Handpainted Child’s Stool

Several of the children in my family received a wooden stool when they were between two and three years old. All of them were handpainted by a wonderful old woman in our hometown. Each was different but they all looked uniform. They all came from the same blank so they were all the same size and shape. Here is a picture of my 25-year old stool:

It was personalized with my name and a very sweet little poem:

“This little stool is mine

I use it all the time

To reach the things I couldn’t

And sometimes things I shouldn’t.”

As you can see, the years have been rough on this treasured piece of my childhood. There is a significant crack that my mother patched with a piece of clear packing tape.

My 2 1/2-year old son Jeremy has fallen in love with my stool. I keep putting it away to keep it from being broken any further, but he always drags it out from wherever I’ve stashed it. He loves to “help” me do dishes, cook, and do all number of things as long as he can stand on the stool (even washing his hands!).

In my wanting to foster this creativity and helpfulness in him, I decided that he needs his own stool. The talented lady who created the stools for my sister, cousins, and I passed away more than fifteen years ago. I can only mark her absence by the fact that my youngest two cousins (who are now 13 and 15 years old) did not receive stools as children but my 19-year old cousin did.

I could probably have just purchased a simple wooden stool from the craft store and painted it all a basic color, but I want my son to have a stool with the same amount of love and individuality as the stools we received as kids. A plain painted stool wouldn’t be special to him like my stool is to me. Even my two oldest male cousins took special care of their stools. When the legs eventually gave out, they removed them and hung the stool tops on the wall with the family photos. No, a plain stool will not do for my son.

I could probably have searched out a local artist to paint a cute design on a simple wooden stool for my son. But alas, I am not flush with money and cannot afford to pay someone for an original piece of art, so matter how special the gift.

So, it lands to me to create this item that I so fervently want to give my son. I like to call myself crafty, but my skills do not lie with the liquid arts. I’m better with yarn (crochet) and thread (cross-stitch). I have, however done well in the past with stain and a woodburning tool, so I figured that if I take a lot of care with this project, that I could achieve success.

So, here we go…

Step 1: Purchase the necessary craft items.

Pre-assembled wooden stool (I chose a 10″ diameter), fine sandpaper (220 grit for me), desired shade of wood stain (I chose Golden Oak), graphite paper, sharpened pencil, acrylic paints (I picked up my set of twelve colors for $6.99), paintbrushes, and  a can of  varnish to seal your work.

Step 2: Sand your stool.

{Pretend there is a photo of my diligent sanding job here. My camera ate it.}

Be sure to get it nice and smooth without any standing grain or rough spots. The stain will absolutely darken any inconsistencies more than the nice soft spots.

When you’ve sufficiently sanded your stool, wipe off the dust with a clean cloth. Or you can ask your little person (who’s been standing by watching with much interest) to help you do this.

{I had an awesome photo of my 2 1/2-year old son helping me wipe the stool clean of dust. Darn camera ate it too.}

Step 3: Follow the directions on your stain. You can use a can of spray-on stain, but my craft store didn’t have any and I wasn’t up to a special trip to the hardware store just for that.

I chose to apply my stain with a folded-up section of paper towel instead of a paintbrush.

Step 4:  Let the stain sit for at least 8 hours to make sure it is completely dry. If you have quick-drying stain, go with the directions on your container. After the stain is set, apply a layer of sealant to the stool. This will protect the wood from the acrylic paint seeping into the grain of the wood. Allow the sealant plenty of time to dry.

Step 5: While your stool is drying, choose a picture, poem, whatever you want to paint onto the seat of the stool.

I chose a cartoonish ship with a pirate boy sailing the high seas. I went through scads of websites offering free clipart. Then, once I found the right picture, I scoured my beloved Random House Quotationary for just the perfect saying to write next to the pirate boy. I chose a snippet from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, “Now and then we had a hope, that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” For those of you who don’t know my family and I in real life, we really enjoy participating in Rennaisance and pirate-themed faires. For the past year and a half that my son has been coming along, he has been enthralled with pirates. I wanted to remember this special phase in his childhood by marking his fascination in the stool design.

