Easy Chair

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This article is from Issue 77 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Loose tenons and tapered parts combine for easy-to-build elegance

All-wood chairs are great, but sometimes you want to settle into ‌something a little cozier. I designed this cushioned easy chair to serve for comfortable reading or TV viewing. For the wood, I used sapele, a beautiful mahogany substitute. (See “WoodSense: Sapele,” on page 64.) The green cushion covers provide the perfect complementary color to the reddish wood. That said, by carefully choosing your fabric and wood species, you can suit your version to almost any décor. Because the cushions are separate, there’s no expensive fixed upholstery involved. If you don’t have a local upholstery shop, you can custom order the cushions and covers online.

As with most good chairs , part of the comfortability stems from thoughtful details: the angles of the back and seat frame put your body into a relaxed, but attentive lean, and the perfectly sized cushions ensure that you won’t be trying to squirm into a better position. Even the ends of the arms are tapered to match the angle of your palm as you wrap your fingers around the end of the arm, which is literally a nice touch. Finally, the rock-solid mortise-and-tenon joinery ensures that this heirloom will be comforting family and friends for a long, long time.

A seat with all the right angles

Although there are a few non-90° joints in this chair, it has none of the compound angles that often make chairs really tricky to build. The primary shaping is done with tapering jigs on the table saw, with a little router work to finish things off. Loose tenons hold all the main components together, while integral tenons on the back slats better suit that thin stock.

Order of Work

  • Shape side assembly parts
  • Cut side assembly joinery
  • Glue up base
  • Make and join back and seat frames
  • Attach seat to base
  • Install webbing and cushions

Mortising Jig

See page 26 for a jig that will neatly handle all the mortising for this chair.

Get the side assembly parts into shape

To make the parts for the pair of chair side assemblies, mill each leg, rail, and arm to the thickness and width shown in the main drawing. However, leave the pieces about 1/2" oversized in length for now. Also cut the front and back stretchers to final size (including length.) Cut the ends of the legs and rails to the angles shown in the drawings. Arrange one trio of two legs and their connecting rail on the bench in proper relation to each other, with the front leg to your right. Then, mark the upward face of each piece to serve later as jig setup reference. Finally, mark out the tapers as shown, and cut them on the table saw. Save the arm offcuts, as you’ll use them as jig-mounting cauls later.

Stop for accuracy. Cut the pieces to their final lengths by making angled cuts at both ends. Use a stop to maintain consistency.
Extend the end. After marking a taper along the face of a piece, extend the cutline squarely across the end, which will serve as alignment reference when loading the taper jig. In the case of multiples, you’ll only need to lay out one piece.

10-minute tapering jig

Here’s a sweet tapering jig you can cobble together in 10 minutes from scrap and toggle clamps. It’s reconfigurable for different tapers by simply relocating the fence. Start by making a 1⁄2"- or 3⁄4"-thick plywood carrier board that’s 6" to 8" wide and a few inches longer than the workpieces to be tapered. Also make a straight fence and a short stopblock. (In the case of pieces with angled ends, as seen here, cut the stopblock to an angle complementary to the end of the workpiece.) Then set up and use the jig as shown.

Simple setup. Align the taper cutline with the edge of the carrier board, and screw the fence and stopblock in place against the workpiece. Leave a gap between the stopblock and the fence to prevent a sawdust trap.
Safe, secure cut. After attaching toggle clamps to the jig, adjust your rip fence to align the edge of the carrier board with the saw blade. Then make the cut.

Chair side assemblies begin with the rail-to-leg mortises

You’re ready to rout the mortises that join the rails and legs. (If you don’t already have a mortising jig, see page 26.) To ensure that the parts in each side assembly align properly, follow the jig-loading instructions carefully. Working with the set of previously marked pieces, lay out the mortises on the ends of the rails and edges of the legs. (See drawings, facing page.) Mount the marked rail on the jig as shown, chuck a 1/2"-dia. spiral upcut bit in your plunge router, and rout the mortise in the end of the rail. Rout the wide end of the unmarked rail with the same setup. For the narrow ends of the rails, reposition the jig fence as necessary. Again, use the marked rail (marked side out) as a guide to locate the fence. Then cut both rails with this setup. To edge-mortise the legs, mount the fence horizontally. Use the marked rear leg—marked face outward—to locate the jig fence for routing both rear legs. Then reposition the fence to rout the front legs in the same manner.

