leg tenons into the holes in the seat, wondering if anything would crack. Nothing did.

Bridle Joints

I used the VacSys to hold the stool for a final sanding before applying a couple of coats of oil-based polyurethane.

Stool and Vacuum

And here’s the finished result.

Sculpted Seat Stool Front Right Sulpted Stool Stool Back Left

Shop Stools/Bar Stools

The kitchen island in my new house was calling for a pair of bar stools. My shop stool that I completed in the Shop Stool Build-Off found its way there during the move, and with the chaos reigning in my shop, I was happy to let it live there.

Shop Stool

My shop stool

A second stool was in order, and it looked like it would be a while still before the shop is in any sort of shape to work.

Fortunately, I recalled that, a little while after the Shop Stool Build-Off, I had tried again to make the crossed-leg stool which I had originally attempted but due to a miscalculation, wasn’t able to pull off in time.

Shop Stool Build-Off Design

Attempt #2 was already together, but needed some attention. The joints didn’t fit quite as well as I wanted and hadn’t been glued. The seat needed to be cut to shape, and the legs needed some finishing touches.

My goal was to make it into a usable stool – I had more important things to do and didn’t want to spend the time required to bring this stool up to the level of “fine furniture”.

First, I glued the legs into the seat. To avoid having to drive them apart and back together (they were a tight friction fit), I applied Veritas’ Chair Doctor Glue to the joint’s seams and let the watery glue seep into the joint. When the glue was dry, I cut the seat round with my jigsaw.

Shop Stools High

Although the stool was usable at this point, I couldn’t resist taking it further. I tilted my jigsaw (the whole saw, not just the base plate) and trimmed the edge of the seat to line up with the angled legs, gradually bringing the jigsaw back to plumb so the edge returned to square. I did this in both directions – clockwise and counter clock-wise at each leg, so the seat’s edge effectively twists and untwists as it goes around. I faired the edge of the stool with my random orbit sander, starting with 24-grit, and progressed up to 120-grit.

Shop Stools Low

Finally, I scooped out the seat with a carving gouge, sanded the surface smooth and even, and softened the edges.

Shop Stools Mid

So much for a “basic” stool – I just couldn’t resist adding a few extra touches. Know what I mean?

Shop Stools, Revisited on

It’s official! I’m now a contributor to the Craftsy woodworking blog.

My first article, fittingly, is about shop stools. In the article, I discuss some basic principles that make a good shop stool, then provide some practical ideas backed up by photos from the Shop Stool Build-Off.

Read the article on the Craftsy Woodworking Blog.

Craftsy Blog

Results from the Shop Stool Build-Off

This is a long post because there are lots of prize winners for the Shop Stool Build-Off! If you are listed as a winner, but have not received an e-mail from me, please contact me to organize the delivery of your prize!

Thank you to all the participants, sponsors, judges, and everyone who voted. Nearly 750 votes from readers of my blog were tallied and the Shop Stool Build-Off was a success well beyond anything that I had imagined!


Please visit the websites of the sponsors and check out the prizes they have provided:


I hand-picked a panel of judges to evaluate the stools on a variety of criteria with which I provided them. Their job was not easy and they deserve a big “thank you”!

Andrew Coholic’s CNC-cut shop stool earned the title of Best Concept Among Canadian Stools and won him a Shockwave Drilling & Driving 35-piece Bit Set from Milwaukee Tool.

Andrew Coholic with Shop Stool

Forty-two percent of judges agreed that Alex Leslie’s T-stool was The Most Daring Design and for that, he won a 1-year subscription to Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement from Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine.

He had an interesting description of his design, too.

The art of balancing and pivoting on this stool keeps the user alert and awake. If one dozes off, the resulting fall will either awaken the user or cause more prolonged unconsciousness.


David Picciuto’s clean-looking plywood stool joined with pocket hold screws was judged as having the Best Use of Materials, earning him a Set of 3″ Bench Dogs from Time Warp Tool Works.

