Weekend Projects - Tips for turning a milking stool archive

Friday 10 June 2016

Philip Greenwood takes you through the stages for turning a three-legged milking stool in beech


This project shows how to make a simple three-legged stool in beech (Fagus sylvatica). This stool can have a variety of uses not just for sitting on, but as a stand to place a plant, for example. This project is a combination of spindle and faceplate turning, which a lot of projects are made up from. Some people are put off this type of project due to the leg holes being drilled at an angle. A simple jig made to fit in your toolrest assembly will make drilling simple on the lathe, with no need for a pillar drill or trying to angle a drill correctly for every hole. Yes, you can use a guide to help with this.

Your stool could be made with legs if you choose, but traditionally, they were made with three, so the stool would sit on an uneven floor. I made my stool so the legs wouldn’t go through the top but, if you prefer yours to do this, then a wedge can be used to lock the legs in place. You could go on to carve this and or pyrograph the top and legs, even adding colour if you so choose. The possibilities are endless. As with most projects you make, it can be the finished item or you can go on to make it more individual.Alternatively, contrasting timber can be used for the top. The top is a piece of cross grain beech while the legs are made from parallel beech. The legs need to be a good fit in the holes and good quality wood glue is used to glue the legs in place. I have used an oil finish to give the stool good protection but you could apply wax to the top of this as well.

Tools used:

10mm bowl gouge

25mm French-curve scraper

3mm parting tool

20mm skew chisel

10mm spindle gouge with a fingernail profile

Centre finder


54mm sawtooth bit

Pillar drill

Lathe indexing facility

120, 180, 240, 320 and 400 grit abrasives

Oil finish

Wood glue

PPE: facemask, respirator/dust mask and extraction


This jig offers a way to drill holes on a lathe. Measure the height of the tool stem that fits in the toolrest assembly to just below the toolpost locking mechanism – for mine it is 40mm – then measure the centre height from the top of the toolrest assembly to the centre of the four-prong centre – this is 75mm – then add 30mm or more on to the total. I had a scrap piece measuring 160mm long × 45mm. Turn this between centres to a round, then turn the end 40mm down to the toolpost diameter, which for me is 25mm. The drill bit shank for the drill I used is 12mm diameter, so I need to drill a 12mm hole in this stem at a centre height of 75mm from where it fits the toolrest assembly to the centre height


If you have a pillar drill, then you can make a simple jig. This is a false table that fits on the pillar drill table, which can be angled for the stool legs. Hinge two pieces of MDF or plywood together along one edge. On the top piece of the jig, you need a strip of timber to form a ‘V’ to hold the stool top in place while drilling, as well as an adjustable method of angling the top to suit the legs splay, in this instance. This is a jig that can be used for many purposes


Sanding sealant and wax are a very quick finish to apply to turned items. For items that will not come into contact with liquids, this is also a very good finish to use, but can leave marks if any liquids remain on the surface. Apply sanding sealant first to stop the wax from soaking in too much – one or two coats will normally be OK. An oil finish takes longer because of the drying time – this can be up to 24 hours between coats. Two or more coats are needed depending on the density of the timber, so you are looking at a few days to finish an item. Most oil finishes are water resistant – resistant being the word over waterproof. A lacquer could be used to make the timber surface waterproof. Wax can be applied on top of an oil finish, but not oil on wax


Before you start, look for the piece of wood that will form the underside of the stool. I use a large plastic disc to find the centre of large items; this will work well on small items as well. Use a bradawl to mark the centre


Use a sawtooth bit of a size to suit your chuck jaws – in my case 54mm – held in a drill stand to cut a recess around 5mm deep, or use a faceplate. With the hole now cut, mount this on the chuck ready to turn. You can then place the toolrest in position


Set your lathe at the appropriate speed, bearing in mind how true the disc has been cut on the bandsaw. True up the outer edge to balance the disc and reduce any vibration using the bowl gouge, with the flutes facing the direction of cut and the bevel in contact, which will allow you to achieve a controlled cut


This is what will become the top of the stool. Cut a recess in the face towards the centre but leave enough timber – in my case 55mm – to suit your jaws in the centre to form a spigot. This will be used to hold onto when we turn the underside of the stool top. Use the long point of the skew to cut the dovetail for the chuck jaws


Hold on the spigot you have created on the top side. Tighten the chuck fully and take a light cut on the outer rim to true this up


Start to shape the base while leaving the recess in the middle. You are looking for a curve running from the centre towards the edge, which serves two purposes: to maintain the thickness for drilling the leg holes while also giving the edge a lighter appearance


