How to Build a Shaker Stool

How to Build a Shaker Stool

There are things that are unlikely, like winning the lottery, and there are things that are impossible, like cutting two identical, irregularly shaped pieces of wood without a template. A template and the skills to use it ensure that you can mass-produce complicated cuts—in this case, two identical legs for a Shaker-style step stool.

There are a couple of ways to use woodworking templates, but here we'll draw directly on a piece of ¼" plywood, trace it against our wood, and roughcut it to shape with a jigsaw. Finally we will use what's called a "flush trim bit" mounted in a router to smooth the wood to the template. One reason cutting to a template is such a useful skill is the ubiquity and convenience of online templates. For nearly any project you can imagine, a template is but a quick search away, so you can produce professional-looking designs in your own shop. This Shaker stool is a great place to start—and the wood should set you back only about $15.


• Tape measure

• Pencil

• Table saw or handsaw

• Jigsaw

• Router

• Clamps

• Flush trim bit with bearing

• Drill

• Countersink drill bit

• 4-foot level

• Safety goggles


• One 4-foot 1 × 12 pine board

• One 1-foot 1 × 4 pine board

• Scrap ¼" plywood, at least 10" × 11"

• Double-sided tape (optional)

• Fifty 1" wood screws

• Wood glue (optional)

• Paint or finish (optional)

1 Measure and mark 14" from the end of a 4-foot 1 × 12 board. Cut it off with a table saw and rip the piece down to exactly 11" wide. This will be the top of your stool. Measure, mark, and cut a 1-foot 1 × 4 into a piece 11" long and 3" wide. This will be your brace.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

2 Cut a 20"-long section from the 1 × 12 and rip it to exactly 10¼" wide. Cut this piece in half, making two 10" × 10¼" rectangles. Once shaped, these will be the legs of your stool.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

3 Make a template for the legs. Measure, mark, and cut a section of ¼" plywood into a 10" × 10¼" rectangle. Draw a shape for your stool legs onto this plywood rectangle. One common cut is to taper the legs slightly toward the top, marking ¾" in from the top sides and drawing a straight line to the bottom corners. You'll also need to cut some sort of decorative arc from the bottom center of your legs. Some ideas are shown here, but feel free to experiment with the shape of this arc. If you make an irretrievable mistake, it only costs another 10" × 10¼" scrap of plywood to start again. Use a frisbee or another rounded household object if you need something to trace.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

4 Measure about 3" from the top edge to find the exact center of your template. Draw a 3" × ¾" rectangle that, when cut out from each leg, will secure the brace.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

5 Cut out the plywood shape that you'll use as a template to sculpt your stool's legs. Consider using your table saw for long, straight cuts and the jigsaw for more ornate, curved cuts (and drill a hole to cut out the rectangle for the brace, as you did in Step 4 of How to Build a Doghouse). Sand or use your router to finish the template to the exact shape you want the legs.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

6 When the plywood template is ready, lay it on top of one of the 10" × 10¼" pieces of pine that will be your stool's legs. Trace around the template with a pencil, put on your safety goggles, and then use the jigsaw to roughcut the stool leg to shape.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

7 Place the plywood template beneath the rough-cut stool leg and clamp them together to your workbench. To prevent slippage, use double-sided tape to stick the template to the wood before clamping.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

8 Make sure the router is unplugged and insert the flush trim bit. Set the router on top of the clamped piece and template and look at how the bit and bearing hit the side of the stacked pieces. Adjust the bit so that when the router is flat against the piece, the bearing hits the template and the bit hits the rough-cut board.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

9 Prepare to drive the router along the rough-cut board, using the template below it as a guide. Place the router flat against the board, with the bit safely away from the edge of the wood. Plug in and turn on the router, and once the bit is up to speed, bring it into the board, stopping when you feel the bearing contact the template. Using the feel of the bearing against the template, run the router around the edge of the board, making an exact copy of the template, including the space between the legs and the brace support holes. Repeat Steps 7 to 9 with the other leg.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

10 Assemble the stool. Insert the brace into the rectangular holes, connecting the two legs. Place the legs on the ground and wiggle slightly until all four feet sit flush against the ground. Lay the top of the stool across the legs and use a level to check that it lies flat. If all four feet aren't snug to the ground or if the top of your stool isn't level, use your table saw to shave your cuts accordingly. If your brace seems unsturdy, use wood glue to secure it in the hole.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

11 Attach the top. Lay it atop your legs and make sure it's exactly centered and level. Countersink four evenly spaced pilot holes and use 1" wood screws to attach the top to the legs. Again, if you like, use wood glue and sawdust to camouflage the holes.

How to Build a Shaker Stool

12 If you like, paint or finish your Shaker stool. Traditionally, this kind of furniture would be finished with oil and wax (talk to your local home improvement or woodworking store).


Sanding furniture or shaped pieces follows the same essential strategy as sanding a flat board—always go with the grain of the wood and progress from coarser to finer paper.

For flat surfaces, use a padded sanding block. For curved surfaces, use a thick sponge covered with sandpaper, which will help you exert even pressure while conforming to the shape. To sand rounded pieces like spindles or thin chair legs, cut a long strip of medium or fine-grit sandpaper and wrap the paper around the piece so that you can hold the two ends together. Pull the sandpaper wrap back and forth, as if using a bow and stick to start a fire.

For rounded edges, use a piece of fine-grit paper folded onto itself. For detail sanding, wrap fine-grit sandpaper around the tip of a sharpened pencil. For even finer work, use a toothpick. When sanding delicate pieces, brace both the hand doing the sanding and the hand doing the holding so that your sanding materials don't slip. Sanding can lead to chips and dings as well as scratches, especially when working with fine edges. When you're finished, blow the sawdust from the crevices or use a clean toothbrush to free it.