David Picciuto with Shop Stool

Danny Siggers’s design was voted the Most Innovative Among Canadian Stools. For that, he won a Shockwave Drilling & Driving 35-piece Bit Set from Milwaukee Tool.

Danny Siggers with Shop Stool

Sixty-three percent of the judges thought that Chris Salter’s description of his stool was the Most Critical, with the Best Attitude. For that, he was awarded a 1-Year Membership to The Wood Whisperer Guild courtesy of Marc Spagnuolo. His description was also one of the most entertaining:

Is there a “painfully amateur” category? Cuz if so, I’m totally rockin’ that. Otherwise you can probably use my entry as a dire warning for others. :-) Still – a ton of fun.

A few words about my stool: Look, it’s a terrible stool. I’m confident that it’s the worst of the build-off by far, but I don’t care because my whole reason for joining in was to have fun, try new things, and learn. By those criteria, I definitely succeeded.

Rock on, Chris! I love your attitude and willingness to push your abilities.

Chris Salter with Shop Stool

Judges decided that Jonathan Gunderlach’s wild-looking stool earned the title of Best Representing Hand Work, and awarded him his choice of any 1 semester of The Hand Tool School from The Hand Tool School.

Jonathan Gunderlach with Shop Stool

The triangular intersection of mortise and tenon joints employed by Sean Wisniewski earned him 38% of the judges’ votes for Most Impressive Joinery and a 1-year subscription (or extension) to Popular Woodworking Magazine, courtesy of Popular Woodworking.

Sean Wisniewski with Shop Stool

Ryan Sparreboom’s burl-seat stool attracted 60% of the votes for the Best Use of Materials Among Canadian Stools and earned him a Shockwave Drilling & Driving 35-piece Bit Set from Milwaukee Tool.

His stool also edged out Jonathan Gunderlach’s as the Most Organic and for that, he won a Set of 3″ Bench Dogs from Time Warp Tool Works.

Ryan Sparreboom with Shop Stool

On the international level, 15% of the judges also thought Alexandre Guertin’s stool was the Most Inspiring, so he also earned a Make a Wooden Smoothing Plane with Scott Meek DVD from Scott Meek Woodworks.

Naturally, that made his design the Most Inspiring Canadian Stool as well, so he won a Shockwave Drilling & Driving 35-piece Bit Set from Milwaukee Tool, too.

Judges also voted his stool as the Second-Best Canadian Stool, so he will receive a  Porter Cable 20V Lithium Ion Drill from Black & Decker.

Alexandre Guertin with Shop Stool

Jim Dillon won a copy of Marc Spagnuolo’s book, Hybrid Woodworking, courtesy of Popular Woodworking for these two updates which Best Defined “Hybrid Woodworking“.

Jim’s stool was also deemed to have the Best Concept, earning him a Set of 3″ Bench Dogs from Time Warp Tool Works


The judges loved the creativeness and ingenuity shown by Trevor Green. His stool with vise and folding step earned him 57% of judges’ votes for the Most Innovative Design and a signed copy of Quality is Contagious: John Economaki & Bridge City Tool Works, 36 Years Through the Lens of Joe Felzman courtesy of Bridge City Tool Works.

Trevor Green with Shop Stool

With an impressive 8% of all votes from the public, Jamie Hubbard’s elegant, adjustable-height stool is the Flair Woodworks Reader’s #3 Choice. Microjig will be sending him a GRR-Rip Block (GB-1).

Jamie Hubbard with Shop Stool

Garnering 15% of the official judges’ votes and 13% of the readers’ votes, Sean Rubino’s stool won a Spokeshave kit from Hock Tools and Advanced GRR-RIPPER (GR-2000) from Microjig as the Second Best Stool Overall and Flair Woodworks Reader’s #2 Choice.

Sean Rubino with Shop Stool

The big winner was a stool which stood out in design and quality of craftsmanship. It won:

*Because this is a duplicate prize, the item was awarded to the runner-up in the category.