At the edge turn a cove with the bowl gouge, then use the parting tool to place two rebates on the cove, which will help to add detail and highlight the cove on the edge. This cove is around one-third of the edge width


You can now begin to clean up the recess with the bowl gouge as the drill bit is likely to leave a rough surface. This can be slightly dished towards the centre. Use the skew chisel flat on the toolrest to cut the dovetail to match the chuck jaws


Next, using a pencil, mark the diameter that the legs will sit on. I have an indexing facility on my lathe so I use position 1, 9 and 17 to divide the circle at the three points. Try to arrange the holes so one sits centrally on the side grain as in the photo


Use the jig shown in the first sidebar by inserting the drill into the jig first. Line up with one of the pencil marks and then angle the jig and bit so you have the correct splay angle for the legs. Now lock the toolrest assembly and the jig, then fasten the drill bit to the drill chuck. Next, drill a hole for the spigot of the leg – mine was around 15mm deep. Repeat for the other two holes


Sand all the turned parts with abrasive starting with 120 and going up to 180, 240, 320 and 400 grit. After you’ve used the first grit, check to make sure you have removed all the tool marks


Hold on the recess in the base, turn the spigot away, then using the bowl gouge, turn the top flat or with a slight concave. Use a push cut with bevel contact to achieve a good surface finish


Use a round-nose scraper to remove any marks or ridges left by the bowl gouge. Sometimes a flat-edge scraper works well on a flat surface but only if you have a small radius on the corners, which will stop the corners digging in and leaving a mark when moving across the surface. Always hold a scraper in a trailing mode, i.e. with the handle held slightly higher than the tip of the tool


Using the bowl gouge and parting tool, as shown in step 7, repeat the cove detail on the top corner of the stool so it matches the detail on the underside


Use the long point of the skew chisel to cut two circles on the top. Hold the skew chisel horizontally and just push lightly to cut the circles, then sand the entire top


You can then place one of the legs between centres using a four-prong centre in the headstock and a revolving centre in the tailstock. Use a spindle roughing gouge to reduce the square to a round. Turn to the same diameter on each leg – all three legs will need turning in the same way


Use a template to mark out the leg design on the leg using a pencil; this will show the main points of the design and will make turning the legs a lot easier, eliminating the need to measure all the time. Use callipers set to each diameter as well


Part down to the diameter of the hole you drilled in the stool top. Part down at this end first and try the fit in the hole before turning the full length. This means that if you turn it down too small, it is only the very end of the leg that will be slack


Here I am using the long point of the skew chisel to cut a ‘V’ at the bottom part of the leg. Take several small cuts and only use the point. If you should catch the full edge of the skew on the edge of the ‘V’ it will dig in, so it is therefore important to keep the skew chisel vertical while you’re doing this


Use the spindle gouge to cut down from the ‘V’ at the top of the leg down to the parallel spigot – this way, the leg will fit into the top without a ridge. For a smooth cut, keep the bevel in contact with the timber surface; this will reduce the amount of sanding required later


The middle section is a long sweep, which is ideal for a skew chisel for a very fine surface. Use with the long point upmost and look for the shavings coming off the tool edge around one-third to halfway up from the lower point – any higher will result in a dig in. Now sand through all the grits of abrasives, stopping after the first to check that all tool marks have been removed


The next step is to oil all the parts of the stool – the only part that doesn’t need oiling is the spigot at the top of the leg and the three holes in the top where it will be glued. If you do oil these parts, then the glue joint will not be as strong. Apply three coats of oil and denib between coats. Once dry, glue up and make sure the legs go fully in the holes you have drilled


The completed three-legged milking stool should look something like this


1. For the legs, use straight grain timber as this will guarantee maximum strength

2. Always wear protective glasses or a face shield and a dust mask when turning; this will allow you to avoid potential health problems

3. Test the joints before gluing to make sure they fit fully in the holes – you don’t want to find out it won’t go all the way in partway through the project

4. After turning, check that all the legs match in design, then make any adjustments as needed

5. If the item may come into contact with liquids, then oil is a better finish to use than wax

6. You can cut out a template to shape if you wish to check the shape and detail, or just mark the main points on a piece of card or MDF

7. A contrasting timber could be used on the top of the stool

8. Have lots of spring callipers set to each diameter; this will save you having to adjust them all the time

9. Make sure all the leg holes are at the same angle

Briony Darnley

Tagged In:

Philip Greenwood , Weekend Projects

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