Sleek Simple Chair




About: I am an artist and maker living in Illinois. I make sculpture based on self-recorded personal data using digital and traditional fabrication techniques.

I was teaching a beginning furniture class and wanted to make a project that would walk students through many of the techniques they would need to create their own designs. I came up with this chair, it is simple enough to finish and gave the student a sense of accomplishment for having finished a real, functional piece of furniture relatively quickly. This project is for people with a small amount of experience using woodshop equipment, but aims to be as simple as possible. Woodworking purists may balk at the shortcuts, but the intent was to create a nice looking chair simply out of inexpensive materials. In this example the chair can be made from dimensional lumber available at big box stores.


1 Piece 1inx6in x 8ft poplar wood

2 Pieces 1inx6in x 6ft poplar wood

Tools needed:

1/2in straight chisel

Dovetail or back saw


Tablesaw, Bandsaw, Drill press (I used stationary tools, but you could probably adapt to use hand power tools)

Step 1: Measured Drawings

I took measurements off of several dining chairs to get the dimensions and angles and then worked up a design that took a minimum amount of wood.

Step 2: Laminate Wood for Thicker Parts (Legs)

The design utilizes wood available at big home centers, they usually don't stock material thicker than nominal 1in (actual 3/4in). Therefore you must laminate up some thicker pieces for the legs. The legs are 1.5in thick so require two 1x6 pieces to be laminated together. Alternatively, if you have access to more lumber options, you can buy solid wood already dimensioned to 1.5in thickness.

To create all the pieces for the legs you will need to laminate together two 1x6 8ft boards. (The pictures show a glue up with some shorter boards but the concept is the same.

Use wood glue and spread the glue out evenly on both surfaces to be glued together.

Clamp with as many clamps as possible to ensure there are no gaps.

While gluing, make sure your pieces don't slide out f alignment. (I have recently heard that you can sprinkle salt on your pieces so the won't slide around, but I haven't tested that method yet).

I like to keep an eye on the lamination job and scrape away the glue once it gels up a bit with an old chisel. I find that the cleanest stage.

Step 3: Layout the Legs

Using the measured drawings, layout the legs on 1.5in lumber.

Take your time and layout carefully. Minor variations can be made to the design as long as some essential dimensions are kept the same on the legs (distance from floor to to the flat where the mortise will be cut).

Lay out your pieces as the drawing shows so you can fit them all in and take advantage of the original edge where possible.

Step 4: Cut the Legs

Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of this step, but it is pretty simple. Use a bandsaw or jigsaw to cut the legs. In my example I was very careful and made a very straight cut close to my line. I was able to sand the piece to clean it up. If you have access to a joiner you can cut the line a little bigger and true it up on the joiner. The most important part is maintaining a good flat surface in the middle of the back leg where the mortise will be cut later.

Step 5: Layout the Mortises on the Legs

Using the measured drawings layout for the mortises. All mortises are .5in wide, .5in deep and most are 1.5in long. I find it useful to draw in the center line as well as the outline of the mortise.

It can be helpful to extend the layout lines a bit so the remain visible while cutting the mortise.

Step 6: Drill the Mortises

Use a .5in forstner bit to rough out the mortises. This is best done on a drill press so you can set up a back stop so all the drill holes are in precise alignment. The closer you can be to perfect on this step the less work you will have to do later. Also set the depth to drill a bit over .5in deep. Use a forstner bit so you can overlap the holes to clear out the most amount of wood. Forstner bits will also give you the cleanest edge.

You could skip this step and cut the entire mortise with a chisel (see next step), but I find this to be a clean and quick way to make a mortise.

Step 7: Clean Up the Mortises With a Chisel

Use a straight chisel to clean up the mortises. If you have been precise with your drilling this step should be a snap.

Carefully set the chisel blade on your mortise line and make sure your chisel is perpendicular to the wood surface.

With a sharp chisel you will be able to use your weight and pare away the scalloped edge left from the drill.

As with any chiselling operation, clamp your wood to the table or use a vise and work away from your body.