The winning stool design belongs to Neil Cronk.

Neil Cronk with Shop Stool

Remember that you can view all the stools from this page. Click on any number to view the stool and read about it.

Subscribe to my blog using the form at the bottom of every page for updates from, including information about the next Flair Woodworks Build-Off!

Prizes for the Shop Stool Build-Off!

Remember that you must register to be eligible to win a prize. Sign up today!

I am so excited! I’m amazed at the level of interest and support that this idea has generated. The big day is two weeks away and I can’t wait!

My Design

This is the design I’m going to build. (I have moved the legs slightly inwards from my original design so that they intersect in the middle.) I like it because the joinery is fairly simple and sturdy, yet fancy at the same time. Also, the angle of the legs adds a nice detail. I expect the build to be easy to complete in a day, with the help of a simple jig to rout the slots in the seat. Any extra time I have after building the stool can be spent sculpting the legs or seat if I choose.

Shop Stool Build-Off Design

Over 50 Registrations!

Registrations keep arriving in my inbox daily. Roughly 3/4 of the registrants are from North America and the rest are from countries such as Australia, Denmark, Germany, Poland and the UK!

A Dozen Prize Sponsors!

Here are the sponsors and the prizes they are providing for the Shop Stool Build-Off. (I looked up the prizes to the best of my ability and have provided links below – links were neither provided nor approved by the sponsors.)

Prizes will be awarded based on certain categories, which will be announced closer to the event.


Shop Stool Design #2: Slick and Nearly-As-Simple

Register today to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off. You must register to win a prize!

I have some shop stool designs drawn up for the Shop Stool Build-Off.  Feel free to use them or customize them to your liking. I don’t have plans, so please don’t ask for any.

This design is inspired by one on my Pinterest board and, although it looks more complex, the construction is pretty much the same as Design #1 with the exception of a few mitre cuts. It’s not as complicated as it appears. The legs are offset to avoid a lot of complicated joinery (see: Insanity 1.5 – V-Table).

Complicated Stool

One of my #Woodchat on Air co-hosts, Matt Gradwohl, is concerned about the strength of the design due to the angled legs. While I don’t share the same worry, it is something that I will watch for as I build the stool. The design can be strengthened in many ways, including joining the legs together where they cross.


Shop Stool Design #1: Slick and Simple

Register today to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off. You must register to win a prize!

I have some shop stool designs drawn up for the Shop Stool Build-Off.  Feel free to use them or customize them to your liking. I don’t have plans, so please don’t ask for any.


This is the first design for a shop stool based on one pinned to my Pinterest board. My version stands 24″ tall with a 13″ diameter seat. It could be made with either solid wood or plywood. Contrasting materials would look sharp, or you could use just one species of wood. The seat is a great opportunity to use figured wood.

The construction is simple and straightforward with the help of a simple jig to cut the notches in the seat. Once the joinery is taken care of, you can go to town sculpting the stool. Or you could leave it un-sculpted.

Depending on the materials chosen, a stretcher system somewhere along the length of the legs might be a good idea. It would also serve as a foot rest.

Simple Stool


The notches in the seat are cut with a 1″ diameter router bit and the ends of the legs are rounded over with a 1/2″ radius bit for a perfect fit.

Simple Stool Perspective

If solid wood is used, the supporting arms of the legs should be made with a separate piece and joined to the leg to avoid a short grain situation which would considerably weaken the stool. A pair of screws is driven through each supporting arm into the seat to secure the legs.

Simple Stool Underside

My second design has one simple, but substantial twist to this design. Watch for it!


Designing My Shop Stool

Register today to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off. You must register to win a prize!

