Learn how to build a classic wooden Adirondack chair. With clear, detailed photos and drawings you'll learn how to cut the graceful curves that make this chair so comfortable to sit in.
Plop down in one of these solid wood chairs and you'll appreciate the comfort of this traditional design. You don't have to be an expert to build it either. All the parts of this solid, great-looking Adirondack chair can be cut with a circular saw and jigsaw, then assembled with a drill, a few clamps and glue. Even if you're a novice, you'll be able to follow our plan drawing and clear step-by-step photos. We've also included a Shopping List and Cutting List (see Additional Information, below) so you can spend less time head-scratching and more time building.
We made our chair from yellow poplar. Poplar is lightweight, strong, inexpensive and easy to work with, plus it takes paint beautifully. If you have trouble finding it, almost any other wood will do: Alder, aspen, maple and white oak are excellent hardwood choices, and cedar, cypress, fir and pine are good softwood choices. Keep in mind that hardwood will be more durable, but softwood is certainly strong enough for this project. However, if the chair will be outdoors most of the time, coat it with a paintable wood preservative before painting.
Traditional Adirondack chairs are painted, but you can choose a clear outdoor deck finish if you prefer.
Tip: When you're building more than one chair, set up an assembly line and cut the building time per chair by 40 percent.
Draw full-size grids onto the arm and back leg pieces and follow the curves with a jigsaw.
Enlarge the grids directly onto the
board, or make a full-size paper
pattern and then transfer the
shape to the board.
Once the shape is drawn, follow the lines with a jigsaw (Photo 1). Write “pattern” on the first leg and arm pieces and use them to make the others. If you're making more than one chair, now's the time to trace all the arm and leg pieces for each chair. Note: The left arms and legs are mirror images of the right. Also, trim the small cutout piece of each arm (C) to make the arm support (K) for each side.
The two tapered back pieces are
tricky to cut, and the safest way to
do it is to cut them from a wider
board. Draw the tapers shown in
Fig. A onto a 1x6 cut to length. Nail
each end of the board to the tops of
a sawhorse, placing the nails where
they'll be out of the saw's path. Use
a No. 4 finish nail on each end and
hammer it in flush with the surface.
Set the depth of your circular saw
1/8 in. deeper than the thickness of
the board, and cut the taper from
the wide end to the narrow end.
Next, draw a straight line on the
remaining part to define the second
piece and cut it. Note: Before you
begin assembly, sand all the pieces
and ease the edges with 100-grit
Slip 1/4-in. spacers between the back slats as you screw the horizontal back supports (G, L and N) to the slats. Predrill and countersink each hole and apply weatherproof glue to each joint.
Make a compass from a scrap of wood by drilling a hole near each end. Put a nail in one end and use a pencil in the other hole to draw the 14-in. radius to form the curved top.
Lay the back pieces face down on your workbench (Photo 2). Line up the bottoms and insert 1/4-in. spacers between the slats. Cut your 1/4-in. spacers from scrap boards or scrap 1/4-in. plywood. Screw each of the horizontal back supports G, L and N to the slats with 1-1/4 in. exterior deck screws. Predrill and countersink each screw hole.
You'll need to cut a bevel on the topside of the center horizontal back support (L). A table saw works best, but you could use the same circular saw method you used earlier to cut the tapered side back slats (H). Just set the bevel on your circular saw to 33 degrees, nail the 1x6 board to the sawhorses, mark the width and make the cut.
Check the back slats and horizontal supports with a framing square to make sure they're positioned 90 degrees to each other as you glue and screw the assembly (Photo 2).
Once the back is fastened, turn the back assembly over, mark the top radius and trim it with a jigsaw (Photo 3).
Cut and notch the front legs (E) with a jigsaw. Then glue and screw the front seat support into the notches.
Clamp the back legs (B) to the front assembly to accurately position them. Work on a flat workbench surface so the chair won't wobble. Apply glue, drill pilot holes and drive 1-1/4 in. deck screws.
Glue and screw on the arm supports (K). Then glue and screw the arms to the front legs and arm supports. Use clamps to position the arms so they overhang the insides of the front legs by 1/4 in.
Glue, clamp and screw the lower back leg support (M) to the back legs first. Then glue and clamp the back assembly, first to the back legs, then to the arm supports. Drill pilot and countersink holes for the screws.
Predrill all the pilot and countersink holes in the seat slats before you position them. Screw the seat slats (J) to the back legs with 1-1/4 in. deck screws (use 1-5/8 in. screws in softwood), spacing them 1/4 in. apart.
Using your jigsaw, cut the notches on parts E as shown in Fig. A. Glue and screw the front seat support (D) to the front legs (Photo 4). Next set the front assembly vertically on your workbench and glue and screw the back legs B to the front legs (Photo 5). Again, drill pilot and countersink holes for each screw. Next glue and screw the arm supports to the outer sides of the front legs (E).
Position the arms on the tops of
the front legs and the arm supports
(K). Make sure the arms hang
3 in. over the front leg and 1/4 in.
over the inside edge of each leg.
Before you fasten the arms, make
parallel (Photo 6).
Screw the back leg support (M) to each leg (see Fig. A) and then set the back assembly into the frame and clamp it in place (Photo 7). Make sure the back of each arm projects 3/4 in. past the center back support (L). Glue and predrill each joint, screw the assembly together and then remove the clamps.
To finish the assembly, predrill and countersink holes in the ends of the seat slats. Position them approximately 1/4 in. apart and screw them to the back legs as shown. You may need a hand screwdriver in tight places.
We used an exterior, oil-based primer and an enamel topcoat, but you could use water-based products instead.
Painting tools You'll need three paint brushes: a 2-in. wide, natural-bristle sash brush; a 1-in. wide sash brush; and a 1/2-in. wide hobby paint brush.
You'll also need one 3-in. wide paint roller, two disposable roller heads and one disposable paint tray.
Applying the primer Start with the chair upside down on your workbench. Use the 1-in. wide paint brush for the edges of the seat slats, making long brush strokes to spread the primer. Do the remainder of these edges from the topside later. Now use the roller to apply the primer to the flat surfaces. Use the 2-in. wide brush to “feather out” the rolled-on paint.
Continue priming the back of the seat back, then the front, and finally the top of the arms and the seat. When the chair is upright, use the small hobby brush to apply the primer to the large, flat surfaces way down in between the slats. Let the primer dry overnight.
Applying the topcoat
Use a paint scraper to remove any runs, then lightly sand the dry primer with
120-grit sandpaper. Apply the topcoat in a shaded area, using the same
sequence as you did with the primer.
Note: The paint gets sticky fast. Pour only small amounts of paint into the paint tray.
Let the paint dry for at least three days before using the chair.