From Tree Stump to Wooden Stool – A Street Artist Tutorial
Hello, I’m so glad you popped in for a visit. This is a special post for me. It’s the start of something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Here in South Africa, you’ll find street artists and vendors on every corner, selling all kinds of things on the side of the road. Anything from handbags and recycled bird feeders to seed pod faces and wooden stools. It makes shopping really interesting 😀 Some people get a little irritated, but I love talking to them. It fascinates me how ingenious they are. These guys are the masters of the “art of repurposing,” and making something from with very little. I’m hoping to do a regular spot on the blog that celebrates these amazing people and the crafts they make.
Isn’t it just beautiful and you would never guess that it was made on the side of the road.
Meet the Street Artist
Say hi to Benjamin Mvula; a 39-year-old father of two. Back in 2006, when the Malawian president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, an economist, mobilized his armed forces in operation Dongosolo (a Chichewa word meaning ‘order’) Benjamin’s world fell apart. He was no longer allowed to trade on the side of the road, so at the age of 27, he moved to South Africa with nothing but the clothes on his back, dreams of a better future and a few of his tools.
From L to R – Rosie, Shepherd and Benjamin
He struggled initially and returned to Malawi for a short spell before coming back early in 2008. He’s been here ever since. As the primary breadwinner, Benjamin sends money back home every month to support his wife, two kids, and extended family. Sadly he can only afford to visit them once a year. Benjamin together with his fellow street artists and vendors, sell their handmade furniture and other goods at a busy intersection, just up the road from us.
He is one of many street artists who flock to the cities to make a living. They account for roughly 7% of our gross domestic product (GDP) in South Africa and generate approximately 22% of total employment.
From L- R – Julius, Rosie, Shepherd, Benjamin and Mathews
It’s not an easy life. The weather can cause havoc and they’re often harassed by police and other businesses in the area, who view them as unfair competition. And then there’s xenophobia, which rears its ugly head every few months.
Understanding is a two-way street
Storage is also a problem and in Benjamin’s case, both the raw materials and finished goods are left on the side of the road and simply covered with a tarp to try and protect them from theft and the weather.
But, with all that, he always has a smile on his face and takes tremendous pride in his work. I bought a wooden stool from him a few months back and loved it. Its a really solid, heavy piece. When I approached him to make me another one using lighter wood, it took about three weeks before it was ready. He wanted to make very sure he found the right piece of wood and that it had dried out properly. He also kindly offered to show me how he makes them so I could share the tutorial with you.
What you need to make a wooden stool
Not only does Benjamin make beautiful furniture, but he and his fellow traders and artists supplement their income by cutting down trees in the area. Which means there’s a large stockpile of raw material to work with.
To make a stool you’ll need a dried, thick, barkless wooden stump similar to this one.
Don’t you just love the knots and character in that stump? It would make an awesome tree stump planter. The stump needs time to dry out properly – usually a month or two, depending on the weather. You’ll also need:
- A drill
- Wood glue
- 2 x 2s or 2 x 4 for the legs
- Scrap bits of wood
Benjamin uses a chain saw and grinder to cut and smooth his wooden stumps for the stools, but a hand saw and a belt sander will work too.
How to make a wooden stool
Level and sand the wooden stump to the desired thickness. Cut the 2×2 or 2×4 into three equal lengths depending on how high you want your stool to be. Slice each leg at the top and bottom at 45-degree angles and glue and screw each one onto a square block of wood.
Flip the wooden stump over and place the legs on the bottom of the stool. The square blocks of wood should form a triangle where they meet, as shown in the piccy below.
According to Benjamin, that triangle helps ensure that the legs are correctly spaced and reduces the wobble factor. And he knows his stuff. Maybe I should tattoo a triangle under my flabby arms……mmmmmm 😀 Once you’re happy with the placement, glue and screw them in place. When screwing the legs onto the wooden stump you’ll need at least three screws in each block to make it stable.
I loved the glue bottle Benjamin used. So clever. He took an empty plastic soda bottle, filled it with glue and put a screw in the lid. Nothing gets wasted.
Flip the wooden stool over and check if it’s level.
If it’s a little wonky, and this one definitely wasn’t 😉 just take a little off the “longer” leg/s with a hand saw, making sure to keep that 45-degree angle. I asked Benjamin where he learned to make the tree stump stools.
I watched people doing it in Malawi. They didn't have legs so I added them. I learn from others all the time
A closer look at the finished wooden stool
Raw and untreated, I think the wooden stools are beautiful. I love seeing the natural wood grain. It always tells such an amazing story.
As time goes by a few more cracks may appear, but that just adds to the beauty. If you’re worried about huge cracks forming, this tutorial will show you how to prevent them or turn them into a decor worthy feature.
Even the rustic legs add charm and character.
The wooden stool is perfect as a side table or you can use it as a footstool.
But, I had other plans for this baby and gave her a totally unique, one of a kind, gorgeous llama makeover 😉
In the meantime, if you’d like to make your own, why not pin it for later.
Oh and if you’re looking for something similar, we’ve got you covered Disclosure: Clicking on the links below, means we may receive a commission from Amazon. But don’t worry it won’t come out of your pocket, and it helps us make more amazing crafts to share with you 😉
And if you do see street artists creating a masterpiece on the side of the road, why not take a few minutes and get to know them. They deserve our support far more than those mega stores who make billions every year.