I find that making a list of criteria sometimes helps me work out a design. Here is my list of criteria I have for my stool:

  • it should be light enough and easy to grasp that I can easily pick it up with one hand;
  • it should be stable enough that it doesn’t topple easily. This can be achieved by having a wide footprint, a low centre of gravity, or a combination of the two;
  • I like to rotate on my stool to reach things beside me. A flat, convex or slightly concave wooden seat would work fine. Alternatively, it could be sculpted for a single sitting orientation and mounted on a pivot;
  • the height should be suitable for working at my bench;
  • a foot rest would be nice to have;
  • it should be durable and adequately sturdy to avoid racking;
  • it should look nicer than my existing one;
  • the design should be simple enough to be built in a single day; and
  • it should be stable and not rock. This is most easily achieved with three legs, but can also be done with (self) levelling feet.

Some goals that you may have for your stool, but I don’t require, might be to:

  • incorporate height adjustment;
  • avoid using screws;
  • include a sculpted seat;
  • incorporate a bent lamination or steam bent parts;
  • have it match your workbench;
  • incorporate metal, acrylic, or upholstery;
  • be low enough to fit under your workbench; or
  • use up those boards of cherry that you’ve been saving.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share some of my stool designs (I may end up building three stools during the Shop Stool Build-Off!). Also, check out my Pinterest board for more inspiration.

PS: A registered participant of the Shop Stool Build-Off, Jeremy, wrote a post on his own blog about why he’s excited about the build. He also wrote a more technical post on designing a stool. Below, I have included links to his two articles.


Need Some Ideas for Your Shop Stool?

Register today to participate in the Shop Stool Build-Off and a chance to win a prize!

Saturday, January 25 is the date set for the Shop Stool Build-Off. Some woodworkers I have talked to are already working on designs and expect to do some material prep (including building bending forms) before the big day arrives. Others are just going to show up on that day and build a stool, making their decisions on the fly.

If you need some inspiration to get you going, check out the images of various designs of stools I’ve gathered on a Pinterest board.

Shop Stool Build-Off Ideas Board on Pinterest

My Pinterest board of Shop Stool Build-Off Ideas (click to view)

I (along with a few other dedicated followers) are working to secure some prize sponsors for the Shop Stool Build-Off. Please register for the event using the form on the page linked at the bottom of this page.


The Shop Stool Build-Off

Eleven months ago, two planemakers decided to each build a scrub plane simultaneously and share progress pictures along the way. It was later dubbed the Scrub Plane Build-Off. The two planemakers were Scott Meek and I.

The Inspiration

On Saturday, I was tidying up in the shop and noticed that my shop stool was in sad shape. I bought it many years ago from a department store and, while it has served me well, I’ve never been entirely happy with it.

I took a picture and announced that building a replacement would likely be the first live build of the new year.


Neil Cronk shared a photo of his very similar-looking stool, which he was also eager to replace, apparently.

Neil's Stool

Neil Cronk’s workshop stool

I proposed that we have a shop stool build-off and before long, a handful of other woodworkers agreed to join us.

The Shop Stool Build-Off: Saturday January 25

The idea of this build-off is to have a group of woodworkers simultaneously build a shop stool and share pictures along the way. I plan to share my progress on Twitter and Facebook through my Tumblr page. I encourage you to join me and build and share your own shop stool on January 25.

There are no rules. You can work from plans or you can design on the fly. You can use complicated joinery or simply cut a tree stump to an appropriate height. You can start with rough lumber, pre-milled boards, or even steel. One great thing about a shop stool is that the design possibilities are endless and the pressure to do the finest work isn’t there (at least for me).

The official start is Saturday, January 25th at 8 am Pacific (that’s 8 am for me, 10 am for Jim in Wisconsin, 11 am for Anthony in Ottawa and Rusty in New Jersey, noon for Neil in Nova Scotia and 4 pm for Jamie in the UK.), but if you wish to participate, you don’t have to start at that time. I hope to finish my stool in one day, but the build-off will carry on through Sunday if required.

After the stools are complete, I would like to share everybody’s work here on my blog. I’m really excited about the Shop Stool Build-Off!