How to Make an Adirondack Chair and Love Seat

Finally, outdoor furniture that's easy to get in and out of.

Overview, tools and materials

This chair and love seat combo is just perfect for outdoor lounging. The seat has a nice curved recess to conform to your body, and wide arms to hold your favorite snack and drink. And because the seat doesn't slope steeply downward like on a traditional Adirondack chair, even your grandfather will be able to help himself out without a boost.

You won't need an arsenal of power tools to build this furniture. In fact, you'll only need a circular saw, a drill and simple hand tools. I've designed this project for simplicity as well: With a bit of patience, even a novice can do a great job.

The wood is pressure-treated pine, chosen for its low cost, high strength and longevity. And don't worry about the drab green look of treated wood. You can brush on an exterior oil or latex stain and give it a beautiful warm glow that makes it look more like mahogany or teak than treated pine.

Select straight, knot-free, pressure-treated pine
Most outdoor wood furniture is made from cedar or expensive teak, but regular treated boards from your home center or lumberyard are perfect for this project. The trick is to select boards that are as straight and free of knots as you can find. A few tight knots are OK, and if you spot a board that looks great except for a huge loose knot, just cut it out and use the knot-free sections. It's a good idea to buy a couple of extra boards, just in case you end up cutting out more sections than you’d planned. Also avoid boards that are still wet from the treatment process (they'll feel cool and damp) because they might warp or crack as they dry.

Don't assume that the treated boards are dimensionally consistent. When I got my lumber home, the boards varied by as much as 3/16 in. in width. These variations can screw up the assembly process, especially for the back slats, which require spacers to get an exact back width. Once you get the boards home and begin to cut the pieces, use the rip guide on your circular saw (or borrow a neighbor's table saw) to trim them to the exact widths in the Cutting List.

Figure A: Chair and love seat assembly

Note: You can download Figure A and enlarge it in the additional Information below.

Figure A: Chair and love seat Chair and love seat assembly
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Step 1: Assemble the main frame

Cut the notches in the front legs to accept the front stringer as shown in Photo 1. As you chisel out the waste wood in the notch, shave the bottom carefully and fine-tune it with a rasp to keep the notch from getting too deep. As you assemble the basic frame (Photos 2 - 6), make sure your work surface is flat so each piece aligns with the adjoining pieces at the correct angle. Be sure to use a dab of construction adhesive in every joint and predrill a pilot and countersink hole for each screw. You can buy a bit at your local hardware store that drills a pilot and countersink in one operation for the No. 6 screws.

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Step 2: Assemble the back

To achieve the gentle taper of the back assembly, you'll need to taper the outer seat slat and cut it as shown in Photo 7. First, place a mark 1-1/2 in. from the edge on opposite ends as shown. Connect the marks with a line and then saw right down the middle of the line with your circular saw. Sand or plane the cut edge to smooth away any saw marks. Before you assemble the back of the chair or love seat, cut 1/4-in. thick spacers from scrap wood. The spacers (Photo 8) will ensure that the back assembly is the right width. Lay each slat on the floor and make sure the best-looking side of each board is facing down. As you screw the three back braces to the back slats, use a framing square to make sure they're perpendicular. You'll find it easier to get the proper alignment if you match the center point of each brace with the center line drawn down the middle back slat. Drill pilot holes and drive 1-1/4 in. deck screws through the braces into the slats as shown in Figure A and Photo 8.

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Step 3: Install the back

Once you've assembled the back, it's time to fasten it to the chair frame. Flip the frame assembly upside down and insert the back assembly into it (Photo 9). This can be a bit challenging, so make it easier by laying two nonskid rugs or mats on the floor under the chair frame and the top of the back assembly. These will help keep everything in place. As you align these assemblies, it's critical to get the back of the seat braces flush with the outer back slats (H3) and then screw through the rear legs into the bottom back brace (J) as shown in Photo 9 and Figure A. Next, glue and screw the horizontal arm supports (E) into the center back brace (K) and then into the side of the outer back slat as well.

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Step 4: Add the seat and arms and then apply a finish

With the completion of this phase, you'll start to see a chair emerging. Flip the chair onto its legs and cut and predrill the seat slats. Glue and screw them to the seat braces with 1-5/8 in. deck screws (Photo 10). Don’t overdrive the screws—the heads should be just flush with the seat slats. The last step of the assembly is to fasten the arms to the arm supports and the legs as shown in Photos 11 and 12. The notches you cut near the back of the arms hold the back assembly firmly in place and reduce the stress on the screws at other joints. These compound notches slice through the arm at an angle. Cut the depth carefully with a handsaw and then chisel out the notch.

Once the chair is assembled, ease all the edges with 100-grit sandpaper, paying particular attention to the seat and arms. If the wood feels damp or cold to the touch, you may need to let the chair dry in a shaded area for a few days before you sand or stain it.

We used an Olympic oil-based cedar natural tone stain that lets the grain show through. Several options are available, including custom semitransparent stains that a paint supplier can mix for you. A quart will easily do a pair of chairs or a chair and love seat. This finish will last at least several years and can be cleaned and recoated as it shows signs of wear.

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Step 5: Add a personal touch

You can build our step-back version of the chair and love seat or experiment with other shapes to suit your sense of style. Feel free to try the gable or round back shown below or draw a different shape on paper, tape it to the chair and step back to see how you like it.

Chair back design options

These three are the most common chair back styles, but you may see, and be inspired by, another!

Chair - stepped back Step back design
Chair - gable back Gable back design
Chair - round back Round back design
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