Building a Chippendale Chair
The combination of angles and curves in a Chippendale-style chair can seem complex, but the techniques needed are not out of reach
Synopsis: The combination of angles and curves in a Chippendale-style chair can seem complex, but the techniques needed are not out of reach, as the structure is joined predominantly with mortise-and-tenons. If you can tackle the back assembly, where the legs cant in toward the ground as well as kick back, there’s little reason to fear rest of the chair. Working from full-size drawings and patterns is key, but it is also essential to know when it’s time to leave the drawings aside and measure directly off the piece itself.
Making chairs can be intimidating even to experienced woodworkers, and Chippendale-style chairs are no exception. The chair I’m making here, even without the ornamentation found on so many examples, has a combination of angles and curves that are admittedly complex. But the techniques and joinery needed to build the chair are familiar. The structure is a frame mortise-and-tenoned together. If you can tackle the back assembly, where the legs cant in toward the ground as well as kick back, you can certainly handle the rest of the chair. So building the back is what I will focus on here. The side seat rail’s rear tenon, which attaches to the back assembly, is cut at a compound angle and comes with its own set of challenges. I’ll explain those in detail in the Master Class, Compound-Angle Tenons on the Tablesaw.
I recommend working from full-scale drawings and the patterns traced from them. You’ll use these from chalking out the parts to laying out joinery. But as you assemble the chair, leave the drawings and patterns aside. When you can, measure off the parts directly. That way, you’re building to the actual piece, not your…