Finishing a Tage Frid-Style Three-Legged Stool

Over the last few months I’ve written a series of posts about building a Tage Frid-style three-legged stool. I’ve learned a lot during the process, honing my skills in shaping the parts, working with compound angles and even cutting angled dovetails. I made tapered oval legs with wedged tenons and stretchers shaped with a spokeshave.

view of stool from top

Finally, I glued up the stool and got it ready for finishing. The next tasks are to flush cut the wedged tenons, sand everything and apply a durable finish. Check out these steps for finishing the project.

Seat of wooden stool

After the glue dries, it’s time to cut the tenons flush to the surface of the seat.

Step 1: Flush cut the wedged tenons

The tenons for the legs are anchored to the seat with wedges. Once the glue has dried, the tenons need to be cut flush with the surface of the seat.

The best tool to accomplish this is a Japanese flush cut saw, which cuts on the pull stroke. This kind of saw has no set. With a regular saw, the teeth are bent in a pattern that makes them slightly wider than the blade. The set helps the teeth cut the wood and also remove saw dust so the blade can travel freely. A flush cut saw has no set, so the teeth won’t mar the surface. Once you remove the exposed end of the tenon, you will be able to sand it smooth.

flush cut saw

A Japanese flush cut saw is perfect for trimming tenons because its teeth won’t mar the surface.

wedged tenon after trimming

Trimming the tenon reveals the wedge holding the leg in place.

Step 2: Sand and sand again

Before assembling the stool, I sanded everything to 150 grit. There isn’t much use in going farther than that because there will be excess glue to clean up and the inevitable dents and dings to smooth out after the glue-up. The tape I applied helped prevent too much of a mess. I sanded the entire piece to 220 grit. I like to raise the grain to make the surface as smooth as possible. Wipe on some water with a damp paper towel. You can also use denatured alcohol but I find that water works just fine. Let the wood dry completely, then sand the whole stool again with 220 grit.

Don’t take any shortcuts here. In fact, pay special attention to areas that you may not be able to see but that you will be able to feel, particularly the underside of the seat on each end.

Step 3: Apply a durable finish

For the finish, I wanted to use something durable, beautiful and easy to apply. I wanted the finish to be as clear as possible to highlight the natural colors of the wood. Wipe-on polyurethane fits the bill perfectly. When thinned with mineral spirits (two parts polyurethane, one part mineral spirits), the finish goes on quickly and smoothly.

Stool being finished

The rippled figure of the maple glows when the finish is applied.

Apply the finish with a clean piece of cotton, such as an old T-shirt. Let it soak in for a moment, then wipe it clean, trying to remove as much finish as possible.

Let the finish dry overnight. Before applying the next coat, use a sanding pad that is 330 grit or finer to go over the entire stool. In this process, you aren’t sanding the wood. Rather, you are sanding what is on top of the wood. Any errant wood fibers or little raised areas of finish will make the surface feel fuzzy, so this step takes care of those.

Repeat the same process of lightly sanding the surface and then applying another coat of finish. Three or four coats will suffice. After another day of drying, you can rub it down with extra fine (#0000) steel wool, remove any wool fragments, then apply paste wax and rub it out.

View of seat back

The Tage Frid-inspired stool in Ambrosia maple

Stool at desk

The stool’s design is so balanced that it feels at home with Shaker-inspired furniture.

view of stool from top

The stool works equally well in a modern setting.

This has been a challenging project, and I’m happy with the results. The stool is comfortable, light and surprisingly sturdy. It is rooted in Tage Frid’s design but also reflects my own touches, especially the unique back. The process of making the stool has definitely stretched my skills. I hope you enjoyed following along. I’m ready to start another one!

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