Nothing says summertime like a wooden Adirondack chair!
These classic outdoor chairs are comfy and perfect for resting in after a long day, or for getting up early and watching the sun rise while sipping your favorite hot beverage.
There are about a million variations on the Adirondack chair, and an equal number of plans around on the internet. Rather than look too closely into other peoples' plans, I decided come up with my own design with its own special twist.
I wanted to see if I could make a classic-looking Adirondack chair out of a single 10-foot, 2 by 8 redwood board with as little waste as possible.
After a little head scratching, I came up with a plan and made a prototype. The first attempt was decent, but it had a few kinks which I worked out in the second attempt, which is what I'm showing here.
If you want to make one like this, I've tried to provide every bit of detail you need make that happen. If you have any questions, please ask. Thanks for taking a look!
Step 1: Materials, Tools, Safety
I wouldn't go so far as to call this an "easy" project, but it is quite do-able if you have access to some basic woodworking tools.
For this project, you need to start off with a decent board. Look for a flat redwood board with consistent grain and very few knots (if any). I got my boards in the decking section of a large orange-themed home improvement store.
You can use any kind of wood of course, but redwood is advantageous for outdoor projects because it is naturally bug- and rot-resistant, much like cedar. Depending on where you live though, you may need to adapt this design and pattern to work with whatever materials are available to you.
You will need waterproof outdoor glue as well as exterior grade screws. I used 1 5/8" deck screws I had left over from building a fence, and they worked perfectly.
At minimum, you will need access to a band saw with at least 8" vertical capacity, a table saw, drill and driver.
If you even remotely dabble in woodworking, I highly recommend tapered countersinking drill bits. When assembling anything out of wood, these bits perform three functions at once: drill a pilot hole into the first board (where the screw should slip easily through without biting into the wood), countersink the first board for the head of the screw, and then drill a smaller hole into the second board (where the screw should bite into the wood and suck the two boards together like a clamp). They are completely adjustable and incredibly useful. I put them right up there with my band saw as favorite tools in my shop.
Regarding safety, you obviously know how the internet works by now, because well... here you are. Google things you want to learn about. Read up, watch videos. If you are using power tools, especially tools like band saws and table saws and are just ignorantly "winging it," you are going to lose digits and limbs. Plus you're going to make a real mess of your shop.
I've seen dried blood/bone/flesh muck intentionally left on walls of a cabinet shop as a reminder to pay attention and take proper safety precautions. I'll tell you, it was a disturbing yet effective approach to encouraging shop safety!
"What? Oh, that crud on the wall? Yeah, that's Ted's right hand."
So, be safe my internet friends.
Step 2: Here's What We're After
Here are all of the finished pieces we are going to squeeze out of this 10-foot 2x8 board.
While the linear dimension is indeed 10 feet (120 inches) the actual thickness and width of a "2x8" are 1 1/2" and 7 1/4".
I began by making the cuts shown in the diagram using a cross-cut sled on my table saw. I recommend cutting the three 20-inch sections first, followed by the 33-inch section. It's crucial that these four initial pieces are cut precisely. The remaining piece will be approximately 27 inches, and will be fine if it ends up being a little less (it doesn't need to be as precise as the other pieces, which is why it is cut last).
To avoid any confusion, I should point out that the order of pieces in the photos is slightly different than the order shown in the diagram. (The 27- and 33-inch pieces are reversed in the photos.)
Step 3: Seat Bottom and Seat Back Slats
Begin with one of the 20-inch sections, and the 27-inch section. The 20-incher will become 10 of 14 seat bottom slats, and the 27-incher will become all 10 of the seat back slats.
Using a thin-kerf blade on my table saw, I began by ripping a blade-thickness cut off of one edge of each board. This gives a nice flat surface to put against the fence for the first cut, and allows all cut pieces to be square all around and not show the round, milled edges typical on this type of lumber. (I actually did this for every board throughout the project. All outside rounded edges were removed and squared up.)