Step 6: Transfer your image(s) to the stool using graphite paper and pencil. Another option is to purchase a stencil-making kit from the craft store. You can print out your design on the thick plasticy-paper and cut them out (or, if you’re into scrapbooking, you can use one of those fancy schmancy Cricut machines). I chose not to do that because the stencil pages were expensive and I don’t need to reuse my design afterward. I think they may be a good option for if you wanted to repeat this design somewhere in your child’s room as a theme, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

Here is my design having been completely transfered. The lines of the little pirate boy are very faint because there were two layers of paper to push through as well as the graphite paper. Next time I’ll remember to keep the design to a single page thickness.

Step 7: Color your paper design.

Borrow some of your kid’s crayons and color-in your design on paper. It’s a lot easier to change the colors on paper if you’re not happy at the start than it is to change the colors in paint. This makes the painting process a lot simpler.

Step 8: Paint your design.

It sounds simple, but it’s the step I’ve been both dreading and looking forward to. In my project, the design is the most integral piece of the whole thing – meaning, there’s a lot riding on my unpracticed ability.

Once I got into the painting, I got over my worry that it wouldn’t look exactly like the clipart. The ship looks great, the little boy is a bit more cartooney than he started out, but he’s cute. My child isn’t expecting my artwork to be professional quality, so why should I? Years down the road he will just remember that his mom made this for him out of love and be darned with my non-professional painting ability.

After the main design is dry, go back and add the little details. In my case, the edging around Jeremy’s name, the skull and crossbones on the top flag, the words of the quote, the stool’s legs, and some love notes on the underside.

(The legs are blue, but the lighting in my kitchen is pretty dark here.)

Step 9: Wait for the paint to dry.

Sorry, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all, “Like watching paint dry,” but it needs to be completely dry before you seal it. If you use spray-on sealer, it will create little pock marks in semi-dry or tacky paint. If you use paint-on sealer, it will smear the paint. Either way, if you don’t wait, all your hard work will be ruined and you’ll have to sand it off and start over.

Step 10: Apply sealer to the entire stool.

You can use varnish (as I am), lacquer, clear spray paint, whatever your heart desires, as long as the product can be used on wood and over acrylic paint. There are some products that won’t work on either or both of those mediums, so check to be sure you buy the right kind.

Step 11: Wait for the sealant to dry.

Again, no fun. As cute as they may be, you don’t want little feet, hand, or butt prints stuck on your new piece of art, do you? (Well, unless that’s the design you chose.)

Step 12: Deliver your new piece of usable art to it’s new owner.

That’s it! After the sealant is completely dry, hand this over to your little person and let them enjoy it to their heart’s content.

Jeremy loved his new stool. Too bad I messed up my flash settings when I snapped this photo of him smiling. He was being goofy and it’s all out of focus. Oh well.

I hope you enjoyed my little tutorial on creating a wonderful little stool for a child. My sister, cousins, and I used our stools throughout our entire childhoods. They served as the requisite stepping stool for the kitchen and potty, and any other place out of small reaches, chairs for when we’d eat dinner at the coffee table instead of the dining room, ottomans when we got too big to sit on them, tables for our Barbie/stuffed animal tea parties, and hundreds of other uses. I don’t think our moms and grandparents knew back when they bought us these that they would be so treasured and hold so many wonderful memories. They probably just thought they were getting us cute matching stools.


2 thoughts on “Handpainted Child’s Stool

  1. Callyann

    Wonderful idea, the stool is beautiful; it was already unique from start to finish but the ‘love’ from step 1 to step 12 made it so special. Your little boy will treasure it for ever.

    1. Jen Post author

      Thanks Callyann. I enjoyed this project very much and was thrilled to extend my family’s tradition to another generation.


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