Adirondack Chairs are comfortable, iconic lawn furniture that are timelessly popular. By using barrel staves you can build a unique adirondack at an affordable price. Additionally, the compound curves of the staves themselves generate make for a very comfortable chair.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- One wine barrel - both of my chairs used 25 staves - the hoops and heads were not used
- .5 lb Stainless Steel Finish Head Deck Screws
- Wood Sealer
- Pliers - End cutting pliers/nippers work well
- Hammer or Mallet - for removing hoops
- Chisel or screwdriver - for removing hoops
- Measuring Tape
- Saw - I used a band saw and chop saw but a hand saw would work just as well though it may take longer
Choosing a wine barrel
My preference if for red wine barrels with light or medium toast. The oak sucks up the color from the wine and turns a beautiful purple. I didn't have any red wine barrels available at the time of making this so I used white wine barrels. Whiskey, rum, tequila, etc. barrels will work as well but most are heavily charred on the inside. This means you will need to remove the char in order to have a clean surface. A high buildup finish - like spar varnish - can be used to seal the char so you don't turn black when you sit in your adirondack.
The best way to get a barrel is to go straight to the source. If you have a local winery, call them and ask if they sell spent barrels. Be honest about the use. They may have an old dried out barrel kicking around as a table or parking barricade they may be willing to part with. Remember - you don't need anything that will hold liquid so it can be super gross and old.
If you don't have any wineries nearby, try calling a Brewery or distillery. Many use wine barrels to impart different flavors in their beer or spirits but, like at wineries, these barrels have a limited lifespan. At some point even the best cared after barrel will become a 'garden barrel.'
If neither of these are options, some garden stores or home improvement stores stock barrels as garden art, planters or rain barrels. There are also some online resellers but I would use them as a last resort. From what I have seen, these last options seem to be the most expensive and shipping barrels isn't cheap.
Step 2: Remove the Barrel Hoops
First, remove the hoop nails. These can be pried out with end cut nippers. Stubborn ones might need some coaxing with a chisel or screw driver.
Once the nails have been removed the hoops should slide off with a tap of the chisel. When the last hoop comes free the barrel will collapse into a heap.
You will not need the hoops or heads for this project but they may be useful for building something else like a mobile, wreath or tiny Dyson Ring.
I plan on using the leftover hoops, staves and barrel head to build side-table to go with your chairs.
Step 3: Choose Your Staves
Lay out your staves. Set aside one wide stave for the middle of the back. Set aside the the stave with the bunghole for the face of the seat.
- 2 of the widest staves for the arms
- 2 wide staves for the front legs
- 2 wide staves for the rear legs/seat support. The more bent these are the more rounded your seat will be.
The remaining staves can be paired up by width to make
- 6 staves for the backrest
- 5 to 6 staves for the seat
- 2 staves for the leg bracing
- 3 staves for the back support
The inside of the barrel may be cracked or blistered. It probably goes without saying but try to select the staves with the best insides for the seat and back. It will save you time sanding and finishing later. The legs and supports will be less visible and are a better use of less pretty staves.
Lightly sand the outside of the staves to clean up the exterior. I only used a quick pass of 120 grit sand paper. I didn't want to remove too much of the staining from the hoops.
You may need to sand the inside more aggressively. On several very bad staved I used the wood eraser (Angle Grinder with 24grit sanding pad). Working up to 120.
Step 4: Cut Staves to Length
The approximate lengths for the legs, seat and supports are in the photos. Since every barrel is different, your lengths may be a little different from mine. I am about 5'11" and the seat fits me well. It was, however, a little big for shorter people.
The arms and back are full length staves.
The compound cure and inherent variation of the staves makes for nice lines and a comfortable seat but it also make joinery difficult. In the end each joint, cut and angle will need to be visually inspected to make sure it looks right. Perfect joints are not possible without lots of carefully cut curves. I declined to make the joints perfect and instead simply mitered the angles so they would be close. The gaps gnaw at my joinery neurons but don't affect the comfort.
When cutting the staves - ALWAYS BE SAFE.
They will not lay flat like normal dimensional lumber and can be difficult to support. When cutting the piece should be supported very close to the blade to prevent kickback or binding.
Lay out your pieces like an exploded diagram. Make sure you have paired up similar sized pieces.
Step 5: Assemble the Back
Lay out the back. Pre-drill holes at the intersections of the back and support. I put two screws in the outer and middle stave for extra torsional support.
Screw the staves together. Add the second screw to the wider staves to help with torsional stability.
Step 6: Assemble the Seat
Arrange the staves for the seat. Start at the front edge of the chair and work your way back to where the seat intersects the back. The last stave will rest against the back of the chair.
The seat should be about 16"-18" deep.
Pre-drill the holes and screw in place.
Step 7: Join the Seat and Back
Screw the seat to the back by drilling through the leg and into the lower back support. Be careful not to split the wood. The back and legs can exert a lot of torque on the screws until the rest of the supports are in place.
Step 8: Add Legs and Arms
This is perhaps the most difficult step. I turned the chair on its side and dry fit the legs and arms on the ground, marked the point to drill and then screwed them in place.
Drill through the face of the front leg into the end of the rear leg. Repeat the process on the other side.
Step 9: Final Touches
The last pieces to be installed are the face of the seat and the leg braces.
The face stave with the bung hole can easily be screwed into place from behind. Make sure to use at least two screws in each side to keep the chair from twisting.
Hold the leg braces in place and scribe the angles in the wood. Trim the pieces to fit the angles scribed and screw in place.
Make sure all your joints are sturdy and give your new chair a test ride. The oak is hard and you may find that the corners are too sharp. If this is the case, hit the edges with your sander to round them over a bit.
You will notice the stave in my hand still has char and some yeast on it. I made sure to it up before using.
Step 10: Finishing
You will likely want to seal the chair to keep them looking nice. I used a rattle can of Clear Tompson's Water Seal It slightly enhances the color and will help prevent water from soaking into your new chairs.
Since I got the barrels for free the total cost was about $13.
1 5/8" - Deck screws - $6
Thompson's Water Seal Can - $7
First Prize in the
Creative Misuse Contest