Cross-Brace Chair

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This article is from Issue 22 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Easy to build and store

Two simple subassemblies, made from strong, rot-resistant white oak, add up to one comfortable seat that you can use indoors or out. For easy storage, simply slide out the seat/leg subassembly from the back/leg subassembly and slip it between the back rails of the back/leg subassembly. Make the two hardboard templates first, and employ them to build as many chairs as you like.

Scott Phillips of the PBS show The American Woodshop provided this clever design. He fastened the slats by drilling counterbored holes and driving #8 x 11/4" self-tapping, washerhead outdoor screws by Kreg. (See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.)

“Chairs are the ultimate piece of woodworking. Never has so much been asked of so little. This 22 lb project will comfortably support a 200 lb dusty woodworker. Plus it is very easy to make. And I promise it will be the hit at any gathering - inside or out!”
-Scott Phillips

Start with the seat/leg and back/leg rails

1 Make a 3/4 x 1 x 66" trammel from scrap. Drill two 5/32" nail holes at one end, one at 60" from the opposite end, and the second at 62". Now, make copies of the Top End and Bottom End full-sized patterns on page 78 for the back/leg rail (A) and seat/leg rail (B) templates.

2 Next, use the trammel, nail, 1/4"-thick spacer, and pencil to scribe a pair of parallel arcs on 1/4" hardboard or plywood for the back/leg rail template. Mark the ends of the template using the dimensions in the Figure 1. Now, spray-adhere the appropriate patterns on the ends of the arc where shown in the Figure 1. Bandsaw or jigsaw just outside the cut line to form the template for the back/leg rail parts (A). Follow the same process to scribe and cut out the shorter template for the seat/leg parts (B) as shown in Photo A. Sand the two templates to the line using a spindle sander for the concave curves and a disk or belt sander for the convex curves.

Secure the pivoting end of the trammel with a nail. Hold a pencil at the opposite end and scribe one of two arcs for the template. Use the second nail hole to scribe the remaining arc.

3 Cut two pieces of 8"-wide 4/4 white oak to 60". Joint and plane the stock to 7/8" thick. Adhere the pieces together with double-faced tape. Apply the back/leg pattern along one edge of the stack and scribe around it with a pencil. Now, bandsaw (or jigsaw) the back/leg pieces to shape, cutting just outside the line. Apply the seat/leg pattern to the waste from the first cut, and bandsaw the seat/leg pieces to shape as shown in Photo B.

4 Using a spindle and stationary disc or belt sander, sand the patterned parts to the line, removing saw marks and any unevenness. Separate the parts and label the bottom ends and top ends of each pair.

By tacking the seat/leg to the back/leg with double-faced tape, you can bandsaw both parts at the same time.

5  Rout a 1/8" round-over on the back/leg (A) and seat/leg (B) parts and set them aside.

Use push pads when routing the top faces of the slats to keep your fingers clear of the bit. Rout the ends, then the edges, to control bit-caused splintering.

Form the slats

1 Referring to the Cutting Diagram and Cut List, plane then rip enough stock to make at least 22  9/16"-thick slats. (If you have enough extra material, consider milling a few spare slats.)

2 Use a a 1/8" roundover bit to break the sharp edges on the top faces of all 22 slats, as shown in Photo C.

3 Chuck a 3/8" Forstner bit in your drill press, adjust the fence 3" from the bit’s center, and set up a pair of stopblocks to locate the holes 5/8" in from each edge. Lock in the 3/8" bit depth, and drill a pair of counterbored holes in the top face of slat as shown in Photo D. Flip the slat around and drill a pair of counterbores at the opposite end. Drill the six seat slats in this manner. Change to a 5/32" bit and drill pilot holes in the center of the counterbores.

4 Adjust the fence depth to 2", and drill counterbores and pilot holes in the 12 back slats. Next, drill three counterbores and pilot holes at each end in the remaining two support slats, spacing them evenly.

Set stop blocks against your drill press fence to speed through the drilling sequence for each slat set.
Center the pilot holes in the seat rail and drive the first screw.

Place the outside edge of the first slat on tht 1" mark and use a square to ensure that it's perpendicular to the rail.

Make a pair of subassemblies

1 From your slat scrap, rip  1/16"- and 1/8"-thick strips to help with slat spacing. Finish-sand all of the parts to 220 grit. Now mark 1" in from the top end of the seat/leg rails (B). Place the first seat slat (C) on the rails at the marks (see the Tip Alert), center the pilot holes of one end over the convex edge of a seat/leg rail (29/16" in from outside rail face to slat end), and drive a self-tapping screw (see the Buying Guide) through the slat and into the rail as shown in Photo E. (See Figures 1 and 2 for additional spacing information.)

2 Square the unscrewed end of seat slat (C) on the opposite seat/leg rail 1" in from the rail’s edge, centering the pilot holes over the rail as shown in Photo F. Drive a screw in here. Drive the remaining two screws, one at each end, using a square to ensure the rails remain 29/16" from the end of the seat slats.

Simplify slat assembly by using a 1/16 " spacer strip for the seat/leg and a 1/8" strip for the back/leg.

3 Place the 1/16" spacer along the first seat slat as shown in Photo G, add the second seat slat, flushing the ends, and screw it in place. Add the remaining four seat slats the same way.

4 Mark 1" in from the top end of the back/leg rails (A). Center the pilot holes of one back slat on the concave edge one back/leg rail (19/16" from outside rail face to slat end) and drive the first screw. Locate and square the slat onto the other back/leg rail, driving the remaining screws. Using the 1/8"- thick spacer, and flushing the back slat ends, fasten two more slats in place for the headrest.

5 Measure 4" from the last headrest slat and mark on both back/leg rails. Fasten nine back slats beginning at this location, using the 1/8" spacer between slats, ensuring the ends remain flush.

6 Measure 31/8" down from the last back slat, mark, and fasten a front support slat, using three evenly spaced screws at each end (see Figure 2). Measure 191/4" up from the bottom end of the back/leg rails and mark the convex edge. Secure the back support slat with screws.

7 Dab an exterior grade woodworking glue (we used Titebond III) in the counterbore recesses. Then aligning their grain with the surrounding wood, use a mallet to drive in wooden plugs (we used walnut) to hide the screw heads. After the glue dries, sand the plugs flush with a random-orbit sander.

8 Finish the cross-brace chair with three coats of oil (we used General Finishes Outdoor Oil), sanding lightly between coats. (If you feel the need to rejuvenate the finish a few years from now, simply scuff sand the project with 220-grit sandpaper and apply a fresh coat of oil.) Once the finish dries, fit the two parts together and have a seat.


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  • WL from Galloway
    To bad he didn't have plans for his original Ohio Valley chest of drawers project. EDIT: The Ohio River Valley chest of drawers was a very demanding project because of the intricate case design. It truly was not a great idea to feature this on a 26 minute TV show. We had to make a lot of short cuts that were not shown. This was copied from a piece found at an antique shop in Piqua Ohio, and was made as a study piece. I did not create a plan for this. - Scott Phillips
  • WW from houston
    Can anyone explain the reason for the open space "A" on the back of this attractive chair? That looks strange to my uneducated eye. EDIT: The cross brace chair has a gap at the top to make it less top heavy. The white oak is dense. These chairs were used in campsites. I received several design ideas before creating this. The Gap is handy too as a hand hold for carrying. Please send photo of your design. Love to share good Ideas!! - Scott Phillips, The American Woodshop

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