Sometimes I like to make things just for the experience of learning how to make them, which is exactly what I did with this Milking Stool. I have made some stools in the past but not like this one, and so I understand the techniques and how the spline wedges that will hold the legs in place need to be placed at 90 degrees to the angle of the grain of the top of stool otherwise the pressure will often crack or split the seat of the stool.
What I had never done before was to use Arbutus or Madrone or even Madrona as it is also sometimes called, (species name- Arbutus Menziesii) in making the legs. Working with Arbutus is always a challenge, and in this case the wood was aq bit green so I wanted to see just how it turned and how much shrinkage there would be when it dries.
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I have worked a bit with Arbutus in the past. When it is dry it is very hard and tends to be chippy to work with. In my experience it doesn't often crack as it dries, as long as it is allowed to dry slowly, and depending on the thickness, this can take months or even years to air dry fully. It's that dense a wood.
I started off by making the top, which in this case was Red Alder, one of my favorite woods to work with. I made it one inch thick because I needed more material to hold on to the legs of the stool, and it makes the stool look better with a thicker seat. I glued 2 pieces of wood together after planing and edging one side of each. I used my dowelmax jig (dowelmax.com) to position the wood for gluing so that there would be little or no slippage with the glue and the sides would glue nearly perfectly together.
While the glue for the seat was drying and hardening, I set up my lathe to cut what is essentially round tenons that would fit in the holes of the seat I would drill later. I didn't need to have the holes drilled yet because i already knew the holes would be one inch so all I had to do was cut the tenons on the Abutus legs to slightly more than one inch so that they could be sanded down for a snug fit in the holes. I also cut a bit of a hollow or cove around the base of the tenon on each leg to give the leg more support as it sits in the seat of the stool.
When the glue was dry I figured out what looked like a good angle for the legs that I could use to drill the holes with. It's important to note that the holes should be drilled from the top down. This is because there will often be some chipping out of the wood on the exiting of the drill bit and when this is on the bottom of the stool and where it's going to be routed with a roundover bit, that chipping out will wiped out by the rounding over process of the router bit.
After the holes were cut, I then cut the seat round on the bandsaw and sanded it smooth and even and took it to the router table to roundover the outside top and use the same bit, in my case a 3/8 roundover bit, to round over the bottom of the holes where the legs would go through.
After a bit of sanding and some dry fitting the legs fit snugly in their holes. Next came the cutting of the holes for the splines and the making of the wedges. For the wedges I used a contrasting wood, Purpleheart, which contrasts nicely with the light colored Alder.
The fitting of the legs was easy, a bit of sanding and each one fit snugly into the hole. I positioned each slot for the splines at 90 degrees to the grain of the seat and began to hammer the wedges into place. I was amazed at how strong the joints were just friction fitting them and wedging them in that way. I also suspected the Arbutus legs would shrink a bit as the wood was still a bit green, so driving the wedges in deeper later on might need to be done.
After a little bit of finishing with some Osmo, and working the bottoms of the legs to round them off a bit so they looked rough, but still rounded and the stool was done. I was a bit far down for me to sit, but I did try it out and the stool easily held my weight, even though this was a decorative piece ... it could still be used for a low stepping stool in some situations. I am not sure I am in love with those Arbutus natural legs, but I have never done that before and wanted to try it and even if I do change the legs it will be easy to so knocking out the existing legs and replacing them with some round dowels or other ideas that may come to mind. All in all it was another fun project and didn't take long to make and for anyone who grew up on a farm, a great reminder of days and cultures that used and still use these stools in their daily chores.
Copyright Colin Knecht