By far, the most popular outdoor chair has got to be the Adirondack. I mean, is there even another type of outdoor chair?
Ok, I know that rocking chairs have been sitting on front porches for hundreds of years, but do a google image search for outdoor chairs and the majority of what you see sponsored across the top is the Adirondack chair. And why not, it is both cool and comfy.
They come in all types of designs ranging in material, color, and complexity. And some of them even rock.
However, I am going to show you how to design and build a budget-friendly and simple Adirondack chair in less than a day using six 1x6s and one 2×2. It’s simple because it doesn’t fold, it uses only 2 sizes of lumber, some screws, and has simple joinery.
You can purchase a set of woodworking plans for this chair right here so you can easily build your own and start lounging in style.
Planning – Design, Materials, and Tools
It all starts with a plan. Who will be sitting in the chairs? Are they for kids? Do you want adult-sized chairs with some extra room in the seat? Then you’ll need more space and more space means more wood panels.
The first place to start when you’re designing is to know how wide you want your seat to be. This dimension is also what determines the number of vertical panels on the seatback.
For this design, we will be using 1x6s and a 2×2.
Once you’ve decided your seat width, next determine the height of your seatback. Do you want it to be a short back or maybe you would like a place to rest your head?
Determine the length of your seat. Again, the number of panels used in the seat along with spacing will determine the length. Also, consider where the backs of your knees will land. Will it be comfortable? Adding too many panels to the seat will start to turn your project into a chaise lounge.
Here are some other things to consider:
Do you want to angle the seatback from the seat? An angle makes it more comfortable, but keeping it 90 degrees makes it simpler to build.
How high do you want the seat to be from the ground and at what angle? The higher the seat the more material you’ll need. The lower it is the harder it is to get out of.
How high do you want the armrests to be? This height determines how long to make the front legs of the Adirondack chair, where the front end of each armrest will be fastened.
Sketching out a design to scale will help tremendously during this process by giving you a good visual, help produce an accurate materials list, and create a precise cut list.
Work out the issues on paper so you don’t have to during the building process.
You’ll need to decide what type of wood to use. If you are sticking with a smaller budget, pressure-treated wood is the way to go. There are more durable choices out there such as locust wood, teak, and Accoya, but those are significantly more expensive. If pressure-treated wood is sealed properly, it will last a very long time.
We will be using pressure-treated wood in this DIY project.
We’ll get into this more later, but you are going to want to use a sealer or paint product for your chair as well. Pressure-treated wood is great at resisting rot, but still needs protection from the sun and rain.
When it comes to screws, you’ll mostly be using 1 ¼” deck screws or other exterior screws that stand up to the outdoors. You’ll also need some longer screws to fasten the armrests to the sides of the chair.
Along with screws, exterior grade wood glue will be applied to some parts during the building process for added structural support.
Exterior Wood filler can also be used to fill the screw holes for added protection against water intrusion. Keeping water out will extend the life of the chair.
The design we are going to use is simple and requires basic carpentry tools, but below is a list of tools that will help speed up the process and make building it easier.
- Battery drill
- Impact Driver
- Orbital sander or sanding block and 120 grit paper
- Countersinking bit
- Miter saw
- Tape measure
- Straight edge or speed square
With your design and cut list complete, and a material list in hand, it’s off to the home improvement store for some shopping.
Cut the panels
Once you’ve purchased the materials and you’re ready to build, start cutting all of your parts to size from your cut list.
Our cut list includes:
- 4 seatback panels
- 2 stiles (the sides of the seatback)
- 1 seatback top rail
- 1 seatback bottom rail
- 3 long seat panels
- 1 short seat panel (sits between the front legs)
- 2 stringers (the sides of the seat with angled cuts to form the rear legs)
- 1 front-facing apron
- 2 front legs cut at an angle
- 2 armrests with notches
- 4 armrest brackets or corbels
- 2 armrest supports (2×2
Square cuts – seatback panels, seatback top rail, seatback bottom rail, seat panels, armrests, armrest supports, and apron
Angled cuts – Seatback stiles, front legs, stringers that form the rear legs, and armrest brackets
This chair’s design is such that the 2 vertical seatback stiles extend down and are fixed on the outside of the 2 stringers that form the rear legs. This junction is where the seatback will be angled back and glued and screwed together in a later step.
This junction can be screwed together at a 90-degree angle to simplify the process, but I angled mine back a bit more than 90 degrees for the sake of comfort. If you plan to angle your seatback from your seat, cut the bottom sides of the stiles at the desired angle so they join flush to the bottom edge of the stringers when screwed together.
Not only is the seatback typically angled back on an Adirondack chair, but the entire chair itself is as well.
The angle and height at which you design your chair determines the length of the front legs as well as the angled cuts needed in the front and rear legs.
Because the armrests will remain parallel to the ground, the front legs need to be cut at an angle on the top ends as well, forming a rhombus. The assembled seat and the front legs will be joined together at 90 degrees.
Again, it’s important to draw your plan out to scale so you know exactly what you want it to look like as well as help you determine your square and angled measurements.
After compiling your list, cut everything to size and label your parts.
Assemble the Seat
Time to start assembling parts. We are going to start with the seat. You will need the 2 stringers, the short seat panel, the bottom rail, and the apron.
