What do you make for the youngest member of the family… something that isn’t a toy, yet is personalised in some way? How about a small stool with a “birthday” coin inlaid in the top?
This project is equally suitable for a boy or a girl. The coin selected dates from the year in which the youngster was born. The one I’ve just completed is inlaid with a two-pence piece; these coins have a slightly “awkward” diameter (more of this later). Of course, you could push the boat out and use a gold sovereign instead!
Gaining the width
My little stool was made of cherry, and as the project is fairly small, it gave me the opportunity to use up some offcuts. This meant I had to joint up some pieces to give me the widths required. Because of this, I left a little extra on when I planed the offcuts to thickness. This would allow me to reduce this to the required 16mm after the jointing up had been completed. To provide maximum strength for the stool, I used biscuits in the butt joints, photo 1. This stage was then followed by trimming the parts to length.
Marking out the joints
I planned to use lap dovetails at the top of the legs, and through mortises and tenons to connect the lower rail. The best way of marking out for dovetails is to indicate the extent of the joint with a cutting gauge, photo 2; a marking gauge will scratch rather then sever the wood fibres.
I usually adopt a slope of 1:7 for my dovetails, so the five sockets were marked out on the upper ends of the legs, photo 3. Clearly mark all the waste areas on the legs at this stage, photo 4. Start by sawing down the grain as far as this is possible; then remove most of the waste on the drill press. Use a Forstner bit for this, photo 5, setting the depth exactly to the joint gauge line.
Sharp chisels are needed to remove the remainder of the waste, ensuring that the corners of the sockets are flat and square with only the sides being angled. I have a pair of 6mm chisels with their cutting edges sharpened at an angle – one to the left, and one to the right. These enable me to cut into the acute angles, photo 6.
Forming the pins
I always use a sharp hard pencil to mark out the pins directly from the sockets, and then square these lines across the end of this part. The secret of forming a good dovetail lies in the next stage; sawing down the grain. This must be done so that the pencil lines just, and only just, remain at the edges of the pins. Then the bulk of the waste can be cut away with a coping saw, photo 7. This saw is not very accurate, so the sawing must be done just above the gauge line. The final stage is to trim the remaining waste away by hand chiselling, working from both sides.
Cutting the mortises
I couldn’t form the mortises on the legs by using my bench mortiser, so the waste was first bored out, then tidied up with a chisel, photo 8. The ends were formed slightly on the slope so that when they were finally assembled the wedges used to lock the joint would fit perfectly. I formed the small tenons by taking a series of passes over the blade of my saw bench. Then cuts were made on the bandsaw down the length of the tenons, about 3mm from the edges; wedges would be driven into these cuts after assembly.
The final cuts
The slopes to the edges of the legs were marked, the waste was sawn off, and they were then trimmed down to the lines in double-quick time. Next, the semi-circles at the lower ends of the legs were marked and the waste cut away on the bandsaw, photo 9. I had a drum sander of just the right diameter to smooth these sawn edges, photo 10. I then repeated the whole process to make the second leg, photo 11. Cleaning up of the other surfaces was carried out largely by using a belt sander, with a little hand sanding to complete this stage.
Even though this project is small, assembling was not that simple. First, the rail and one leg were glued up and the wedges inserted, photo 12. Then the second leg was fitted and wedged. At this stage the dovetailed seat support was added, but wasn’t glued until I had managed to position a couple of cramps low down to ensure that the tenons on the rail were fully home. Now the seat support could be glued in position, and the whole assembly left in cramps overnight. Once dry, the outer surfaces were smoothed and well sanded, photo 13, and the top prepared for fitting to the assembly. It had its corners lightly rounded, photo 14, and all the arrises removed.
Inserting the coin
My 2p coin was 26mm in diameter, but my nearest bit to that size was 1in or 25.4 mm, so I lightly filed the edges of the coin to give a good fit. How I kicked myself later when I discovered I did in fact have a 26mm flat bit! So the hole was bored with the imperial bit, the coin was reduced a little in diameter, and it was secured with the help of a little superglue, photo 15. The top wasn’t added to the main assembly yet.
I used my favourite finish for the stool, photo 16, giving it three coats of pre-catalysed lacquer applied with a soft mop and flatted down between coats, photo 17. After lightly burnishing the lacquer with soft wax, all that remained was to screw the top in place from underneath, photo 18, and to hand it over to its new owner.