Mount the rail. Clamp the marked rail to the jig, with the marked face outward and the wider end flush with the top of the jig. Then screw a predrilled supporting fence to the face of the jig. Afterward, screw toggle clamps to the fence to secure the work.
Rout the rail end mortises. Adjust the router edge guide to center the mortise across the thickness of the stock, and set the router travel stops. Rout the mortise in several passes, cutting from right to left.

Mount the leg. When mounting a leg on the repositioned fence, make sure the edge is dead-flush with the top of the jig to prevent positioning errors and router tipping.

“Loose” only in name. Inserting tenons into their mortises should require firm hand pressure. If they need hammering, they’re too tight; if they fall out, they’re too loose. Reduce tenon thickness with a finely-set block plane and/or sandpaper. Resist the urge to power-sand.

Make tenon stock

Because you’ll need to dry-fit the leg-to-rail joints next, it’s time to make some tenons. For the two completed side assemblies and the stretchers, you’ll need two widths of tenon stock. Start by making one strip 1-11/16" wide by 25" long, and one strip 1-3/16" wide by 10" long. This should yield enough material plus a little extra. Rip or plane the stock to thickness, and bullnose all edges using a 1/4" roundover bit in a table-mounted router. For now, cut to length the tenons for the leg-to-rail joints, making them twice the depth of a mortise minus 1/16".

Locate the leg-to-arm-joint mortises based on reality

With all of the angles involved, your chair may vary slightly from the drawing. No problem. However, the leg-to-arm joint placement should be based on what you’ve actually made. So, dry-clamp the two leg/rail assemblies together—using all of the marked pieces for one, and the unmarked pieces for the other. Designate one assembly as the left, and one as the right, and mark the outward faces of the legs as such. Then place the appropriate arm against the tops of the legs, and mark the joints as shown, also referring to the leg and arm detail drawings on page 52.

Now, rout the mortises in the ends of the legs as you did those in the ends of the stretchers. This time, however, you’ll need to mount each leg with its designated outward face away from the jig. This means each leg will require its own individual fence setup. Then rout the mortises in the underside of each arm, mounting it in the jig as shown.

Mark the joints. In order to accurately locate the leg-to-arm mortises, place the arm against the dry-fit side assembly, with the front end of the arm 2" forward of the front leg. Use custom clamping blocks that direct the clamping pressure perpendicular to the joint shoulder lines.
Mount the arm. Using the tapered offcut as a clamping caul, secure the inner edge of the inverted arm against the jig, making sure that the arm’s underside is flush with the top of the jig. Use the same router edge guide setting as you did for the leg mortises to ensure that the inside edge of each arm sits flush with the inside faces of the legs.

Bevel the arm. To saw the bevel at the front end of an arm, lean your blade over 30°, and set your miter gauge angle using the arm itself. The bevel should intersect the bottom end of the roundover, at about 3⁄8" down from the top face of the arm.

Now for some pre-glue-up finessing

At this point, it’s time to do a bit of shaping to some parts, and fine-tune the leg-to-arm joints. First, use a bandsaw and spindle sander to create the scoop at the rear end of each arm, as shown in the Arm Detail on page 52. Then rout a 3/8" roundover completely around the top face of each arm, cut a 5/8" radius cove under the outer edge, and bevel the front end of each arm as shown. Finish the shaping by routing a 3/16" roundover on the long edges on all of the legs and rails except where they intersect.

The leg-to-arm joints will probably need some adjustment, which isn’t unusual in a piece with so many angles. Dry-fit the legs, rails, and arms together again, but standing this time. If you see a tapered gap at the top of one (or both) of the legs, use a bevel gauge to mark for the correction. Then hand plane to this cutline to fix the joint.

Standing dry-fit. To apply clamping pressure perpendicular to the leg-to-arm joints, you can use your workbench as a stout caul to bridge the space between the legs.

