Thanks to crafty joinery and contemporary styling, a backyard beauty gets a well earned makeover. It’s a weekend project, but this heirloom-quality Adirondack chair is worth the time investment.
By Ted Kilcommons
Table saw with sliding mitre gauge
Sandpaper (120-, 150-, 180-, and 220-grit)
Drill press or drillguide attachment
Two 3 m planks of 50 x 250 timber
One 900 mm length of 20 mm dowel stock
22 x 50 mm No. 8 stainless-steel wood screws
Four 25 mm No. 8 stainless-steel wood screws
Scrap plywood for templates
Exterior-grade PVA wood glue
|Part||Qty.||Size and description|
|(A) Back slats||8||40 mm x 900 mm|
|(B) Seat slats||7||40 mm x 400 mm|
|(C) rear-leg blanks||2||230 mm x 750 mm|
|(D) Seat cross support||1||40 mm x 487,5 mm|
|(E) Back cross support||1||40 mm x 562,5 mm|
|(F) Rear support||1||62,5 mm x 712,5 mm|
|(G) Front legs||2||75 mm x 600 mm|
|(H) Arm blanks||2||112,5 mm x 600 mm|
For more than a century, the Adirondack chair has been synonymous with casual but elegant outdoor lounging. I’ve updated this American classic with a modern slat design that recalls George Nelson’s 1940s platform bench, but retains the original’s low-slung comfort. I also left ample room on the armrests for beverages and snacks.
The most efficient way to build this chair is to mill all the parts first before completing the joinery and then to assemble the piece. This avoids having to switch back and forth between your table saw’s ripping blade and the stacked dado set, which you’ll use to cut the half-lap joints. Don’t have a dado set?
Don’t worry – you can complete the joinery without one. Use a handsaw, mitre saw or table saw to make the shoulder and relief cuts at the correct depth, then remove the waste with a sharp, flat chisel.
1. Adirondack millwork
Before you start
I used 50 x 250 planks of vertical-grain western red cedar for this chair, as it’s naturally weather-resistant. Any timber will do, but apply a preservative to woods that don’t fare well outdoors, such as pine and Douglas fir. Avoid wasting material by first working out how you’ll cut up the timber (see next page). Then crosscut the planks into more manageable pieces.
Back and seat slats
Crosscut two pieces 925 mm long and one piece 425 mm long, and rip them into 40 mm strips. Using a mitre saw, cut blanks for eight back slats and seven seat slats that measure 20 mm longer than their finished lengths. Each piece should have a freshly cut square end. To bevel the other end on the table saw, tilt the blade 20 degrees and attach a stopblock to the mitre gauge at 900 mm for the back slats and 400 mm for the seat slats .
Crosscut two 750-mm pieces. Ensure both legs are exactly the same by making a plywood template according to the plan on the next page. Lay out each leg so the long side is against the edge of the blank . Cut out with a jigsaw or circular saw. If needed, clamp a straightedge to the workpiece to guide the saw .
Crosscut a 750-mm piece. Make the rear support by tilting the tablesaw blade to 27 degrees and ripping a piece 62,5 mm wide . Trim this to 712,5 mm long. From the remainder of the 750-mm piece, rip two 40-mm strips. Trim one to 562,5 mm for the back cross support and the other to 487,5 mm for the seat cross support.
Crosscut a 625-mm piece. Rip it into two 75-mm pieces and trim both to 600 mm long.
Crosscut a 625-mm piece. Rip it into two 112,5-mm pieces and trim both to 575 mm to create blanks. Just as you did for the rear legs, make a plywood template and transfer the shape to the blanks. Cut out with a jigsaw, using a straightedge as a guide.
Sand all the parts, starting with 120-grit paper and working towards 220-grit. A palm sander will save time; if you don’t have one, use a sanding block to make sure your work is even.
2. Adirondack joinery
Cut half-lap joints for arms and rear support
Tilt the table-saw blade 20 degrees and, using the sliding mitre gauge, make a cut in the underside of each arm 62,5 mm from the end and 20 mm deep. Reset the saw to 0 degrees and install the dado set. Set it to a height of 30 mm, and complete the half-lap joint by removing the waste . Cut a corresponding joint 75 mm wide and 20 mm deep in each end of the rear support.
Cut half-lap joints for slats
Using the sliding mitre gauge and the dado set, positioned to a height of 20 mm, cut 40 mm-wide half-lap joints in the square ends of the slats . These joints will house the cross supports.
Drill holes in slats
The back and seat are held together with a dowel that passes through a hole in each slat. Using an awl, mark the hole’s location on the side of each piece so that it’s centred along the width and positioned 20 mm from the bevelled end. Bore a 40 mm hole in each slat with a drill press or a drill with a guide attachment.
Cut half-lap joints for cross supports
You can mark the locations of these half-lap joints one of two ways: use a tape measure and mark every 40 mm to establish each side of the joint, or dry- assemble the seat and back and then hold the cross supports in position. Either way, mark an X on the waste areas to avoid confusion when cutting them out. Cut the joints 20 mm deep and 40 mm wide with the dado set .
Expert tip: Avoid messy finishes with dry runs
PVA wood glue sets fast – often in less than 20 minutes – so prepare yourself for any challenges by first performing a dry run. Work through all the steps as if you were assembling the piece, but without the glue. Note which clamps and fasteners you used and whether you need to trim any joinery, and resolve any problems you encountered.
Glue arms to rear support
Spread a thin layer of glue on each joint, and clamp. Drill two evenly spaced holes through the joint with a 9-mm countersink bit, and fasten with 25-mm screws. Plug the holes with 9-mm dowel glued into place and trimmed flush .
Glue seat and back
Organise back and seat slats, and spread glue everywhere they meet and in each hole. Slide a 600-mm dowel through each hole to tie the slats together . If you encounter some resistance, tap the dowel into place with a mallet.
Rip a 20-degree bevel into a 600-mm piece of scrap, and apply masking tape to the angled side. Clamp this to your workbench and use it to set the seat and back assembly at the correct angle. Glue and clamp each cross support to the slat assembly using cauls made from scrap timber to ensure that each joint is tight. Let the assembly cure for a couple of hours .
Hold each rear leg in place and countersink two evenly spaced holes through the seat slat and into the top of the leg. Spread glue on the joint and fasten with 50-mm screws. Make a reference mark on each front leg 425 mm from the bottom. This is where the leg aligns with the top of the seat. Glue and clamp each leg flush with the front edge of its corresponding back leg. Countersink two evenly spaced holes through the back leg and into the front leg. Drill another hole through the front leg and into the seat assembly. Fasten with 50-mm screws.
Attach rear support
Set the chair upright, and position the back support-arm assembly so it wraps around the back and sits level on the front legs. Attach it to the front legs by countersinking two evenly spaced holes and driving 50-mm screws down into the leg. To attach the rear support to the seat back, drill through the support and into each slat and fasten with 50-mm screws. Plug holes with dowel stock and trim flush .