MillWorks: Elegant Upholstered Stool

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Elegant Upholstered Stool

Creating the Crossbars
Take a 3/4" dowel rod and use a manual miter box/saw to cut two pieces that are 14" and two that are 17." (If using 48" dowel lengths, you'll need two.) Set these aside for now.

Creating the Legs
Note: This is the most difficult part of the project. Make sure you're well-rested. Take it on as many small projects if you have to. Measure, measure, measure and double-check before you make any cuts or drill any holes.

Next, we'll modify four 24" turned stair rails. (These specific stair rails should have this approximate design: 4.75" squared-off end, 14.5" of turned design in the center, 4.75" squared-off end.) Once upon a time, I saw these in a hardware store and noticed how much they looked like fine turned furniture legs. I've used them for a pet feeder (which also appears on the website) and a small table (from modifying someone else's plans). No one would guess they started life as stair rails. That's because some simple modifications make them look like legs instead. Be really careful when buying your stair rails. The squared off sections are superfluous to a degree. One will be cut completely off (we're going to end the stair rail on a turned "ball" so the bottom of the stool sits on ball feet). But one end will have to have enough length left over to accommodate the longest dimension (about 1 1/2") of a 1 x 2. Read all the instructions first and make sure you understand them, so that you can choose the correct materials to use.

Here's something fun and easy. Look at a stair rail carefully. They're not symmetrical and are thus different depending on which way is up. Make sure you are consistent with each one. There's no right or wrong answer! For example, the mushroom-looking flare can go down like a mushroom, or up like a bowl.

Keep the stair rails whole when doing your measurements for the dowels. The squared-off ends are where you can measure the center from. The dowels are going to go in the legs at two different heights. Along the short ends (narrower widths) the dowels will be set higher. Along the long ends (wider widths) the dowels will be set lower.

Using a pencil, carefully mark the stair rails. Not yet having cut off the squared-off ends will help with centering. Measure up 4" from the future bottom/ball foot. These will house the 17" dowels. Turn the "leg" once (to the direct next side) and measure 6" up from the future bottom/ball foot. These will house the 14" dowels. These areas to drill must be centered. Now comes a step where you must be extra careful. Think in 3D to figure out where the holes must be drilled so each leg is correctly drilled. It might help if you have a piece of furniture that follows similar guidelines. If this is done properly, you'll have two sets of legs that match one another--but don't go by this. Plan each one on its own, then use this guide to doublecheck. Do not drill until you're positive that the holes are in the right areas!

On a 3/4" wood spade bit, place masking tape 5/16" up from where the points are (not from the middle point, but up from the two outside points) to mark where to quit drilling and thus only drill approximately 1/3" deep holes. Drill the holes, using braces so that each leg lies flat, and very carefully drill straight in! Make sure the holes are identical in depth to one another.

Now that the measuring and cutting are done, we're going to really make those stair rails look like fancy furniture legs! Measure up from what will be the bottom of the ball foot (what will be the very bottom of the stool) by 16". This will cut off part of the squared-off end that will be at the top of the stool. Be super careful with this measurement. You may wish to measure from the bottom down for the other three legs once you know where the line is on this, rather than from the top up, so that the other three match. (It's easier to measure from the flat surface.) This should still retain the squared-off area enough to accommodate a 1 x 2--make sure it does, before cutting. Make a cut here with your manual miter box/saw. Then, cut off at the other end/the bottom to create the ball foot. Repeat this with the other three stair rails, creating the legs.

Creating the Frame
Use wood glue to assemble the two narrow ends--remember, they get the 14" dowel rods in the upper holes--and let them fully dry, flat, making sure the tops and bottoms, from the center, measure the exact same width (for me, this was 14 3/4 from one center to the other). Measure from the center of the top of the legs side to side and center of the legs bottom side to side--the measurement should be the same on the top as it is on the bottom (you can't measure edge to edge due to the different dimensions of the top and bottom of the stool). The top 1 x 2s are also added to each leg at this stage. Measurements will vary, so you will need to go by your own building rather than my measurements. However, my 14" dowel needed a 13 1/16" crossbar (1 x 2), and my 17" dowel (coming up later) needed a 16 1/16" crossbar. Cut the correct length from the 1 x 2s, and then glue them in place with the top (narrower) edge mesh with the top of the stair rails. However, where these go depth wise is up to you and what you think will look the best and how much of an overhang you want from the seat. Do you want them almost mesh with the front? Almost with the back? Resting somewhere halfway? Measure (and mark with a pencil) first before committing to it with glue so they all go in the same place. If you like the look of mine, the bars were centered from front to back. Gluing first is helpful when attaching things. Use 2 1/2" #8 wood screws to attach these after they're firmly in place. Be sure to countersink all the screws, so that they can be patched over.