Marking for the correction. Use a bevel gauge to mark a cutline at the top of leg that will bring it parallel to the underside of the arm.
A clean fix. When hand planing the top of the leg, clamp a scrap at the trailing end of your cut to prevent tearout.

Final base glue-up. Glue the stretchers between the previously assembled chair sides, using clamping blocks to protect the legs. Make sure to check the assembly for square under clamp pressure.

Cut the stretchers, and glue up the base

You’re almost ready to glue up the chair base. But first, rout the mortises in the ends of the stretchers, then take apart the side assemblies and rout the stretcher mortises in the legs. Now, glue up the two side assemblies. Finally, rout a 3/8" roundover on all the stretcher edges, and glue the stretchers between the side assemblies.

Mortise for the slats. For the slat mortises, adjust the jig’s travel stops for the length of one mortise, cut it, then reposition the rail on the jig fence to rout each subsequent mortise.

Make the seat & back frames

The seat and back frames should fit snugly between the chair sides, so double-check that distance. If it’s not precisely 22", make the frames to suit what you have. If necessary, make the frames a bit oversized in width, and trim them to perfect size after assembly. Cut the rails and stiles to size. Then outfit your router with a 3/8"-dia. upcut spiral bit, and mortise the ends of the rails and the edges of the stiles, as shown in the drawing on page 51. Make loose tenons to suit. Next, mortise the inner edges of the back rails to accept the slats, and mill the slats to size, measuring for their length directly from the dry-fit frame. Cut the tenons on the table saw as shown. Then glue up the seat and back frames. Afterward, lay out the seat webbing slots, referring to the drawing on page 51. Then chuck a 1/8"-dia. straight bit in your plunge router, and rout the slots as shown. Finally, ease the front edges of the seat frame and the top edges of the back frame with fine sandpaper.

Saw the slat tenons. Cut the tenons on the back slats by guiding the pieces past a dado head on the table saw. Use the fence to control the length of the tenons, and the blade height to control the tenon thickness.

Rout the webbing slots. Using a plunge router equipped with an edge guide, make each slot in several passes, limiting the router travel with a stop clamped to each side of the tool.

Attach the seat cleats. After predrilling 5 countersunk clearance holes through the inner edge of each cleat, glue and screw them in place with #8 × 13⁄4" screws. Use an adjustable square (or spacer block) to offset the cleats 1" from the upper edge of the side rails.

Put it all together

Bevel the bottom edge of the back frame at an 80° angle. Then attach the seat frame to the back frame using glue and five #10 × 2-1/2" evenly spaced screws driven through the rear seat rail up into the lower back rail. Cut the cleats to size, and then glue and screw them to the chair sides as shown. Set the seat frame assembly in place atop the cleats, with the seat back 3/8" forward of the rear ends of the arms. (See drawing on page 50.) Drill a pilot hole through each arm into the back frame stile for a #8 × 2" flathead screw. Then follow up with a clearance hole and counterbore in each arm. Screw the frames in place through the arms and cleats, and plug the counterbores in the arms. Apply a finish of your choice. I used a red mahogany stain to darken the sapele slightly before wiping on several coats of urethane.

Crimp the clips to the webbing. To crimp the metal clip on the ends of the webbing strip, insert the clip into the tab and squash the two together in a vise. Make sure that the projecting flange on each clip is on the same side of the strip.

Attach the webbing, add cushions, and have a seat!

All that’s left is to add the webbing and cushions. First, cut 9 feet of “Pirelli” webbing (see the Buyer’s Guide on page 60) into 4 equal pieces. Crimp a metal clip to one end of each strip as shown, and then insert it into a rear seat slot. Pull the strip taut (but not stretched) across the seat frame, and mark a cutline 3/8" past the front seat slot. Cut the strips to length, and attach the remaining clip. Tuck the clips into the slots with the projecting flange oriented toward the inner edges of the seat rails.

This chair requires two “box cushions.” You can get them from your local upholstery shop or from a number of online sources including cushionexpress.com. You’ll need two cushions. The one for the seat uses high density foam and measures 4" thick × 22" wide × 25" deep. The one for the back uses medium density foam and is 4" thick × 22" wide × 20-1/2" tall. Both cushions have piping, or welt, around the seams.


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