As you can see in the picture I left the mortises with round ends. Some may find it easier to round over the tenons than square up the mortises. Squared or rounded mortise/tenons work equally well if they are executed accurately.

Step 8: Tip: Save Scraps

Drilling the mortise on the front of the back legs can be tricky.

Save scraps from rough cutting to prop up awkward pieces.

Step 9: Rough Cut .75in Material

Use the dimension drawings to cut the .75in material to size. This material will make up the rails, back and seat for the chair.

Step 10: Tenons: Straight

There are several differences in the tenons on this chair. The simplest of which are the straight tenons that are on the from and back rails that support the seat of the chair. There are several ways to cut these, depending on the tools you have available

Cut the rails to length allowing for the length of the tenons (.5in each).

For the long sides, the saw depth of cut should be set to a hair less than 1/8in. You want to have the finished tenon a little thicker than .5in after the saw cut so it can be tuned up for a tight fit.

For the short sides of the tenon, the depth of cut is .5in.

A "Shoulder" cut sets the length of a tenon.

A "Cheek" cut sets the thickness of a tenon.

Table saw / Band saw

Use the table saw and sled/miter slide to cut the shoulder of the tenon. Make several cuts to clear away the rest of the wood on the tenon. It is possible to use the band saw to rough cut the shoulder and cheek cuts on the short side.


All the steps above are possible (and sometimes preferable) to be done with hand tools. When using hand tools it is essential to carefully layout the tenon on all sides of the wood.

Use a square and an x-acto knife to scribe the shoulder line of the tenon. This will break the grain and give you a very clean edge.

With the wood clamped upright in a vise, carefully saw the cheek cuts. These are the more difficult cuts so it is best to do them first. As with the steps above cut slightly outside your lines to yield a rough cut tenon slightly larger than the .5in mortise.

With the cheek cuts made, saw the shoulder cuts.

Clean Up

With the chisel gently pare away material until your tenons fit your mortises.

Step 11: Tenons: Angled

Tenons on the side rails are not square to the lumber and must be laid out and cut by hand.

Carefully lay out the tenon on all sides of the material.

Angle = 4.5 degrees

The shoulder of the tenon is angled 4.5 degrees to the lumber

The tenon is square to the shoulder, but angled to the rail.

When finished, the tenons are parallel to each other (see image).

1.Use a chisel (or sharp blade) to set in the edge of the tenon on all four sides. This breaks the grain and leaves a cleaner edge than sawing.

2.Use a dovetail or back saw to cut the tenon

3.Clean up tenon faces with chisel

Step 12: Bending the Back Part 1

In this simple chair we have a curved back piece.

The final dimension needs to be at least 5/8in thick.

Cut pieces to be curve laminated oversize to allow for the curve, shifting during gluing, and for ease of clean up

Layout rip cuts. These should be 1/4in. Maximum.

The thinner the ply the easier it will be to bend

For a 3/4in. Thick board rip into 3 or 4 pieces.

In this example I am not using a planer to smooth the board faces. In an ideal world you would plane the faces down to be perfectly smooth. I didn't have access to a planer at the time. I found that with a careful cut on the band saw and some light sanding the lamination worked out fine. If you plane the wood you might find that you need to have more layers to make up for the lost wood.

Step 13: Bending the Back Part 2

Use some scrap wood to make a bending form.

Glue and screw up a big block of wood approx: 14in long x 4.5in high x 6in. deep

Lay out the curve:

I did this by feel, there is about an inch of deflection between the ends and the middle.

Make parallel marks at the ends of the block to line up ends of lamination.

Make a mark in the middle of the block and offset it from the parallel marks by about an inch.

Use a thin scrap of wood and hold it in a curve on the marks to help draw out a smooth curve.

Cut the block in two along the curved line.

Step 14: Bending the Back Part 3

Spread glue on all the surfaces to laminate together.

Line the bending form with wax paper or plastic so you piece won't stick.

Clamp the thin pieces in the form and let set for 24 hours.

After removing the laminated back from the form, cut it to width with a table saw or band saw.

Step 15: Curved Back Mortises

Cutting the mortises on the back is one of the trickiest parts of this build.

