DIY Adirondack chairs

Now that we’re past the 4th of July (the true start of summer here in the Northwest), it’s Adirondack season for us.

Nothing says summer quite like lounging in an Adirondack chair with a book and a glass of lemonade.

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Adirondack chairs are great because they are super comfortable, and the arms can hold plates, glasses, books, chips and dip, and all sorts of things. We think no self-respecting summer sitting area should be without one or two.

Now that the sun’s finally out here (no, we’re not complaining!–we’ll take a little damp over the scorching heat in other parts of the country), we thought it was about time we explained how to make the chairs we shared in our post about our thrifty deck spruce-up.

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Good Adirondack chairs are expensive. You can sometimes buy cheap pine ones for under a hundred dollars, but they won’t last more than a season or two because the wood will rot.

Well, it will if we own them because the cheap wood requires diligence in maintaining the paint or stain finish, or it starts to deteriorate fast. If we want a chair that lasts we end up having to pay quite a bit of money for them or commit to upkeep.

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Rita bought two of these 4 years ago. The previous owners painted them white. These are great, heavy-duty cedar chairs, but you can see what’s happened to the paint in 4 years of exposure to northwest weather.

We’ve found a solution that requires neither a lot of money or a lot of time–a chair that’s affordable, durable, and versatile.

It’ll take you a couple of hours, but the materials are inexpensive and you most likely you already have all the tools you need around the house. When you are done you’ll have a comfortable seat that’s easy to maintain and satisfaction from saving quite a bit of money.

What you’ll need

Materials:

  • 7-8 Cedar fence boards. (We got ours at Home Depot.) These are 5ish feet long and 6 inches wide. They are $1.28 each. See them here.
  • Outdoor grade wood screws. 1″ screws are best but hard to find. 1 1/4″ will work and should be easy to find.
  • Waterproof wood glue.

Tools:

  • Saw. This can be as simple as a hand saw. You can also use a circular saw or table saw or miter box. I used a table saw on mine because I decided to rip some of the boards for the seat and back. This is not necessary though. You could easily do this whole project with a hand saw.
  • Drill. This is helpful because you need to drive in a bunch of screws. You may also want to drill some pilot holes to ensure that the wood doesn’t split as you drive in the screws.
  • Tape measure.
  • Pencil.

Why cedar fence boards?

They are made from wood used for fencing, so they hold up well in the elements. I’ve built four of these chairs; the first two I built more than five years ago and they are still in good shape and perfectly serviceable. The one I used as a prototype shown below has lived in my back yard the last 2 years. It’s still rock solid with no creaks or weak joints at all.

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This chair has lived outside for two full years, without any cover. You can see a bit of gray weathering starting, but we like that age patina.

The other nice thing about these is that fence boards are light, which means the chairs are light. Two of them weigh less than the chippy Adirondacks pictured above. This means they are super-easy to move around to wherever you might want them–and they are way more comfortable (and stylish, we think) than a lot of other lightweight chairs.

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Look, Ma:  One hand! These are really easy to move around the deck or backyard.

Ready to get started?

The order of steps is important. If you build in the right order the chair comes together easily. Once you know the basic steps, you can modify as you go to customize the chair (if you want to).

Step 1

We’ll start by building the arm structure for the chair. You only need a few measurements to get started.

Length of arm pieces (2):  30 inches

Length of cross piece:  33 inches

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The cross piece length will determine the width of the seat area. The arm length will determine the seat depth. Connect the 3 pieces together with 3 screws on each side and wood glue sandwiched between.

Step 2

Step 2 is to attach the legs.

Length of leg pieces (2):  22 1/2 inches

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Attach the legs to the arms with 3 wood screws and glue. I’d drill pilot holes to make sure you won’t split the arms when you drive the screws down. I usually place the legs a couple of inches from the front of the arms because it looks better. The measurement is not critical.

Step 3

We’ll attach a crossbar across the front of the legs to establish the seat height.

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Length of crossbar board:  Measure for exact dimension

Measure from edge to edge of the leg assembly to get the width before cutting the board. Then attach the top of the crossbar about 15 inches up from the bottom of the leg.  Attach with 3 wood screws and glue on each side. (Putting a level on the bar before screwing in is a good idea.)

Step 4

We’ll attach the back legs now.

Leg Length (2):  40 inches. You can vary this up though.

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Hold the legs in place and mark where to cut off the front extra so that it’s flush with the leg front. No need to bother with measuring angles. :)

The back legs consist of the long angled piece that give Adirondack chairs their distinctive look. No measurements are needed for this one, but note that the length of the piece will determine the angle of the seat bottom:  A shorter piece will give you a steeper angle, and a longer piece will give you a more gentle angle.