I set my fence to 5/8" and ripped each of these boards into 10 pieces. The 10th piece of each board had to be flipped over and trimmed to match the remaining nine.
Step 4: Front Legs and Cross Braces
From the second 20-inch board, rip two pieces 2 1/4" wide. These will become the chair's front (vertical) legs.
The remaining piece of this board is ripped into two halves, approximately 1 1/8" each. These will become cross braces, which are covered in the next step.
The front leg pieces have a section removed as detailed in photos 2 - 4. This angled notch area allows the legs to support the weight of the chair on actual wood (rather than just hanging on screws), and makes accurately attaching the front legs to the slanted seat-leg pieces much easier.
Make sure you create two mirror-image cut-outs on these pieces. They need to be opposite angles as shown in the last photo.
With this plan there is very little room for major errors if you want to complete the chair using a single board. (On my prototype, I had to glue a couple of pieces back together and re-cut them correctly!)
Step 5: Cross Braces, Continued
Take one of the 1 1/8" pieces from the last step and rip a 17 degree angle along the length of one of the narrower sides (in the position shown in photo 1, this piece should be 1 1/2" wide and 1 1/8" tall).
Notch the ends of this piece as indicated in the photos to a depth of 3/4".
Square the edges of the remaining piece if needed, and it is ready to use as is. These are your upper and lower cross braces.
Step 6: Armrests and Additional Seat Bottom Slats
Using a band saw, rip the remaining 20-inch board in half edge-to-edge, vertically.
Work slowly and use a scrap piece of wood to push it through the blade and finish the cut. If you push a board like this through a band saw with your fingers, just make sure you've done everything you ever wanted to do with them first. (They generally do not grow back.)
Now, optionally you may want to first run a face and an edge of the board through a jointer if you have access to one, so you have a flat, square edge to put down on the band saw table face. I don't have a jointer, so I just drew a line down the middle of one edge and ran it through the band saw. It wasn't perfect, but good enough.
Cut one of the halves into armrests and support braces as shown. Round corners if desired using band saw.
The second half of the board is ripped into 1 1/2" strips to be used as the remaining seat bottom slats. These were carefully trimmed on the table saw to be precisely 5/8" thick, to match the 10 seat bottom slats cut earlier.
You may notice that the grain orientation of these slats doesn't match that of the other 10. If you look back at the main photos again you'll easily pick out these additional slats on the seat bottom, as they don't show any of the red heartwood that ran through the top half of the board I used.
After ripping the board in half for this step, I had to choose which half to use as the armrests: colorful heartwood, or plain white grain? I went with the colorful half, as the armrests are a prominent feature on the chair. The seat slats all kind of blend together, and disappear into the overall look of the chair.
I think half the fun with using distinct wood like this is orienting the grain patterns and colors to be balanced and pleasing to the eye.
Step 7: Slanted Seat-legs
The rear legs, side rails, or "seat-legs" as I'm going to call them, are made from the 33-inch board.
Rip this board in half and trim off the outer edges of each board to create two 3 1/2" wide boards.
On the front upper corner of each piece, trim flat faces as shown in photo 2. This will be the front rounded edge of the seat.
On the back lower corner of each piece trim an angle as indicated in photo 3.
The un-notched lower cross brace from steps 4 and 5 will be fastened into a cut-out in each of these seat-legs. Measure and make a mark 12 inches up from the back edge of each board. Trace the end of the cross brace at this mark, with the narrower side facing back and wider side facing down.
Cut out the marked area to fit the cross brace.
I used a cross-cut sled on my table saw to nibble this area away, pass by pass. This may not be the quickest way to do it, but this method left me with a very precise, square cut-out. Alternately, you could use a band saw, or even a hand saw and a chisel to cut out this area.
Step 8: Assemble Leg Structure
From this point on, I'm going to say the phrase "glue and screw" a lot.
What that means is, spread a thin layer of glue on all mating surfaces, push them together firmly and position with clamps if needed, pre-drill and countersink holes, drive screws into place, and wipe up excess glue with a wet rag.
