Modern Adirondack Chair
Tom McLaughlin builds a comfortable, contemporary take on the classic backyard chair.
Synopsis: With solid, reinforced joinery, subtle angles throughout, and an uncommonly comfortable seat, this Adirondack chair is more challenging to build than the traditional version, but it is more than worth it. After all, this is a chair that you’ll be relaxing in for years—not just because it’s built to last, but because it’s built for comfort. Tom McLaughlin uses templates to rout the curved pieces, and several clever jigs to make it easier to cut the joinery.
Great for kicking back with a drink and lazing the time away, Adirondack chairs are pretty common on decks and patios and in yards. But they’re often uncomfortable to sit in and hard to get out of, unsightly affairs made either of molded plastic or boards screwed shoddily in place. My version fixes those faults. Built to withstand years outdoors, it’s made of cypress and constructed with solid, reinforced joinery. As for the design, subtle angles echo throughout, including on its arm, which is canted to provide both comfort and a perfect spot for a beverage. And how does it sit? Well, a number of people have remarked, “It’s so comfortable, and I can actually get out of it!”
Start with a full-size drawing and templates
Chairs with curves and angles like this are best made using a full-size drawing, which makes it easy to create accurate templates, precisely locate the mortises, and confirm the various dimensions and angles, which can all shift a bit during a build.
The main routing template is for the side rails, which also serve as the back legs. The template has guide slots for routing the seat rail mortises and the long, curved groove for the seat slats. To rout the guide slots for the rail mortises, clamp a straightedge to the template and use a 5⁄8-in. bit and 3⁄4-in. guide bushing (later, you’ll use a 5⁄8-in. bushing and 1⁄2-in bit to cut the mortises). To plunge-rout the guide slot for the seat-slat groove, make a second, curved template. Tack it to the main template to rout the guide slot.
Curved side rails and front legs use router joinery
The chair’s side rails, which are dadoed into the front legs, each have two mortises for the front and back rails, as well as a winding groove for the seat slats. Before cutting the joinery for these, bandsaw out and fair the parts. Then tack the template to the inside surface of each side rail. Plunge-rout the mortises and slot.
Marking the dado on the front leg where the side rail is let in can be tricky because of the curves, so I recommend using a registration jig that will accurately position and hold the pieces in place. You’ll use the same jig during assembly.
With the parts in place, use a sharp marking knife to scribe the curved shape of the side rail across the inside of the front leg. Rout to just shy of the knife lines. I draw a pen line 1⁄16 in. inside the knife lines to make it easier to see where to rout. Then I chisel cleanly to the knife lines. The top of each front leg is mortised for a slip tenon using a template and plunge router. This tenon will join the leg with the arm.
After routing the mortise, glue and screw the side rails to the legs using rustproof screws and waterproof glue, which you should use throughout the project. The registration jig again helps here.
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From Fine Woodworking #273
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- Classic Woodworking: Contemporary Adirondack Chair (104) by Tom McLaughlin
- Adirondack Chair by Tom Begnal #192–July/Aug 2007 Issue
- The Lutyens Garden Bench – by Tony O’Malley #143–July/Aug 2000 Issue
- 3 Outdoor Chairs–3 designers, 3 approaches, 3 pieces to choose from
by Michael Fortune #212–May/June 2010 Issue