Until next time, I hope you have a truly beautiful, love filled week. Keep smiling and never stop caring about others.
28 thoughts on “From Tree Stump to Wooden Stool – A Street Artist Tutorial”
Thanks for sharing this story! I wish they could organize and use internet to sell!
Wouldn’t that be amazing Jennifer? They so deserve to get more recognition for how they make the best of what they life throws at them, and they do it with a smile
Thanks for sharing at Talk of the Town! I rarely read every word of a tutorial, but I really love this project and it’s story!
Hoping things continue to go well for Benjamin. He’s very talented and I love the way he thinks outside the box!
Choosing this feature for next week’s party, and pinning!
What an honor Gail, thank you. I can’t wait to share your lovely comment with Benjamin. He’s going to be so happy
Benjamin sounds like an amazing person. I can’t imagine the struggles he has been through, and it’s terrible that he is only able to see his family once a year. The stool is beautiful, and I can’t believe that you can purchase stuff like this on the side of the road. Lovely!
He is amazing. It was such an honor getting to know him better and Rosie too ? We are very lucky to have so many talented people selling their creations on the side of the road here.
Oooh I love the stool, very simple but beautiful as it is, the cool word is rustic! 🙂 And how you style the stool has elevate it into high decor! Btw, so glad I’ve found you on Pinterest.
And right back at you Mel ? It’s amazing the beautiful people one meets blogging
Cool project and story. Thank you for sharing I pinned it!
Happy Spring, Kippi #kippiathome
Thank you Kippi and happy Spring to you too
Benjamin has to be a wonderful person, I can’t imagine how hard his life has to be but he’s willing to work hard and share with others how he makes things. That stool is unique, I love the cracks on it showing it was once full of life and now it will be still used and admired.
I love those cracks too. They tell such a beautiful story not only about the tree but also about how we as humans have an amazing ability to cope with the cracks in our own lives and make the most of them, just like Benjamin ?
What a beautiful stool and fascinating story. I would love checking out the street vendor and what they make. It’s so sad that he only gets to see his family once a year.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to only go home once a year, but sadly, it’s a reality for most of the street artists here in South Africa
This is such a lovely story, Michelle! He is a very talented man!! Just heartbreaking to read about his tough life. How amazing that he shared his amazing talent with you! I’m sure you will cherish this moment forever!
I most certainly will. It was a pleasure getting to know Benjamin and all his friends. Their stories are all sad yet encouraging at the same time
Aw, this is a beautiful post Michelle. It makes my heart sad though that he can only see his family once a year. His work is amazing, the stool looks gorgeous! We have a little outdoor shopping center next to where we live and there’s an amazingly talented man making all kinds of baskets on the sidewalk using nothing but seagrass. I’ve bought several and they are the best!
Wow, baskets from seagrass. That sounds fascinating. I would love to see how he does that and I can just imagine how lovely they must be. There’s just something about handmade things that’s so special. It’s like you can sense the love and hard work that went into making the piece ?
Thank you for the wonderful tutorial and for sharing Benjamin’s story! I’m a new reader and absolutely in love with your blog!
Thanks so much Bernadette and I’m super grateful you found us in the big blogging cosmos ?
O MY!! What an interesting post!!! And what an artist he is!! This is what i love about blogging….connecting with people in other countries and learning about things from their country that you would have never known!!! Simply amazing and inspiring!!! Loved this post!!
Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and comment as often as you do!! Glad you liked my embroidery even though it took over 30+ years to finish it!! LOL!!
? Benjamin and his friends are really talented and such amazing people too. I’m so glad he allowed me to share his story with the rest of the world and you’re so right Debbie. Getting to know other bloggers for real is one of the best things about blogging. Thanks so much for being there for us too.
P.S. That embroidery you did was stunning, it doesn’t matter how long it took
How clever and you’re terribly brave for getting to know the street artists. I’d be too scared but lots of things scare me
Hi there Carla, thank you so much for commenting and there’s nothing to be scared of when it comes to the artists. I think they really enjoy getting to know their clients and sharing their stories. Like all of us, they’re trying real hard to make a good, clean living using what little they have. But I do understand, and I hope if you’re ever in the area that you’ll look us up. I would love to give you a big hug and maybe convince you to join me in getting to know them ?
Thank you Michelle. This was such an informative post and we get to not only see how a beautiful piece of furniture is made but we also learn a little bit more about your life and culture. We also have street artists here in New York but not in the way you have there. It is truly sad that they should have to leave their homeland to make a living. But unfortunately, that is true of a large number of the population the world over. I was thinking of all those construction workers that are sent halfway around the world and treated like slaves. At least your artist gets to do something he loves.
I’m so happy you enjoyed the post Mary. There are so many incredible street artists here in South Africa who make the most amazing things with almost nothing. All I can do is admire them and try to share their stories. It is really sad that s many people are displaced because of politicians ego trips.
This wooden stool is perfect, Michelle! Thank you so much for the photo tutorial. Kisses, my friend.
It’s a pleasure Mia, and I was lucky enough that Benjamin was willing to share how he made them with us all.