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I have a couple solid-wood-legged barstools that I want to temporarily (for a year or so) shorten by 6 inches. Is there any good way to cut the legs so they'll be more stable upon reattachment? Or any good way to reattach them solidly?

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Reminds me of the carpenter joke: "I've cut this thing 5 times and it's still too short!" :) –  BMitch Jul 15 '12 at 15:22
    
What are the legs made of? Are they solid wood or metal tubing? –  Steven Jul 15 '12 at 17:52
    
@Steven: Solid wood (probably a relatively light wood, but solid). –  Scott Stafford Jul 16 '12 at 13:44
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If you told us why you want to shorten the stool, we might be able to supply an alternative. Would replacing the legs altogether with a shorter version be acceptable? –  Tester101 Jul 16 '12 at 15:55
    
There you go, Tester101, once again being thoughtful and practical rather than letting us go rambling off in our theoretical blatherings! –  bib Jul 17 '12 at 2:06

3 Answers 3

This sounds like a problem that's best avoided rather than solved.

I'm picturing a "classic" wooden bar stool where the legs are not vertical, but tapered out to be wider at the bottom than the top, e.g.:

a typcial bar stool

This means that the legs experience a bending load when someone sits on the stool (imagine someone trying to pull the legs wider apart at the bottom).

The parts of the legs that help resist this bending load are the wood fibers around the outside (circumference) of the leg, the center of the leg doesn't do much (and doesn't need to).

If you cut the leg and re-attach with a hanger bolt or double-ended lag bolt, you've prevented the critical parts of the leg from doing their job--you've severed the outside fibers, and attached the leg only in the center. You can imagine that a leg put back together in this way wouldn't be hard to break over your knee. Therefore, it wouldn't be great in resisting the bending load that it needs to. It'd be fine as a plant stand, but I'd be sweating if Norm stopped by for a drink.

Norm

The only solution I can think of to retain the bending strength is some kind of a slip-fitting like you'd find on a patio umbrella or kayak paddle. By the time you're done buying and installing all the slip fittings, you'd probably be better off buying a second set of stools.

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In theory you could cut off the lower end of each leg and later reattach using a double ended lag bolt (really a screw):

double ended screw

This type of reconnection should be a one time thing.

For repeated removal you could use a fastener called a "hanger bolt" that has a lag screw on one end and a machine screw on the other:

hanger bolt

The screw end would be placed in the cut off section of the leg and the machine screw end could be threaded into a T-nut type fastener set into the chair side of the leg:

t-nut

However, stools take a lot of weight and are subject to lateral pressure (especially if the legs are splayed). I would be wary of trying any reattachment unless the stools are hardwood, and the bolts and t-nuts would need to be long enough to give a very solid connection. Also the cuts should be very clean and flat so that the cut faces mesh well, and the heads of the t-nuts should be recessed to avoid a gap.

If the reattachment is to be permanent, gluing the faces of the cut ends, in addition to the lag screw or hanger bolt, would substantially improve the strength.

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I was thinking of non-straight cuts across the legs to add mechanical strength, like a V cut or something... –  Scott Stafford Jul 16 '12 at 13:46
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Very shallow cuts might help avoid lateral shifting, but deep cuts would increase the risk of splitting; also anything other than a straight cut would make use of lag screws or hanger bolts difficult if not impossible; finally, making closely matched cuts is fairly demanding. –  bib Jul 16 '12 at 13:52
    
@bib is right - you won't be able to screw the two leg pieces together with lag screws if you don't make straight cuts. –  Doresoom Jul 17 '12 at 20:03
    
Just make a conical cut and you'll be able to screw the legs back together, plus having better support for the joint when you reattach it. I have no idea how to do this, of course; perhaps mount each leg in a lathe and waste away an angled notch with the thinnest cutter you can find. Or...buy a spare set of stools. –  Alex Feinman Jul 23 '12 at 15:01
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Not quite. Either the lag screw or t-nut would need to be monted on the tapering conical male end, which would be much weaker than if mounted on a full width section; also significant complexity in the positioning of the lag screws and t-nuts, to say nothing of the difficulty in cutting both the conical end and conical hole. But I think you knew that. –  bib Jul 23 '12 at 20:14

I bought pairs of bar stools at Menards for less than $40. Also from barstools.com for less than $20 each. I'd buy some shorter ones for the time you need them and store the taller ones. When you're done with the shorter ones, put them on a garage sale or give them away and bring the taller ones back out. That way your taller ones won't be messed up.

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