Assemble each front leg/seat-leg section as shown in photo 1. The front leg is placed with its front face precisely seven inches back from the front edge of the slanted seat-leg board. Glue and screw the front legs in place.
It will help if you put a long, straight board along the bottom edge of these pieces to simulate the ground, and use a framing square against it to insure that the front leg is fastened perpendicularly to the "ground." (A framing square is not necessary; you could just eyeball it. But a "ground" board will make it much easier to get it right either way.)
The measurements given for cutting out the notched area on these front legs should get you pretty darn close, but you may still have to tweak it a little to get it just right before you fasten the screws. Use clamps if needed to hold the front legs in place while you pre-drill the holes for the screws.
Glue and screw the un-notched, lower cross brace into the cut-outs in the seat-legs.
Pick one of the seat bottom slats, and glue and screw it to the bottom front edge of the seat.
Step 9: Add Armrest Braces
The small wedge-shaped armrest braces are added to the top, outside faces of the front legs with glue and screws. They can be centered on the face or flush with the front edge; either way would look nice in my opinion.
Just make sure the top is flush with the top of the leg piece, and not angled away (flip it around if it is).
Step 10: Add Two Seat Back Slats
The next two steps of assembly need to be done together.
The best way I found to put together the armrests/upper cross brace/seat back slats, was to start by adding two seat back slats as shown here.
However, before you do, you will want to lay out the seat back slats and arrange them into a pattern that you think looks good. Then take the two outer slats and attach them as shown with glue and screws, making sure the bottom edges are flush with the bottom edge of the cross brace, and the sides are flush with the sides of the seat-legs.
These two slats should angle out just a bit as they go up. Before the glue sets on these slats, be sure to complete the following step.
Step 11: Add Upper Cross Brace and Armrests
Use clamps to temporarily hold the upper cross brace to the slats added in the last step. Just eyeball its placement at this point to be close to level with the tops of the front legs.
The notches face up with angles pointing outward toward the front legs, and the beveled side should be against the slats. Place the armrests atop the front legs and onto the notches in the brace. Adjust brace up or down as needed until the armrests are level, and the inside the edges of notches are flush with outside edges of the slats. Mark position of brace onto back of slats with a pencil.
Remove clamps and brace, and reassemble with glue and screws driven through the front face of the slats. The slats and brace may still pivot slightly side to side. Adjust this structure into an even, upright position, and let the glue cure to lock all the pieces in position.
The armrests can now be added with glue and screws. See photo notes for details and positioning.
Step 12: Add Seat Back Slats
The remaining seat back slats can now be added.
I have a box of laminate samples I use for shimming things, and occasionally for figuring out spacing on projects like this. The method explained in the photo 3 note works great to help get the spacing as accurate and precise as possible. You could also just use some scrap wood bits to help with spacing, or just eyeball it.
Place each slat with glue onto both braces, but only screw them to the bottom brace first. Once all slats are screwed to bottom brace, adjust them until the spacing along the top looks even and then add screws through the slats into the upper brace to lock them in place.
Step 13: Add Bottom Seat Slats
Lay out the bottom slats and arrange to your liking.
Glue and screw these in place, working from front to back, shimming and spacing as you go. The two slats on the curved front edge of the seat should fit tightly together along their bottom edges.
I fit 13 of my 14 seat slats along the seat-legs. I was going to add the 14th just behind the seat back slats for looks, but decided to leave it off.
Step 14: Finishing
I finished assembling these chairs and set them outside with no intention of finishing them with any sealant or waterproofer. I figured I'd just let them weather naturally and turn silvery-grey over time.
But after a couple of days out in the hot sun, the contrasting colors between the red heartwood and the whitish sapwood started getting darker and began to really pop.
I liked the coloring so much I decided to lock it in. I brushed on a single coat of clear Waterseal from Thompson's. Ultimately, I think sealing them was a much better decision but I did like the natural look quite a bit.
This was a fun, useful project. If you decide to use these plans to make a couple of Adirondack chairs for yourself, be sure to post a photo in the comments.
Thanks again for taking a look!