I read a few days ago over at ToolGuyd that all of the wooden step stools sold by Target were being recalled. According to the article there have been 26 reports of the stools collapsing, which didn’t surprise me since I own one that has been falling apart for years. The only reason we aren’t one of the reports is that I realized that the glue joints had failed and the stool was only being held together by dowels. So I would periodically pound it back together.
I commented on the post that I though that the reason the step stools are failing wasn’t the design or the materials used, it was just poor glue application. I wasn’t about to deal with a recall for something I could fix in less than half an hour in my shop, plus I wanted to prove my point, so I decided to pull the stool apart and glue it back together properly. Here are some pictures from that process.
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Before I did anything to the stool, I noticed the front panel had separated. It turns out that the only thing holding that side together was a glued butt joint. It was supposed to be held together by dowels, but the dowel holes are too deep, so when the stool was assembled the dowel were pressed all the way into the front panel.
First I pulled off the lower step, which came off way to easily. You can see it is again held in place by two doweled and glued butt joints. On the bottom right of the picture you’ll notice that the front and sides don’t line up properly, leaving less surface area for glue. I also noticed that there was barely any glue on the dowels.
I pulled off the left side to expose the joints. Again the side came off way too easily, the glue on the butt joints had long ago failed and all that was holding it together was the dowels.
Here’s a better view of one of the joints. There’s barely any glue on the face and almost none on the dowels. Also notice the hole without a dowel, there’s no corresponding hole on the back piece that this side mates to.
Here’s a better view of the front piece where the dowels were pushed so far into the piece that they were irrelevant. The whole strength of this joint depended on some badly applied glue.
I was able to remove one of the recessed dowels by slowly drilling into it with a small drill bit and pulling it our while it was attached to the bit. The other dowel was one of only two or three that was actually glued in place, so I just drilled it out with a 5/16″ bit.
Rather than taking the whole stool apart and trying to reglue everything at the same time I just worked on one side at a time. So I removed all the dowels and cleaned the gluing surfaces, reapplied glue liberally to both the dowels and butt joints, and clamped the stool back together.
After the glue set, I would repeat the same steps with the other side.
Once the glue set I took the other side off. This picture is a better shot of how there’s an extra dowel hole in the side without a corresponding hole in the back.
Like I mentioned before, the front step didn’t sit flat because the front panel was slightly higher on one side than the side panel. To fix that I used my block plane to make the front even with the sides.
Once the front was even, I glued the front step in place and clamped it while the glue set. Once the glue was dry I tested the step stool on the floor and found that regluing the joints had slightly shifted the position of the feet so the stool rocked a little. A few passes with a block plane on one of the feet fixed that problem.