Carving a Set of Bar Stool Seats from Cedar
A good portion of my work is either customized or commissioned work. Today’s project has such an origin. I have made a few sets of bar stools with carved cedar wood seats that are dyed a variety of colors. So far, I have done darker tones such as red and maroon. These stools have been on display at a local Interior Designers store front, Luxe Interiors in Coralville, Iowa. It is through a client of the interior designer that I received an order for three carved cedar wood bar stools, dyed green.
I was starting with a stock of cedar wood that I had inherited from my father-in-law after he passed away a few years ago. The stock had all been previously planed to just ¾” thick. This thickness requires two pieces to be glued together in order to have enough thickness for carving the stool seats. In order to do this, I broke down the Cedar, using a miter saw, into six pieces approximately 18” long. Doing a little mix and match I found which two of any of the six would make the best match for the glue up. In order to get the best surfaces for gluing that would allow for the least number of gaps, I used a belt sander to remove mill marks and rough patches on the gluing side of all six boards. I used 40 grit sandpaper on the belt sander in order to be the most efficient in prepping the glue up side and then applied Titebond I glue to the newly smoothed wood and used 8 clamps for each set to get firm and complete pressure across the whole seat surface. Essentially I used every clamp I own, I think this is a sign of needing more clamps!
After the glue had dried I needed to prep each blank for carving. I used a combination of my bandsaw and miter saw to cut off the live edges and get a rectangular piece that was 18” L x 16” W x 1.5” T. Other tools such as a table saw or jig saw could be used to do the same thing. I used a bandsaw and miter saw because I do not own a table saw or track saw, and I felt like 1.5” was a bit too thick to get a decent cut with the jig saw. Then I used a permanent marker and ruler to layout the general shape outline for each seat. This is the 3rd set of stools I have made, and the first time I actually did an outline for the shape. I am glad I did though, made the seats more consistent to one another in general form.
With the blanks cut to size and the general outline laid out, I got to work prepping the carving station. I set up the HomeRight’s small spray shelter with straps for a fan and filter on a portable workbench. I installed a clean 20” x 20” filter and box fan in the straps of the shelter. To provide a stable working surface, I placed a piece of scrap plywood inside the shelter. I then clamped the hose of a shop vacuum on one side to provide additional support in containing the sawdust within the shelter. With the box fan on, pulling sawdust to the filter and the shop vacuum on, the free-floating sawdust created while carving is greatly reduced. I still wear a dust mask though while carving, because even with the best of setups there is still a good amount of dust created while carving.
I put the Holey Galahad attachment from King Arthur’s Tools on my angle grinder and I was all set to carve. Given that Cedar is a rather soft wood to work with, I felt the Lancelot attachment from King Arthurs Tools would be a big of over kill and wouldn’t allow for the greatest control. So, I stuck with the course Holey Galahad attachment to get the best control while also removing material fast and effectively. It only took approximately 25 to 30 minutes to carve each seat.
Following the outline, I carved the outside shape. I then free-handed the dished-out shape of the seat, pausing periodically to test it out by sitting on it. I find this the best method of finding high and low areas that may need to be addressed and just to assess the general feel of the seat. Since I had three seats to make, I decided to do a little experiment. I carved two of the seats inside the HomeRight small spray shelter and one seat on a larger workbench with my old set up of two shop vacuums clamped to the work surface to collect dust while carving. Carving twice as many pieces inside the spray shelter left me with about a quarter of the amount of sawdust on the floor, work surface and myself as just carving one with my old setup of the workbench and shop vacuums.
There was one seat that had some voids created by some soft wood and knot holes that had come loose and fallen out during the carving process. These voids needed to be filled with epoxy resin. To prep for the resin, I used a ¼” chisel and small rasp to clean out any and all loose debris still left in the voids of the wood. Then I used a two-part epoxy resin, mixing equal parts by volume of the resin and the hardener. After using blue painters tape along the edge to help contain the resin, I poured the resin into the voids. Then I used the HomeRight heat gun to remove bubbles from the epoxy resin. The epoxy resin I was using requires a full 24 hours to cure before any sanding.
After the epoxy resin had cured, it was time to sand all three seats. Before starting to sand each seat inside the small spray shelter, I used a shop vacuum to clean off the filter just to create the best air flow for effective and efficient dust collection. Then I used my orbital sander, starting with 60 grit sand paper and working all the way up to 220 grit sand paper. On the last two sets of stools I had only sanded to 180 grit. Though the previous stools were still extremely smooth to the touch, I just felt like using such a light color this time to dye, it would be best to go a little finer and thus sanded to 220 grit. This left the surface smooth, all carving marks removed, and ready for finish.
For this customized order the client requested that the seats be dyed green. I used a mixture of different hues of green of FolkArt fabric dye from PlaidCraft. I prepared two different samples, one light green, one dark green and gave them to the interior designer to present to her client. Once I got sample approval for the light green sample from the client I was ready to spray using the HomeRight Finish Max Sprayer.
After using the sprayer to apply the green dye, I applied a spray matte Lacquer from WATCO. This was the first time using a matte sheen lacquer. This was another request from the client, they prefer a non-glossy sheen. Now, because of the flammability of the lacquer spray, it is not recommended to be used within the spray shelter. Therefore, I applied the lacquer while the pieces were on a drop cloth on a workbench, with plenty of air ventilation and circulation due to the fumes. One huge benefit to my shop being in a two car garage, can just open the garage doors and get lots of air flow!
With the finish applied and dry, it was time for assembly of the stools. The client had requested that the seats swivel. I purchased the swivel mechanisms from Amazon and attached them to the bottom of each seat using a 1” course thread Kreg screw and my Ryobi Quiet Strike cordless impact driver. This was the first time I have used a swivel mechanism. Using the Kreg self-tapping screws with the impact driver made assembling them to the seats a snap. Took less then 1 minute for each seat assembly.
Then I aligned the holes on the other side of the swivel mechanism with the pre-drilled holes in the metal stool bases I purchased from a local metal works shop. I fastened the mechanism to the stool base using ¼” – 20 bolts and nuts and voila! Three bar stools with green seats were complete!
Tools & Materials Used
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