An original version Adirondack chairs as we know it was first designed in 1903 by Thomas Lee. In Canada the chair is sometimes referred to as a Muskoka Chair. The Chair that Thomas Lee designed, he asked a local carpenter to make for him. Apparently the carpenter, Harry Bunnell could see it was great design, so Bunnell filed for, and was granted a patent for the chair, without the permission of Lee. Bunnell then went on to manufactured the chairs under his name for the next 20 years.
The original chair design has been so good it has stood the test of time and over a hundred years later, woodworkers are still making a variety of Adirondack type chairs.
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What always amazes me is just how comfortable this chair can be. Now make no mistake, not all Adirondack chairs are comfortable and to a degree it does depend on your body type how well you fit the chair. The features that really make this chair comfortable are the coved back and the scooped seat along with the position of the wide arms. All of which combine into making a great, comfortable out door chair.
The plans we used are the widely published plans from Fine Woodworking Magazine and they even publish the plans on their website, we provide that link at the end of this article, and the reason we did that is so if you DO decide to make this great chair you will have at least scanned the article and give you a few heads-up ideas that we encountered.
Buying the Lumber and Parts
The plans call for all the lumber to be 3/4" stock and of course the lengths and widths vary depending on the part of the chair. For our project, we wanted the chair to look a bit thicker, so we picked up some four-quarter or one inch thick red cedar, from a local saw mill. The plans call for 3/4" wood which is available at every lumber supply store. You will need to figure out what volume of lumber you need from the plans.
This project uses a lot of screws so it is wise to pick them up at the same time, for red cedar you can use stainless steel (which is my choice) or you can use coated deck screws. and you will need them in at least them in 2 or three sizes, as indicated, and you will need either 8 galvanized carriage bolts, with nuts and washers, OR ... do what I prefer, and use stainless steel nuts, bolts and washers. I prefer these because if you ever need to take the chair apart, nuts and bolts are MUCH easier to work with.
Most of the lumber can be purchased as 6" width, with the exception of the 2 arms which need to be from 8" width boards. I knew that I was going to have enough waste that I could glue an extra couple of inches of wood on 2 of the 6" boards and save the waste of using 8" boards. Remember, if you decide to do to this you will need special glue for gluing red cedar (if that is what you use) red cedar has many oils in it that prevent typical PVA white glues from adhering over the long term, you NEED to use a polyurethane glue, like Gorilla Glue, or you could use some of the epoxy glues.
Jointing and Trimming
Once you have the lumber, the next step is systematically jointing one edge, ripping the appropriate boards to width on the table saw, then cutting them to length. Adirondack chairs have a surprisingly high number of parts and I found that labeling them was the best way to ensure I was always working with the correct pieces. If you do not label the parts, it can be easy to mistake one part for another and end up cutting it wrong, which means you need to make a whole new part, and hopefully that doesn't mean another trip to the lumber store for more material.
Forming the Arms and Base
Now that you have all the rough pieces, the next step is to make the arms and the base. These pieces have some special designs and working from plans in a magazine where a part is 400% smaller presents a new challenge. Actually, it's still pretty easy. All you need to do is get yourself a pair of dividers, and use them to measure off parts on the plans that you need to transfer to the finished boards. Since the plans are 400% smaller, it's a simple mater of stepping off 4-times to transfer that dimension from the plans to the finished parts. It's a bit time consuming, but it works great.
If you want you can draw up your own full size plans, but I found it just as easy to lay my full size plan on the board its self, then simply cut that board out on the band saw. Once one side was done and finished, I simply used it as a template to draw out the other arm and the other bottom member and that way both sides were identical.
Shaping the Seat and Back Members
By now, if you cut out all the parts to size initially, you will have the seat and back parts in their rough form. I like to use a router to take the sharp edge off the seat and back parts so that the chair is easier to sit in, safer and more comfortable. To ease the sitting parts I simply put a 3/8" round-over bit in my router and proceeded to round over one side of each of the seat and back parts. I also rounded over the top part of the back because the chair will probably need to be moved from time to time and rounding over the seat back will make the chair easier to grab.
While I was using the router, I also rounded over the chairs arms, both upper AND lower sides.
Red cedar has a tendency to split pretty easily, especially if you are using countersink screws and NOT creating countersunk holes for them to go into. SO, all of the parts that need to have screws going into them need to be countersunk with the appropriate bit. If you do not do this, many of the screws may go in ok, but if the wood is a bit green when you purchased it, when it dries, there will be an even greater tendency for the wood to split where the screws go through, as the wood dries and shrinks.
Putting the Chair Together
Once you have all the parts made and all the nuts and bolts and screws, you can begin to sort our the parts and start putting the chair together. Of course the first things that are needed are the 2 front legs and the rising horizontal back leg and seat support. The plans will give you some idea of the positioning of these components, but I found the best way to put them together is to lay on side down on my bench top and work on it from that angle. Once you have one side done, it's a pretty easy task to lay the other side down over top and simply duplicate it, then you have 2 sides of the chair that are exactly the same.
At this point you can stand the chair upright and put the 2 back horizontal supports in place. This now gives the chair something of it's 3D look, and the first of the major components to put on are the back slats. They will need to be positioned just as they were when you made the rounded top, but now in position on the chair. Don't forget to pre-drill all the holes for the screws.
Once the back is on the seat slats are next and they also should be positioned with the use of spacer blocks. And of course the last part of the chair are the arm rests, which need to be attached at the front from underneath. Make extra sure the screws you use for this are the longest you can get, but that WILL NOT penetrate the top of the arms. You don't want the points of screw tips poking though on the arm of your chair.
It's up to you whether or not to finish your chair. If you do nothing, the red cedar will take on a beautiful grayish look over time, and will last for many many years, especially if stored out-of-the-weather in the winter months. If you do decide to finish the chair, there are many different finishes that can be used, but beware, painting or finishing cedar is a tricky job. Most finishes will not last, due to all the oils in cedar, very little will last long term. Most finishes will flake or peel off withing a few short years, even with good care and application. This is why cedar is such a great out door wood, it has built-in preservatives that help the wood to last out side for many many years, even with out finishing.
The Adirondack chair is a great project, fun to make not complicated, although there are many parts to it. This particular version is comfortable and with the right woods, will last many years. Again, we are appreciative of Fine Woodworking and Taunton Press Inc. for providing the information on this chair, both on their website, and in their 2013 magazine called Outdoor Projects, which also highlight many other great summertime woodworking ideas. The link to their website is Fine Woodworking. We encourage our readers to pick up the magazine for this and many other fine woodworking projects.
Have fun, work safely and enjoy process ...
Copyright - Colin Knecht