Laid Back in a Classic Adirondack

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This article is from Issue 17 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Ready, set, relax! An Adirondack’s inclined seat teams up with wide armrests to make it the most comfortable chair in the great outdoors. 

The Adirondack chair symbolizes relaxation and the onset of summer weather. With its deeply angled back and wide armrests, it conjures up images of vacationing, reading for pleasure, and ice-cold drinks. There’s no better time than now to build a few of these classic outdoor chairs.

Long-lasting cypress is a perfect wood for this project. It is resistant to decay and insects; in fact, it’s often used in paneling and decks. I will be painting my chairs in some fun summer colors, but you can also get a beautiful natural-wood finish by using an exterior varnish. Other options include staining or just letting your chair naturally weather to gray over time. 

If you’re going au naturel, consider springing for teak. It’s expensive but absolutely gorgeous and a top choice for high-end outdoor furniture. 

Getting Started

There are three different ways to get the shapes of the parts transferred to your stock for cutting out on the bandsaw. Masonite templates are available for sale at Woodcraft (Fig. 1). You’ll find templates on page 19 that you can enlarge on a photocopier. At, you can download printable versions of these templates at full size, which you can simply print out on letter-sized paper and tape together using the guidelines. 

The arms, arm supports, and intermediate and outer back slats can be cut in pairs to save time and ensure symmetry. Stick the two pieces of stock together with double-sided tape. 

The curved side of the upper crosspiece must be cut at a 27° angle (Fig. 2). Keep track of the offcut, because you will use it later to mark for screw holes along the curved chair back.

Unless you are very accurate at the bandsaw, cut each part close to the line, then sand to the line on the spindle sander. Separate your pairs.

Cut the rectangular pieces on the table saw according to the cut list on page 18. 

 Now lightly pencil-mark the correct sides of the pieces to be rounded over, which includes the upper side of each arm, the tops of all the seat slats, and the fronts of the back slats. Use a 1/4"-radius bit at the router table to round them over (Fig. 3). 

Sand all the parts with a random-orbit sander (Fig. 4), and you’re ready to start putting the pieces together. 

Leg assembly

I predrilled for all my screws with a 3/8" countersink bit and later cut 3/8" plugs from scrap wood to hide the holes. 

First, attach the seat front to the rear legs using waterproof glue and four screws. The chair front should be flush with the tops of the rear legs. To determine where to attach the lower crosspiece to this assembly, measure 17" from the chair front and make a reference mark on each leg (Fig. 5). Glue and screw the lower crosspiece with its front edge aligned with these marks, curved side forward. 

Now you’ll attach each front leg to this assembly with three carriage bolts and washers. Use a couple of spring clamps to hold everything in place while you make your measurements. First, measure 123/4" from the bottom of each leg and make a reference mark; align the bottom of the seat front with these marks. 

At this point, make sure the bottoms of the rear legs are sitting flush on the workbench. If you’re satisfied with the alignment, mark and drill the indicated holes through the front and rear leg assemblies (Fig. 6). Glue and bolt the legs. 

At the top of each front leg, find the center and place a mark from the top down at least 6" long. You will be fastening the arm supports with screws from the insides of the legs. Clamp each arm support in place, centered on the line you drew and flush with the top of the front leg. Predrill, glue and attach the arm supports (Fig. 7).

Aligning the arms        

The small jig in Fig. 8 will help you align the arms atop the arm supports and front legs. The front of the arm should extend 11/8" from the front of the front leg and should also overhang the inside of the front leg by 3/4". Keep the same distance (3/4") for the entire length of the front arm. Predrill for the three screws that attach the arm to the leg assembly: one in the arm support and two in the front leg (Fig. 9). Clamp the setup as necessary to hold the pieces in place while you drill.

Fasten the upper rear crosspiece to the backs of the two arms with two carriage bolts and washers on each arm (Fig. 10). Make sure the crosspiece is oriented so its angle is set to accommodate the back slats. In Fig. 12, you can see the proper positioning of the bolts. Measure 1" in and center the rear one, and for the front one measure 21/2" from the back of the arm, offsetting it a bit toward the outside. Use clamps while drilling and fastening.

Installing the back and seat

To prepare the back slats for installation, first mark the bottoms of all of them for drilling to the bottom crosspiece. Make a light horizontal mark 3/4" up and then measure 1" in from each side to position the screws.

The center slat will be attached first. Find the center of the lower rear crosspiece and align the center of the middle seat slat with the center of the crosspiece.  Make sure the seat slat is at a 90° angle to the crosspiece (Fig. 11). Predrill and fasten the center seat slat to the crosspiece, using a clamp to hold it in place. 

Use a 3/4" spacer to position the intermediate and outer slats. The outside edges of the outer slats should be even with the inside edges of the rear legs. Predrill for two, but use only one screw on the outer and intermediate slats so they can be positioned against the upper crosspiece later.    

Now use the offcut from the upper crosspiece to draw a line for screws across the fronts of the back slats at the center of the crosspiece. Measure in 1" from each side and mark for screws. Clamp each slat in position as you predrill and drive in your screws. Make sure to keep your drill parallel to the floor (Fig. 12), not perpendicular to the back slats.

Before you install the seat slats, cut and glue plugs for the countersink holes on the bottoms of the back slats. Trim the plugs with a flush-cut saw and sand them smooth. 

Start the installation of the seat slats at the front, aligning the first one with the seat front. You will probably have to use a right-angle drill or screwdriver on the first slat or two, as the arm position makes for a tight fit. Predrill, glue and screw them in order, using a 1/4" spacer between the seat slats to position them (Fig. 13). Check as you go to make sure all slats, including the curved back one, fit properly.

Finishing up

Now comes the somewhat tedious task of plugging the remaining countersunk holes, flush-cutting and sanding the plugs smooth. It will be worth the extra effort to have smooth surfaces, with the screw holes completely camouflaged. 

If you are using a natural finish, you will want to align the grain direction of your plugs with the grain direction of the chair parts to decrease their visibility. I marked the grain direction lightly with a pencil across the scrap piece of cypress from which I cut my plugs. Then I used a fence on the drill press to quickly cut rows of plugs, which I then popped out with a flat-head screwdriver. A somewhat neater method is to place a piece of packing tape across the top of the cut plugs, then saw off the bottom side – the plugs will be cut free from the scrap piece but stick to the tape. 

Lightly sand the chair and apply the finish of your choice. I used oil-based exterior paint with a satin finish. I applied two coats, the first thinned slightly with paint thinner. This bottom coat took the place of a white primer and ensured deep, beautiful color once the second coat was applied.

Bandsaw or jig saw
Disc or random-orbit sander
Measuring tape
Drill and/or drill press
1/4" drill bit
Countersink bit with 3/8" countersink
3/8" plug cutter
Router table and 1/4" roundover bit

Approximately 20 bf of lumber
(10) 2" x 1/4" carriage bolts
(20) washers and nuts for carriage bolts
(Box) #8 x 11/4" coarse-thread screws, coated or galvanized for outdoor use
Waterproof wood glue
Finish of choice

Lori Mossor

Lori Mossor combines her passion for woodworking and crafts with her career as advertising manager for Woodcraft Magazine. Her skills include carving, scroll sawing, making and decorating furniture, woodturning and painting.


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