Jim is a retired software/electrical engineer who enjoys the outdoors. He likes to challenge himself with creative projects at home.
I was in the middle of a canoe-building project when my wife reminded me that I told her I would build a couple of chairs for the deck. I put the canoe on hold and spent a couple of weeks building two chairs.
First, I built one chair to work out the bugs and to use as a guide for the next. And this guide will break down the process of how I did it and provide guidance on how you can too.
How to Build an Adirondack Chair
- Select a design.
- Select the materials.
- Draw a pattern.
- Cut the wood.
- Assemble the chair.
- Stain and seal it.
1. Selecting a Design
Many variations, designs, and plans can be found by searching online. Some of the designs are crude, and some are too elegant for my taste. Some of the plans can be purchased, while some are free but seem to lack critical information or dimensions. I went with this design and semi-complete plan drawing that I found in a Google image search. I winged it where dimensions were missing.
2. Selecting Materials
Most chairs are made from premium-grade cedar. I cut costs and used 5/4 x 6 cedar decking for the legs and arms of my chair and 1 x 4 standard grade pine for the chair slats and braces. For bolting the legs and arm components together, I used ¼-inch x 3-inch stainless carriage bolts with washers and nuts. For attaching the seat slats and back slats, I used 1¼-inch, #6 stainless square drive drywall screws.
3. Drawing the Pattern
I used brown craft paper to layout the chair plans. On the paper, I drew a 1-inch x 1-inch grid with an ink pen large enough to fit the braces, one arm, and one leg. I transferred the drawing to the grid using the dimensions provided. These French curves came in handy to draw the curved parts of the leg.
For the slats and vertical support members, I would not need a pattern. I cut the patterns out of the paper to transfer onto the cedar boards.
4. Cutting the Wood
I traced the patterns onto the wood and cut them with a band saw. For the angled surface of the braces, I tilted the table on my band saw.
When it came to cutting the vertical support members and the back slats, I found dimensions missing. The front vertical support I made 21½ inches high, the rear vertical support I made 31 inches high, and the back slats I made 36 inches long. I also tapered the back slats by making them ½ an inch narrower at the bottom.
I cut one edge of the 1 x 4 by freehand on the table saw for the taper, then the tops of the slats were trimmed as they were installed. I just guessed at the size and shape of the small arm support piece.
Once all the wood was cut, I rounded the edges with a 3/8 of an inch round-over bit on the router table.
5. Assembling the Chair
In assembling the chair, I found it helpful to use a large carpenter square to make sure the vertical supports were really true vertical. I also used this angle finder tool to set the angle of the legs to the vertical support.
Once the angles were set, I clamped the wood together and drilled holes for the carriage bolts connecting the legs and vertical supports. The legs were bolted onto the supports, then the back braces were attached, checking to make sure the chair stayed square while doing so.
Next, I attached all chair slats, leaving space for the back slats—then I attached the back slats. All the screw holes were pre-drilled for a clearance hole in the top wood. I found that I needed to take care when attaching the back slats to line up with the braces.
I wish I would have used 5/4” cedar instead of the ¾” pine for the braces. I also found that some of the angle dimensions on the edge of the seat slats seemed off. I ended up just eyeballing the angles.
Once the chair was assembled, I marked the top of the back slats to cut (with a curve or whatever I could imagine), then I took it all apart for final cutting, sanding, and staining. Make sure to mark the parts in an inconspicuous place for their proper placement when re-assembling the chair.
6. Staining and Sealing
On the first chair, I used one coat of Min-Wax cherry stain on only the slats. On the second chair, I used two coats. I next sealed all the wood with a 50/50 mixture of mineral spirits and Varathane exterior spar urethane.
Once that had dried, I used a few coats of Teak Oil, which was probably not necessary. I could have stuck with just more coats of the 50/50 mixture. Once it all dried after a few days, I re-assembled the chair to use as a guide for the next one.
Tips I Wish I Knew Before Building
Here are a few "better-ifs" I would use if I made these again:
- Use 5/4 cedar for the braces.
- Use a sander to flatten the front edge of the chair where the slats start to curve downward. It’s a little sharp.
- Add a small curved board along the top back of the back slats to impede warping.
- Maybe add a crosspiece between the front vertical supports.
- Build a footrest.
Other than those few notes though, the old chairs were ready to go!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.