Then assemble the other sides (again, a dowel in the holes, with a cut 1 x 2 at the top), which will join the whole contraption together, doing a similar measurement trick to make sure the top and bottom match. Make sure it's square.

Adding Stretchers
Next, we're going to add some stretchers that run the shorter length/depth of the stool and provide added support for the plywood top. These will add strength to the seat and overall structure. Cut three 1 x 2s at this measurement, and space them evenly (it should be a hair over 3" apart). They should be mesh with the top of the seat, but lying down flat (the wide way); i.e., oriented differently than the frame of the stool. Glue them in, and then screw them in after the glue is dry.

Making the Seat
For the seat, take a scap piece of thin plywood 3/8" or a bit wider, and cut it to the exact dimensions of the top of the stool, as best you can. You can use something as simple as a jigsaw, using a metal straight-edge for help with cutting straight. There's a bit of wiggle room here since the stool is upholstered--it doesn't have to be perfect.

Grab a few screws that are exactly the right height (you don't want to end up sitting on screws) to not come through the top of the plywood (the fabric will also add a bit of width). Drill holes in the stretchers that were recently added--holes just big enough to accommodate screws. Make these non-symmetrical, so that when you go to change upholstery fabrics one day, you'll be able to easily figure out how to orient the seat when you're done. For example, even though I put in five screws, the lone center one is closer to one stretcher end than the other, so I'll never have trouble knowing which way to put the seat. If they look symmetrical (but aren't really), switching fabrics may be tricky. The screws will eventually hold the seat on the frame, so do enough that you feel it will be sturdy, but not enough that the seat is super-hard to take off. Otherwise, it won't be any fun switching fabrics when/if you decide to. (It's already hard enough work putting the fabric on!)

Finish your stool however you would like. The fabric is added last, so you don't have to worry about getting any stain or paint on it. Only finish/seal one side of the seat and the edges of the seat. Leave one side of the seat completely unfinished.

Upholstering the Seat
Purchase 2" foam. Cut (to the seat's dimensions) and glue the foam to the top seat piece on the side that has been left as bare wood.

Cut to size (you should only need approximately 3/4 yard) tapestry fabric, or a fabric you like. Since the seat isn't inset, the fabric should be on the thinner side. On all four edges of the fabric, fold under (once) and use a sewing machine to sew the rough edges under, which will eventually hide them. Wrap the fabric to the bottom of the stool and staple it in place. You may need to use a staple gun if your stapler doesn't cooperate. To wrap, fold down hard on the edge of the foam while stretching the fabric. This will create rounded-off edges and corners. It can be tricky to wrap and stretch the fabric while pushing down the foam and also operating a stapler, so it might be easier if you have a helper.

Now, screw the seat on, using the screw size you calculated (these are not countersunk). You're all set!


This oversized stool (the approximate finished dimensions are 16 1/4" x 19 1/4" x 18" high) offers a foot rest that's about the height of a typical sofa (measure yours if you'd like to do a custom height), while also providing a comfortable height for extra seating for light use only. The funniest thing about this stool is that after I realized I needed one, I couldn't find it anywhere (and I looked). Doesn't it exist? Well, it does now! And, since then, I've found high-end places do carry this type of stool . . . for around $300.

It might be possible for you to build this in a day or two. I'm super slow with projects due to health issues. Because of them, the way I think of a project like this is as lots and lots of mini projects. I break them way down, so that they're not overwhelming. This is also good because you'll take your time and really appreciate the finished product. I've done the work here of breaking this up into steps you can further break into smaller ones, so that you can take it as slowly or quickly as fits your abilities. It may help to use a highlighter to highlight what you have already done. That way you can still read it, but will know it has been "checked off."

Please note that I can't guarantee the structure of the stool you make. It's intended mostly for me for something to set things on and for my feet. The weight capacity will depend on building materials and the structural integrity of the finished product.

Have fun!

Providing crafts since October 2011. Stool instructions written in May and June 2012. Copyright 2011- and all contents by Millie. Resulting products can only be kept or given away as gifts. Always keep safety in mind.