The stringers are what the seat panels are screwed to, but will also angle down to the ground to form the back legs of the chair.
First, butt the front end of the stringers squarely into the back of the apron on each side. Screw through the face of the apron to fasten them together.
Mark the 2 stringers on the top edge where you want the backside of your seatback to line up. Screw the seatback bottom rail on the top edges of the stringers at this mark.
Take the 1 short seat panel and lay it on top of the stringers so that it overlaps the top edge of the apron. Screw through the seat panel to fasten it to the stringers and to the apron.
Turn the seat onto one side and position 1 of the front legs so that the front edge is parallel and flush to the apron. The front legs and stringers should be at 90 degrees and the angled bottom of the leg should rest flat against the ground. Adjust the position as necessary and then clamp in place.
Using a countersinking bit, predrill through the face of the front legs in 4 places about an inch from each edge. Unclamp the leg, apply some glue, then screw the leg in place. Repeat on the other side.
Assemble the back
Move the partially assembled seat to the side.
Next will be the seatback assembly. You will need the top rail, the 2 stiles, and 2 seatback panels.
Place the top rail in between the 2 stiles so that it is square and flush to the edges of the stiles. Make sure you are working on the square ends of the stiles and that the angled ends are positioned at the same angles.
Screw through the face of the stiles and into the edges of the top rail to fasten them together.
Position the seatback frame so that the backside is facing down onto the work surface. Take 1 of the 2 seatback panels and lay it on the edge of one side and screw through the face and into the edges of the stile and top rail. The seatback panel should be flush to the side and top of the frame.
Repeat on the other side with the 2nd seatback panel.
Attach the Seat to the Back
Next, you will be fastening the seat and the seatback together.
Place the partially assembled seat onto the work surface. Slide the seatback onto the seat so that the stiles are on the outside of the stringers. Position the seatback down and back until it is resting on the stringers and the seatback panels are resting against the front edge of the bottom rail. Angle the seat back so that the angled ends of the stiles are flush with the bottom edge of the stringers. Clamp in place and then predrill through the face of the stiles using the countersinking bit.
Separate and glue up the junctions and then screw in place.
Finishing the Seat and Seatback
Take your remaining seatback panels and fasten them to the top and bottom rails.
Take your remaining long seat panels and fasten them to the stringers. They should line up with the seatback on each side.
Attach the arms
You will need the 2 armrest supports, 2 armrests, and the 4 brackets for this step.
Measure up from the work surface to the top of the front leg. Mark this measurement on the seatback stiles on each side. You can also use a level for this step if you have a level work surface.
Position the top of the armrest support at this mark on the stile and flush with the top end of the front leg and fasten in place. Make sure to leave room for the thickness of the brackets on either end of the support when fastening in place.
Position the brackets against the front ends of the arm supports, flush with the top edge and flat against the face of the front leg. Predrill and then screw through the inside face of the front legs and into the brackets to secure it in place.
Next, position the remaining 2 brackets against the rear ends of the supports, flush with the tops of the supports, and flat against the surface of the stiles. Predrill and then screw through the inside face of the stiles and into the brackets to secure them in place.
Lastly, position 1 armrest on top of the support and brackets so that the inside edge is flush with the inside of the front leg and is pushed snug in the notch against the seatback. Predrill and then screw through the top surface of the armrest and into the support and brackets to secure. Repeat this on the other side.
Filling, Sanding, and Sealing
Now that the chair has been assembled, it’s time for finishing.
The pressure treated wood I have purchased is pretty smooth off the shelf and it could be sealed or painted as is. However, the edges were sharp and I chose to ease all of the edges using an orbital sander and 120 grit paper.
If you want the surfaces of your chair to be smoother you can also use 120 grit on an orbital sander to get the job done. But first, you should fill the screw holes. Check out Scott’s post on wood fillers to help you decide which exterior wood filler you should use. After the holes have been filled, sand the surfaces smooth. Blow off the excess dust to get it ready for sealing or painting.
Before sealing or painting the pressure-treated wood, it is important to wait for it to dry. Pressure-treated wood comes from the factory wet from the inside out. If you have not specifically purchased kiln-dried pressure-treated wood, you should wait 2-4 months before trying to coat the chair.
A good way to test if the wood is ready for coating is to drop some beads of water on the surface. If the water remains on the surface it is still too wet to coat. If the wood absorbs the water, it’s ready for sealing or painting.
If you like the natural look of the wood, you can choose a variety of sealers or stain plus sealers to protect your chair. Try to find a sealer that also has UV protection.
If you plan to paint, be sure to start with a high-quality exterior-grade primer first followed by 2 coats of exterior-grade paint. Using a brush over a sprayer or roller will also help force the paint into the wood, giving it more durability against moisture.
There’s nothing like taking the first sit in the first chair you’ve made. Working through the design process can be challenging and fun, and completing a build is very rewarding.
If you’re not interested in designing your own chair but you do want to build one, we have a solution for you. You can download a DIY Simple Adirondack Chair Plan from here.
The plan comes with detailed instructions with images, nesting plan for parts, materials list, and a detailed cut list with measurements and angles. It has everything you need to have 1 or 2 chairs built in under a day.
Give it a shot!