How to Build Barstools From Scratch
In an ideal world, every single piece of furniture in my house would be something I transformed from a thrift store piece. Why? Because this is the single least expensive way to create beautiful furniture. In my head exists an "expense hierarchy." With a few low-quality exceptions, purchasing furniture new will always be the most expensive option. The cost of building furniture yourself adds up quickly, but typically still comes out cheaper than buying something new. Finally, given your initial purchasing cost is low, transforming a thrift store piece is typically the most affordable option.
My DIY barstools are a perfect example of this. I searched thrift stores for about a month looking for barstools to transform. I saw plenty of barstools. The typical price per barstool was $25; occasionally I'd see something for a little more or less. However, I was looking for something very particular: a small backless barstool that would fit completely under the 14" wide bar I was building in my kitchen.
Eventually, I ran out of time. I wanted these barstools done and over with, so when I saw spindles at my Habitat For Humanity for a dollar each, I picked up 8, deciding to build barstools myself using the spindles as legs.
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I thought I could pull off $8 barstools. I had some leftover butcherblock from my countertops at home that could be the tops. And maybe if I had stuck with that idea, they would have been $15 barstools after purchasing some furring strips for support. But halfway through the project, I decided there was already enough wood in the kitchen, and I should go with a fabric top instead. But, as I learned last time I made a cushion, foam is expensive, so the cost of my $15 barstools rapidly shot up. Here's what I ended up paying:
2 1x2x8 Furring Strips
Furring strips are super cheap, but involve significant amounts of sanding to make them usable.
2 1x3x8 Furring Strips
This is the cheapest spray adhesive I could find, and it was actually plenty strong! I was pleased.
Can of White Spray Paint
Saving Money Secret: do your first couple coats with a cheaper spray paint (I had some that I got for $0.99 at Menards a while back), then the final coat in the nice spray. You get the look of the nicer white without having to purchase multiple cans.
1.5 Yards Fabric
Jackman's is a local fabric store in the St. Louis area. They have a great selection, and are worth checking out if you live in the area!
1 Yard High Density Foam
Yes, I used lots of coupons.
2 Yards Batting
Staples for Staple Gun
This wasn't as cheap as I wanted, but I feel a bit better when I remind myself that if I had remodeled thrift store barstools, it probably would have cost me $15 in supplies in addition to the $50 base barstool cost.
How to Build Barstools: The Tutorial
In addition to the materials above, you'll need the following tools:
- Belt Sander (if using furring strips)
- Miter Saw
- Orbital Sander
- Pocket Hole/Kreg Jig
- 24" Clamps
- Circular Saw
- Rotary Cutter/ Electric Knife
- Staple Gun
Step 1: Prep and Cut Wood
Since I used furring strips, I needed to sand them significantly to make them usable. I used 120 grit sandpaper on a belt sander to take most of the rough wood off, then smoothed it out using 180 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander.
Then I cut my wood to the proper lengths. Since I was aiming for my barstools to be 20" wide by 14" deep, and each furring strip was 1 1/4" thick, I cut my furring strips to be 17 1/2" and 11 1/2" long. See picture below.
Additionally, the spindles I purchased were 36" long. This would make a pretty high barstool- ideally, bar-height barstools are between 30 and 32 inches high. I therefore cut my spindles down to be 30 inches long. Since I had three and a half inches of cushion/butcherblock top, this was still a really high barstool, so if you can cut your barstool down further, or have a thinner top, it would work out better.
Step 2: Add Kreg Jig Holes to Supports
On my 1 x 3 support pieces, I added two kreg jig holes on each end of the piece to attach the supports to the spindles. I also added two or three kreg jig holes (depending on length of piece) facing up that would eventually attach the butcherblock top to the supports. If you're not sure how the Kreg system works, check out my Kreg Jig Guide!
On the 1 x 2 support pieces, I just added one hole on each end, which would attach the supports to the spindles.
Step 3: Assemble Barstool Base
I started by assembling one side of the base at a time, then connecting them.
There are a couple of things in the above picture that are pretty important. First of all, make sure that you clamp the pieces together before putting in the Kreg screws, else there will be a lot of movement, and you'll risk splitting your spindles. Additionally, you'll want to secure your joints with wood glue for extra support (do this before clamping!). Finally, in my picture, you can see that I've lined up all three pieces of wood against a cabinet door. This is to make sure they are all in a straight, level line with each other.
After creating the two smaller sides, I attached them using the remaining furring strips.
Step 4: Finish Base
I wood filled and sanded the pocket holes on the lower supports so they wouldn't be seen (I didn't bother with the top holes; they wouldn't be visible on the final barstool,) then spray painted the base white.
When spray painting, I started with some cheaper white spray paint that I got for $0.99, then finished with Rustoleum's 2X White Semi-Gloss paint. This was a cost saving measure- by spraying with the cheaper spray paint for the initial cover job, I didn't have to purchase more than one of the more expensive Rustoleum cans.
Step 5: Make Cushion
While waiting for the spray paint to dry, I made my cushion. I started by cutting my leftover butcherblock to be the width and depth I wanted my finished barstool to be, 20" wide x 14" deep.
I then cut my foam to be the same dimensions using a rotary cutter. This wasn't the ideal tool: an electric knife is the correct tool for cutting foam, but I didn't want to purchase one of those, so I made due with the rotary cutter I already had.
After cutting my foam, I secured it to the butcherblock using spray adhesive.
Then I wrapped it in batting (like a present!) and secured with foam adhesive. On the first cushion I made, I used two layers of batting, but that seemed like overkill, so on the second I only used one.
Finally, I wrapped the entire butcherblock/foam/batting combo with the fabric I'd picked out, and secured it with staples from my staple gun. I used 5/16" and 1/4" staples I already had around the house.
And then my cushion was ready to be attached!
Step 6: Attach Cushion to Base
I had the perfect tiny TV table that I used for this, which made clamping the base to the cushion much easier. Since the cushion compresses as you clamp, it's great to be able to secure it on all four sides.
Then I screwed in all the Kreg screws into the holes I created earlier.
To add extra support, I put one corner brace on each spindle leg. I started this while my barstool was still clamped, adding the screws that went into the butcherblock, then unclamped the barstool and placed it on the ground to add the screws going into the spindles. This allowed me to always screw down, which is significantly easier than screwing sideways or up.
Step 7: Enjoy Your Barstool
I love my barstools! I think they add a pop of color to the kitchen, plus they're super functional and give me an eat-in kitchen!