Footstool upcycled from pallet
Why I made this
Beginner-intermediate / 3 Hours / Hand tools
The completed footstool
This was one of the projects that started my resurgence in woodworking. I had an old pallet sitting in my garden and the timber really interested me. It was too good to burn, in too good a condition and the grain was unusual. At the same time we needed a new footstool as our latest beanbag one had, like its predecessors, split.
So I had a pallet and an Idea! Read on to see…
What you need - tools, time, difficulty
The idea - the reasoning behind design decisions
Design & build - including simpler alternative
Lessons learned - what would I do differently
Conclusion - my thoughts on building this
What you need
All measurements listed are in mm unless noted otherwise.
You don’t need much here. I had all these tools as part of my general DIY toolbox. The stapler gun is not your average paper stapler but one for use in upholstery and related crafts. They are quite cheap on various online stores. I just (2023) did a quick search and found them to be about £15. If you don’t have one, you can always use tacks but I’d advise against nails as the fabric will pull through them.
- Hand saw
- Mallet and chisel
- Open-end staple gun (e.g. it doesn’t close the staples)
This should be possible for anyone who can saw, drill and staple. I used mortise and tenon joints which would probably be intermediate woodworking but you can screw in from the ends instead (or use pocket holes or brackets).
Disclaimer: This is a description of a build I did. You are welcome to use it and adapt it but you do so at your own risk. I am not responsible for any accidents or injury you receive trying to build this. My estimate for difficulty is an estimate and if you find it too difficult or risky, ask someone better qualified to assist you.
The build took me a couple of hours. That does not include the time it took to dissemble the pallet.
Total cost: £6
I already had the wood and fabric so the only cost was for the fire-retardant lining and the finish. The lining cost me £3 per metre and I only needed one metre of it. I bought the finishing wax especially for this project and it too was around £3 for a smallish tin and I barely made a dent in that and I wasn’t skimping. I’ve used it on other projects since so the cost has been offset against those too.
I dusted off my tools and my memory of woodworking at school (a long time ago) and got planning. I set myself some boundaries as a challenge.
It had to be:
- the right size
- sturdy and hard-wearing
- something I would want in my home
- easy to keep clean
- as cheap to zero cost as possible
I had enough timber for the size I wanted(1). I would use the supports from the pallet rather than the planks. These are approx 51mm x 33mm in section(2) and had a more interesting grain pattern(4). For the base of the top, I had some 12mm mdf.
For the fabric I could use some leftover leatherette fabric from recovering our kitchen chairs a year or so before(2 & 5). For the padding I didn’t have any foam and I didn’t want to use beads. I decided to use old t-shirts from our “rags bag” - stuff that was destined to become rags or go to the clothing bank at the recycling centre.
So far, zero cost (6). What I would need to buy is some fire retardant fabric to go inside the maine cover(3).
Design and build
The pallet wood is 33mm x 51mm in section and I staggered the cross pieces so they were at different heights. This is because I used mortise and tenon joints and if they were at the same height, the joints would have clashed. None of the frame joints were screwed or pinned. I rely entirely on the mortise and Tenon joints and wood glue.
I cut two strips of MDF to tie the tops of the long side together at the top. This adds some extra rigidity but mostly it gives you a way to attach the MDF sheet to the frame. These are shown in the frame photo.
I drilled pilot holes for all the screws to prevent splitting. This was particularly helpful when screwing into the ends of the legs at the top.
To finish the frame, I sanded to a smooth finish but left in some of the nail holes and features that showed the wood was repurposed and had history. I then used a Chandler’s Wax finish just rubbed into with a lint-free cloth and then buffed. This is virtually colourless but it brought out the grain beautifully (which is what attracted me to the pallet in the first place). The wax doesn’t fade or yellow over time either. Two years later and the frame is still looking great. The wax is odourless apart from a slight odour when you first apply but it disappears fairly quickly.
For the cover/cushion (sorry I don’t have any photos of that in progress), I stapled fire-retardant lining fabric to three sides of the MDF sheet, leaving on end open. Then I stuffed old t-shirts into the void until I was happy with the firmness and comfort of the padding. Next I stapled close the last end. Then I covered the whole thing in black wipe-clean fabric and stapled underneath as with the lining. Finally, we wanted some colour so I cut strips, approx 20mm, of different colours in the same fabric and arranged them in a lattice form, stapling to the underside of the MDF sheet as with the other fabrics.
As a simpler alternative you could screw through the legs into the end of the stretchers. I would recommend two screws per connection arranged above each other. This will prevent twisting of the stretchers. An even simpler alternative is to use small metal brackets under the stretchers screwing into the legs and stretchers. For both of these options, you’d still need to stagger the stretchers as I have, otherwise the screws will clash.
Choose your timber carefully
I wouldn’t do this differently but I am glad I took my time over choosing the timber to use and the orientation of it. The grain on the pieces I chose to be the outer faces looks great and it was worth the extra time to pick them out rather than plump for any of it.
Take more care on the joints
Although my mortise and tenon joints worked, they weren’t tight enough (I was out of practise!). You can actually see this on the rear ones in the frame photo above. Of course, after a few weeks they were loosening. This was mostly due to a lack of practise on my part. Last time I did proper joints like that was at school. I should have taken more care and practised a little more.
In the end I strengthened the joints by drilling 9mm holes through the legs and into the ends of the two shorter stretchers (the longer ones didn’t need it). I then glued 9mm dowels into the holes and trimmed them off at the outside of the leg. After sanding they are just noticeable (less so when not close-up) and they work a treat but I’d have preferred to not have to rely on them.
Not use a lattice on the cushion cover
The lattice pieces on the cover have frayed slightly and they have stretched so they slip as well so we have to keep sliding them back into position. In retrospect I would now create a patchwork pattern of all colours sewn together and stapled as one sheet. I still plan to do this.
This was my first project after returning to woodworking and making. I remarked to a friend that I found it very therapeutic in a frustrating way. That means it was great to build but, like everything, you had to take care or spend time undoing stuff.
I made this very much on-the-fly, without plans but with a sketched design. So this document was created very much after the fact. That’s why there are only a few progress photos and no video. Honestly I think you shouldn’t need to see a video of me sawing or sanding though.