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Age Range: 7 and up

For kids who live in a grown-up world, reaching things isn't always a matter of stretching their hands up—sometimes they need a boost to get to adult level. This light but very sturdy step stool is a perfect way to help little ones think big, whether they need to wash their hands, put away games and toys, or get to their favorite book. The same antiskid tape used on ladders and stairs adorns the top and makes it safe to use. Plus, its checkerboard design puts the "fun" in functional—the stool can be used for checkers or chess when work is done. Set aside just a few hours for this project and you'll have a step stool of your very own in no time flat. It's so easy (and handy to have around) you may want to make one for every room in the house.

Download templates for this project

Step 1

Building a Step Stool - Overview

Illustration by Carl Wiens

The construction of this stool is very basic: two small wood panels slot together in an X to make the legs; a square of wood screws onto the legs to make the top. Since it will take a lot of abuse, it's best to make the stool out of a hardwood, such as oak or maple. However, hardwoods are more difficult to cut and screw together—you'll need to drill pilot holes for your screws or you risk splitting the wood. This may be a job for a parent, because drilling into the wood without breaking the bit can be a challenge.

Children age 7 and up should be able to use a random-orbit sander with a parent's guidance. Helping with measuring, painting, drawing the squares, and sticking on the antiskid tape are also great ways for kids to get involved.

Step 2

Lay out the Pieces

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a tape measure and combination square, mark up a piece of 1x12 oak or maple (which is actually 11¼ inches wide) to make an 11¼-inch square and another piece 14 inches long.

Draw a line to divide the second piece in half to create the two 14-inch-long crisscross legs. At the center of each of the divided pieces, mark out a rectangle that is 1 inch wide and extends halfway into each leg.

Step 3

Cut the Top and Legs

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Clamp the wood to a worktable, and put on safety glasses. Using a jigsaw, cut the square top off the wood, then cut off the section with the two legs in it. Next, clamp the leg section to the table and rip it in half.

To parents: Hardwoods are difficult to cut, so work slowly and keep an eye on your cutline.

Step 4

Make the Leg Slots

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Clamp one of the leg pieces to the table. Using a drill/driver fitted with a ¼-inch bit, drill two holes at the inner corners of the slot marks—these will allow you to turn the jigsaw blade. Using a jigsaw, cut the slot (be sure to stop the saw before turning the blade), keeping your blade on the inside of the line. Cut the slot on the other leg in the same manner.

Step 5

Sand the Pieces

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Clamp the top piece down. Using a random-orbit sander and 60-grit sandpaper, round over the corners and edges to soften them. Switch to 120-grit paper and sand all the flat surfaces on the top and legs to smooth them before painting. Make sure the dust bag is on the back of the sander.

Step 6

Assemble the Stool

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Lay the top piece flat on a table. Using a framing square or a ruler, lightly pencil an X from corner to opposite corner. Measure 7 inches out from the center along each line, and make a mark; because the legs are 14 inches long, they will fit between these marks when the legs are centered under the top. Using a drill/driver fitted with a 3/32-inch bit, drill pilot holes along the lines every couple of inches; make sure not to drill beyond the 7-inch marks.

Slot the two legs together to make an X shape. You may have to hammer it down to get it tight—use a scrap of wood as a buffer between the hammer and legs.

Place the top onto the legs and center it. Transfer the location of the pilot holes, using a small nail or a pencil lead, onto the top edge of the legs. Then remove the top, and drill pilot holes about 1¼ inches into the legs.

Run a thin bead of wood glue along the top edge of the legs. Place the top of the stool onto the legs, and line up the pilot holes. Using a drill/driver, screw the top to the legs using 1⅝-inch finish screws. Sink them just below the surface.

Using a putty knife, fill the screw holes with stainable putty, allow it to dry, and sand it smooth.

Step 7

Paint the Stool

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Choose your favorite color, and paint your stool with it, using latex paint and a 2-inch brush. Once the paint is dry, attach nail-on furniture glides to the four corners of the legs to keep the stool from scratching the floor.

Step 8

Lay out the Squares

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Find the center point of the top again, and make a small mark. Using a ruler, measure outward in 1¼-inch increments toward the edges in all four directions. Then make lines at those marks to create a grid of eight squares by eight squares.

To parents: This is a great step for kids to help out with, and you can even teach them about the fractions on a ruler as you mark the squares.

Step 9

Make the Checkerboard

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a ruler and utility scissors, measure and cut out 1¼-inch squares of nonskid tape—you will need 32 total. Peel off the backing and stick the squares on. Once you finish, you're ready to play!