After removing your back piece from the bending forms it should have an over length of greater that 12.5in.

Lay the back (arc up) on the table. Use a square to draw parallel lines 12.5in apart to determine the over length.

Cut the back to the overall length to 12.5in

Lay out the tenons on the ends. These should be parallel to the table (not in line with the arc of the back).

Tenons are 1/2in thick.

These tenons will need to be cut by hand.

1.Use a chisel (or sharp blade) to set in the edge of the tenon on all four sides. This breaks the grain and leaves a cleaner edge than sawing.

2.Use a dovetail or back saw to cut the tenon

3.Clean up tenon faces with chisel

Step 16: Make Seat

I used a biscuit joiner, but if one is not available, you could skip the biscuits.

Glue the three seat pieces together to create the blank for the seat.

Step 17: Dry Fit

Dry fit all the pieces together.

You may have to make minor adjustments to get the best fit.

As you assemble, label the pieces and their orientations to each other. This will be very helpful when you go for the final glue.

Step 18: Sand

Before gluing sand all the pieces.

It is much easier to get the sanding done with the pieces separated.

Make sure that areas around the mortise and tenon joints remain flat and square.

Step 19: Glue Up

It is good to have a helper around for this step as it can get quite hectic.

Apply glue with a brush to all the mating surfaces of the mortises and tenons.

Clamp in place.

Clamp on a very flat surface to ensure a stable chair.

With all the clamps in place take a diagonal measure between the back right leg and front left leg and compare it to a diagonal measurement of back left leg and front right leg. If the measurements are the same, the chair is reasonably square. If they are out add another clamp diagonally to pull the chair into a square position.

Step 20: Seat

With the chair assembled and glued, cut the seat to desired shape.

Do this after the glue up to accommodate any variation in your chair.

Attach seat to rails with angle brackets and screws.



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    15 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Hello Stephen,
    I'm going to build your chair.

    Is it posible to have the Measured Drawings bigger? . . . I cant read 'em .

    thanks a lot!

    great chair!

    1 reply

    Reply 1 year ago

    I just uploaded a PDF of the measured drawings to that step on the instructable. It should be more readable now. Unfortunately I don't have a good drawing of the assembled chair with dimensions, just the parts.

    Good luck with the build!


    1 year ago

    Great build. It took about three days because I had to make the bending form, etc. and I tried a couple of joints prior to the final build. It’s my first chair, ever. You were right, the tricky part is the mortises and tenons for the bent back. I went slow, very slow. Thanks for the plan. I going to build three more.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    I'v been salvaging pallets that still have good lookinh lumbre on them and this looks like a great first project!

    3 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Do it. There is usually a lot of good wood in pallets, but watch out for nails!


    Reply 2 years ago

    How much "overbend" is needed to get the actual wanted dimensions after "springback" when laminating the curved back pieces?


    Reply 2 years ago

    For this piece there was about 1/2in. of springback (the center moved about 1/2in back toward straight). I think the amount of springback would vary widely based on:

    1. the number and thickness of the laminations (I used three approx 3/16in each)

    2. the degree of curve trying to be bent (more spring on a tighter curve)

    3. the species of wood (I used relatively soft poplar, but harder woods like oak would be likely to springback more)

    Luckily of this project my guess for the curve worked out well and any variation in the laminated piece didn't effect the final design.


    2 years ago

    What an elegant chair! Superb lesson - a professional opinion :-), from the son of a cabinet maker plus one teacher to another.

    I am going to scale this to where my 8 month old grand-daughter will be in about a year's time.

    Thank you, and I encourage you to present more (and more, and more) of your work. I am very impressed and look forward to your next stunning project.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    Very nice!

    Favourited this


    2 years ago

    I wish I could take one of your classes. You seem to be an awesome teacher with quite clear instructions.


    2 years ago

    Excellent instructable! Thank you for sharing the process in such straight-forward detail. Added to my to-make list! :)


    2 years ago

    That's an awesome intro project, I'm sure they'll have a lot of fun with it! It came out beautifully :)