There is quite a bit of leeway here so you can vary quite a bit with length and it’ll be OK. My prototype was going in a very small space so I had to make the legs short. It was OK, but it made for a sharper seat angle than I really liked. For this one I have more space so I’ll make the legs longer.

Hold the leg in place so that it lines up with the front crossbar. That’s where it’ll attach to the front legs.

Hold the leg in place once you get it cut to the length you want and with a pencil draw a line to show what you need to cut off at the front to make it flush. Cut the extra piece off with your saw.

Attach the leg with 3 wood screws and glue.

Step 5

Next we’ll need to attach a crossbar to make the rear support for the seat.

First, you’re going to eyeball it to get the length of the crossbar. Just hold up a board between the rear legs and mark a line where you need to cut so that it will fit in between the legs. Cut the board.

When you attach the board to the two legs, the board needs to sit at the same angle that the seat back boards will. Figuring out this angle is a bit tricky. Place the crossbar 19 inches back from the front one. This will establish the depth of the seat.

To find the angle, the easiest thing to do is to put up a seat back board in place (leaning against the back bar between the chair’s arms) and bump it up against the crossbar piece.  Change the angle of the crossbar piece until it matches the angle of the seatback piece, so that they lie flat against each other. (Make sure you keep the back crossbar 19″ from the front crossbar. Adjust the angle, but not the distance between the two boards.)

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Mark the angle line with a pencil.  (This will become more clear when you see step 6. The good news is that if you are off by a bit it will still work perfectly fine.) Then attach the bar on the line with 3 wood screws and glue.

Step 6

Next we’ll attach the seat.

Measure from the front to the back crossbar to get the seat depth.

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Seat bottom is made from 3 boards ripped in half width.

Cut enough boards at this length to fill the space for the seat.

On mine I decided to rip the boards in half, so I had 6 seat slats. This isn’t necessary if you don’t have access to a table saw. You could use 3 pieces at full width evenly spaced and it would work just fine.

Attach with wood screws and glue.

Step 7

Next we’ll attach the seat back.

Back board length- 30 inches (or to whatever height you prefer)

(I  made my back boards 30″, but the back is a little tall for a standard seat cushion. If you’re going to put a cushion on the chair, you might use it as a guide. This back extends about 3 inches higher than the cushion Rita likes to put on it.)

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Here you can see how the seat back is attached to the rear crossbar…

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…and here you can see how it attaches to the back arm bar.

Again I ripped the boards I used in half width-wise. This is not necessary. You could go with 3 full width boards if you don’t have access to a table saw.

Attach to the back of the rear crossbar at seat level, then attach to the front of the arm crossbar.

You should pre-drill the holes to make sure your boards don’t crack. Be sure to add glue.

Step 8

This last step isn’t completely necessary. I decided to reinforce the chair arms a bit because my child tends to like sitting on the arm.

You can see in the photo below that I put a support piece that runs from the leg to the arm to brace it and give it more strength. Again, I eyeballed the length and cut the piece to fit between the leg piece and the arm, and then I attached it to those two pieces of the chair.

Also you will see I put a handle on the back legs. This makes the chair easy to grab and drag around the yard. It’s not necessary. I mainly added it because I had an extra piece of wood left over. It gives a bit of strength to the legs but mostly it serves as a grab handle.

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That’s it!

You can easily customize/fancy this up by finishing the wood with an outdoor deck stain or painting–but I didn’t bother to finish mine becauseI like the rustic, raw wood look. You might also want to sand the rough edges, which I recommend for avoiding splinters.

Start to finish, it’s probably under 2 hours–which makes it the the kind of woodworking project that’s perfect for me.

The $200 dollar Adirondack chair that takes a fully functional woodworking shop will always be out of reach for me. A table saw is about as fancy as I care to get. Truthfully, I like the clean simple lines of this one better anyway.

It’s perfectly comfortable and the fact that I built it myself makes sitting in it that much more rewarding.

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In other news…

We’re working pretty fast and furious on both the bathroom tiling project and painting the exterior of the house this weekend. Hope you’ll check back with us on Monday to see the tiling reveal. Nothing like a deadline from other bloggers (the Pinterest Challenge is Tuesday, if you haven’t heard) to get us to get done.

What are you working on this weekend (other than staying cool)? We’d love to hear all about it.

And…

This seems like a good project to share at the DIY Showoff’s DIY Project Parade:

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And at Home Stories A to Z:

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