Introduction: Walnut Cafe Chair

My walnut Cafe Chair is a very comfortable all purpose chair and can be a great first attempt at chair making. It can be modified to suit your style and look. I have not shown direct measurements, because then you would be making "my chair" I want to give you the necessary steps to create "Your chair" The basic measurements that help can be found at the end in a diagram. The measurements that I do pay attention to are to make the seat approximately 17 1/4" from the floor, the seat should angle back roughly 4 degrees and the back should lean 12 degrees away from the seat toward the back. These three measurement are a good starting point to draw out a chair design. I like to draw out a full size profile picture before I build. Make a prototype from 2"x6" material if you are unsure about how it will turn out. It can be good practice before you use the "good wood". These pictures show an alternate front leg to the turned front leg in the video and instruction. Have fun playing with chair design. It is the most intimate of furnishings and can be personalized to suit you. Enjoy!

Step 1: Video of How I Make a Chair.

This video goes thru all the step listed below and I do some voice over. It is not directly a step by step on how to make it, but you should be able to do fairly well by going off of this video with the notes listed here. All the best and I hope your chair turns out nicely. I am always happy to see projects form other people. You can email them to me at I can also be found posting projects that I am working on thru Instagram and don't forget to follow me on Youtube

Have fun woodworking!!

Step 2: Breaking Down the Material

To make this chair I use 8/4 or 2" thick stock for the seat and 5/4 or 1 1/4" stock for the legs and headrest. The first step is to cut two chunks out for the seat. I like to use a board that is a little over 1/2 the width of the seat, then I can crosscut the board and fold it back on itself to get the full width of the seat. This helps with grain flowing together, but you can use as many boards as are necessary to achieve the width of seat needed. The seat is approximately 20" deep, a little bigger is fine as you will cut it to shape later on. Cut a third blank this same length for the headrest.

Step 3: Glue Up the Back Seat

Glue the two boards together that will make up the seat blank. I like to mark on them which way I would like the front to be.

Step 4: Resawing the Backrest

I resaw the third board I cut out of the 5/4 or 1 1/4" stock. I need at least 8" in width to get my backrest. I resaw it into 5 strips and sand them down to 1/8" per piece.

Step 5: Best Form Lamination Backrest

I glue the pieces together and put them in a lamination form. I have never bothered to figure out exactly what radius the form is, I just go off of what looks like it would be comfortable to rest back against.

Step 6: Cut Out the Front Legs

I use the 5/4 or 1 1/4" stock to cut out the back leg shape. When I make a pattern for a chair I try to use as many measurements as I can to make sure it will be comfortable. I will attach a picture at the end that shows some angles and measurements to help with this project.

Step 7: Jig Up for Joinery

When I can I like to make furniture like I intend to make 100 of them. For this chair I built a jig to place the back leg into and create a flat where it would meet the seat. This helps with getting the joinery the same on each chair. That way you don't have to deal with two different angles when you go to put the headrest one.

Step 8: Turn Stretchers

I turn the stretchers for the chair and put them in a lightbox kiln. This helps them to shrink down and lose moisture. When I turn them to exact size and install them in the chair they will swell back up and provide a nice tight fit.

Step 9: Layout for Joinery

On day two I take the seat out of the clamps and square it up on the table saw. It helps to at least mark a square in the middle if you can't do this to help in drawing out the joinery for the legs. Always try to start with square and plum before you do any joinery, it will save you headaches down the road. Clamp a backrest to your leg design and using a straightedge against the front of where the seat will meet them calculate your angles of where the back legs will join the seat. For the front legs I like to use a 5 degree taper toward the outer front. I set the legs in 2" front the front and sides. The back legs are set at a compound angle with a 5 degree taper inward toward the top and whatever degree is needed to have the backrest seat flush.

Step 10: Drill for the Front Legs

I use a stepped counterbore drill bit to create a shoulder for the leg to sit on. I turn this same shoulder on the legs. You can use a tapered hole made with a reamer and taper the legs. It is up to you. Try different methods and see what you like best. I have heard that chairmaking is one of the hardest to master in woodworking. I wish I had heard that 20 years ago before I started, I might have made a cabinet or two first. The best thing to do is not fear the angles and just go for it. It might not turn out great, but you can always try again. Don't go using the good wood until you have made a certain chair at least one other time. I drill the legs to match the same angkle as the back legs in this case it is 5 degrees outward.

Step 11: Mill a Dado in the Seat for Back Legs

For the back leg joinery I mill a dada into the seat blank. It is a variation on a cross lapped joint with a shoulder. What ever thickness of back leg you chose, this dado must be 1/2" less.

Step 12: Joinery for Back Legs

I like my back legs to lean at about 5 degrees inward and they are angled to match up with the headrest. What ever curve you decide to go with for the head rest, glue one up first. Then take it out of the mold and clamp it to the back legs where it will be positioned. Use a straight edge across the front of the back legs where they will meet the seat and you can find the angles needed for this dado. I made an "H" shaped jig to help me produce the shoulder that goes in the dado. You can adjust the height of the bit easily by sliding the "H" left or right to match up with your line that is needed. It follows the dado that will be made into the back leg. A shoulder is made on both side of the dado.

Step 13: Joinery for Back Legs Part 2

I cut a dado into the back leg where the seat will be. I use calipers to measure the dado in the back leg, usually about 7/8" wide and then I transfer this measurement to the middle of the back leg. I like to produce one shoulder first and register off of that to find my thickness needed. Then I rout using the "H" shaped jig with a 1" rabbeting router bit with a 1/2" bearing. The back leg then gets a 1/2" roundover on the front to slide into the shoulder cut.

Step 14: Cut Out Backrest

I trace out the shape wanted for the backrest and then cut it out on the bandsaw.

Step 15: Sculpt and Shape Seat Blank

I drill two holes about where your sitz bones would rest on the chair 1" deep. Then I use a grinder or adze and scorp to sculpt the chair. I use a card scraper to clean up the seat blank which saves hours of sanding. I produce a card scraper for chairmaking that can be purchased in my website store.

I then use spokeshaves, a router or drawknife to finish sculpting the seat after it has been cut to shape.

Step 16: Turn Front Legs and Glue Up Chair

I turn the front legs on the lathe with the shoulder from the stepped drill bit or you can make them tapered and use a reamer to flare the seat holes that accept the legs. I then glue up the chair and use two screws to attach the backrest. Some planing may be necessary to seat the backrest flush to the back legs. The screws are covered with matching wood plugs. The only clamps I use on these chairs are to help pull the back legs into place.

Step 17: Clean Up Joints and Sculpt Parts Together

I use rasps and files to blend the parts together. I use my card scraper to smooth out the chair in preparation for finish. It takes a few hours at least to clean up a chair before finishing, so take your time. A hurried job here will show.

Step 18: Apply Finish

I use a wipe on polyurethane to finish the chairs. I use about 4 coats of the polyurethane and then a final coat of beeswax/boiled linseed oil mix. I attach floor protectors to the bottom of the legs and the chair is complete.

Step 19: Chair Diagram.

This diagram can be very useful in designing your chair. Best of luck and have fun woodworking!

Woodworking Contest 2017

Second Prize in the
Woodworking Contest 2017