Remaking a portable stool

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My grandfather used to make portable stools from a couple of thin pieces of wood that tied together with a simple string. Growing up we usually had a couple of these “tie stools” conveniently stashed around the house, and we always got them out for backyard barbecues and took them with us when we went camping.

Although my woodworking skills are nowhere near what my grandfather’s were, we’ve been inspired by that stool to play around with making small, lightweight furniture that can be disassembled, stacked flat and tied together for easy transport. My first try was pretty wobbly, and felt like a little twist would splinter it. A couple of revisions later, I have a reasonably sturdy stool that is held together with a nylon strap. The leg pieces are notched on the sides so that when they are stacked together, the strap on the seat piece can be used to hold all the pieces together. There are handles cut into the leg pieces as well for easy carrying.

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While plywood is inexpensive and a reasonable material for prototyping, miniatures in paperboard are much faster to make and are a pretty good analog for the behavior of the wood.

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These are the individual parts of the version on the left, the one that is too wobbly for a stool. It has too much rotational freedom and wants to twist when you put a lot weight on it. However, it makes a fine end table for your camping ware. It has notches to accommodate the strap when it’s stacked for packing, and handles to make it easy to carry.

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The middle stool is waiting to be made into a wooden version; it feels pretty good in paperboard with a dental floss strap. It’s a little more complicated, with four intersecting legs at an angle.

We’d love to hear about any other classic designs you think should be remade.

23 thoughts on “Remaking a portable stool

  1. Neat! I’m especially fond of the look of the one that’s waiting to be prototyped in wood – I like the angles.

    Don’t have any particular designs you could think about, but if you haven’t seen it, there’s a book called "Nomadic Furniture" by Victor Papanek and James Hennessey that might have some inspiration in it. (My father has a copy, but it’s been years since I looked through it, so that’s only a "might.")

    I enjoy reading all about what you’re up to – thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Have you considered a three-legged version? It should be at least as stable as the 4 legged and you’ll also be able to cut down on the bulk.

    1. The one at the top is three legged (two parallel with one intersecting). If you have another three legged design in mind, I’d love to hear about it!

      1. Maybe the other Anonymous poster meant a three-legged version of the angled one? A three sided pyramid instead of a four?

      2. Yep, that’s exactly what I meant. The angled four leg design reminds me a bit of milking stools. Milking stools only have three legs and are actually more stable than their four legged counterparts.

  3. Nifty – I would also consider cutting in a handle with a slit in it in all the pieces that would let you line up all the pieces flat and put in a single piece key to hold them together. That would make them easy to carry and store.

  4. These are awesome…any chance you can post a drawing or template or CAD file that you used? Or did you free hand them. I actually need a stool for the workbench I just built and this would be perfect.

    The amount of great things coming out of EMSL is astounding…

  5. Did you use Ponoko to do the laser cutting or do you have a (cheaper) alternative? I’ve been looking for one but have yet to find a company that will do this in North America

    1. We cut the parts on our laser cutter, but there are also places like TechShop and Sawdust Shop where members have access to laser cutters. Ponoko is certainly a possibility, and they have a California branch now. Pololu and Big Blue Saw also do cutting services and there are others out there, too.

  6. As a follow on to my earlier post, you ask at the end of the article about designs that should be remade. I saw this dowel making machine in action on the WoodWright’s Shop on PBS the other day:

    I was fascinated by its simple elegance in the same way a Stanley Yankee screwdriver fascinates me. I bet this could be remade, and even made better by making the cutting diameter adjustable instead of having to swap out heads.

    This is a video of it in action on the PBS site, but I can’t directly link to it. Check out this page:

    and then watch episode 2809 about animated wooden toys. He uses the device about halfway through the show.

  7. “While plywood is inexpensive and a reasonable material for prototyping, miniatures in paperboard are much faster to make and are a pretty good analog for the behavior of the wood.”

    So, what you’re saying is you’re making a “stool sample”? ;P

  8. Reminds me of a book that Dover published, ‘Easy-to-Make Slotted Furniture’. Desks, tables, beds, shelves, and, yes, chairs, all made from plywood.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I found an almost pristine copy of this title on Barnes and Noble’s site for $6.99 Actually has some nice designs. The photos are a little dated, and the it is a little short on step by step construction, but still a good read nonetheless.

  9. Do you have any pictures of the originals? Beside working as an MD and having electronics and computers as a hobby I also do a bit of woodworking. As many other woodworkers I find that older designs are often very good and useful, as they have often evolved through a number of cycles of production, practical everyday use and remodelling.

      1. Any chance of sharing the design files you used on your re-make? Although I don’t have a laser cutter, I would like to try making them nonetheless.

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