My First Chair

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This article is from Issue 72 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Strong, attractive, and with no compound angle joinery, this piece is the perfect introduction to chair building

Making a good chair involves balancing a mix of contradictions: strength vs. weight, ease of construction vs. comfort, and aesthetics vs. utility. This chair is a great introduction to the craft because it achieves these positive design goals without succumbing to any negative consequences—in a project that isn’t very difficult to build. While there are some non-90° angles to contend with to ensure comfort, there are no compound angles to worry about. The joinery is mortise-and-tenon throughout for strength, and the woven seat keeps the weight down. The tapered legs give the chair a certain elegance without compromising its strength.

Before we get started on this project, it’s important to note that you’ll need a jig that will cut mortises in the ends of workpieces for loose-tenon joinery. If you don’t already have one, you’ll find plans for my mortising jig on the magazine website, as an onlineEXTRA. The other jigs and techniques shown on the pages ahead will be especially useful if you want to build a set of these chairs.

A study in sound, simple joinery

Legs are joined to aprons and stretchers with loose tenons that (despite the name) give the chair frame a tight, strong structure. The curved back rails join the back legs with traditional mortise-and-tenon joints.

Order of Work

  • Make the rear leg template, then make all the leg blanks.
  • Rout all apron mortises.
  • Taper the legs.
  • Rout the stretcher and back rail mortises.
  • Cut tenons in back rail blanks.
  • Shape the back rails.
  • Glue up the chair.
  • Weave the seat.

Leg Joinery Layout

The apron mortises are laid out and cut when the legs are in square form. After they are tapered, the aprons and legs are dry-assembled, and the stretchers are held in place against the legs to determine their mortise locations.

Make a template for the rear leg…

Make a template for the rear leg…

Referring to the pattern at right, lay out a template on 3⁄4" hardwood plywood, then cut it out. For accuracy, I rout the template’s shape using a 2-piece straightedge jig to guide the router. When making the jig, equip your router with a 1⁄2" or larger straight bit, and trim the jig’s base to width using that bit. Then you can simply clamp the jig to the work with the base aligned to your cutlines. Make sure to drill screw clearance holes for attaching the template to the work in use.

Table and template. Template-rout the legs to final shape. (The arrows indicate the bit route to minimize tearout.) For safety at the beginning of a cut, lever the work off a starter pin. A short bit flute like this one requires two passes to complete the cut.

…then put it to work

Use the template to lay out 2 rear leg blanks that include a 1"-long waste horn on each end. Mark the location of the pilot holes in the horns for attaching the template. Then bandsaw the rear legs to within 1⁄16" of the layout lines. Drill the pilot holes completely through the leg blanks on the drill press. This ensures that the holes are perpendicular, which allows swapping the template from side to side to rout with the grain. Template-rout the rear legs to shape, and then crosscut both legs to final length. Mill the front legs to size using riftsawn stock, which will result in relatively straight grain showing on all four faces.

Angled crosscut. Cut the rear legs to finished length on the table saw, guiding the work with a miter gauge set to the appropriate angle.

Mortise for the side aprons. With the outer face of the leg blank mounted against the jig, set the edge guide to correctly offset the mortise. Use this same setting to also rout both apron mortises in each front leg.

Mortise for the rear apron. Reconfigure the mortise jig to mount pieces horizontally. Clamp each rear leg in place using the 21⁄4" flat section as a reference surface. Then rout the mortise.

Mortise for the rear stretcher. Reposition each rear leg in the jig to rout the mortise for the rear stretcher. The rear stretcher should be placed in line with the other stretchers, but you can’t simply wrap the layout lines around the leg. Once you’ve extended those lines, you’ll need to rework the layout to accommodate the fact that the stretcher is tilted in relation to the other stretchers.

Mortise the legs for aprons and stretchers

When mortising the rear legs for the side aprons, make sure to create a left and a right leg. I made a horizontal fence for my mortising jig that matches the leg’s curve. (Note that you must reverse the curved fence for the second leg.) Then change to a regular horizontal fence, and rout both apron mortises in each front leg. Again, be sure to orient the pieces to create a right and a left leg. Next, mortise the rear legs for the rear apron, then follow up by mortising for the rear stretcher.

Cut the aprons to length, and mortise both ends of each. Mill loose-tenon stock to the proper width and thickness for the apron and stretcher mortises, and bullnose the edges using a 3⁄16" round-over bit on the router table. Then cut and fit tenons for the mortises, mitering the ends of tenons that meet inside the legs.

Mortise the apron ends. Rout the mortises in the apron pieces with the aprons held vertically in the jig. Be sure the same surface faces out for both mortises.


Go to for a full-sized pattern of the rear leg, plans for a mortising jig, and a video showing how to weave the seat.

Tablesaw tapers. Make the first taper cut with one mortise facing down and the other facing the blade, as shown here. For the second cut, pivot the leg 90° so that one mortise is facing up, and the second is facing the blade.

Taper the legs using two different techniques

Lay out for the tapers on the inside faces of each leg and on the upper section of the rear legs. For the rear legs, begin the cutlines about 3⁄4" from either end of the flat at the apron mortise, angling them to reduce the dimensions to 11⁄8" square at the upper and lower ends. The front legs are easily cut on the tablesaw using a sled-type jig that runs against the rip fence. The rear legs are best tapered on the jointer, as shown in the middle photo. (Safety note: When starting a jointer cut in the middle of a piece like this, it is much less cumbersome to remove the guard. Just make sure to use a pushstick, and keep your hands well away from the cutterhead at all times.)

Jointer tapering for the rear legs. Clamp a stopblock to the infeed table to align the start of the taper with the cutterhead axis. Holding the end of the leg against the stopblock, lower the piece onto the running cutterhead, and then feed as usual. Repeat the process until you have reached your taper cutline. Reset the stopblock to cut the taper on the opposite end.

Correct alignment. Align the non-tapered section of a rear leg with the top edge of the mortise jig. This ensures that the mortise walls will be parallel to the mortise walls in the stretchers and aprons.

Rout the stretcher and back rail mortises

Mill all four stretchers to finished width and length, but leave them 1⁄2" oversized in length for now. Rout the mortises in their ends as you did with the aprons. Make the mortises as deep as possible, because you’ll be making them shallower when you trim stretchers to final length by making angled end cuts. Lay out the side stretcher and front stretcher mortises on both faces of each front leg, and then rout them. Also lay out and rout the mortises in the front surfaces of the rear legs, and the mortises for the back rails near the top ends of the back legs.

Mark the stretcher ends. Align the top edge of each stretcher with the layout lines on the legs, supporting the piece with spring clamps. Then mark the angles on the ends of the stretcher.

Dry-fit legs & aprons to mark stretcher end cuts

Dry-clamp your chair together so you can hold stretchers in place for marking the angled end cuts in each stretcher. I measure 11⁄2" down from the bottoms of the aprons to lay out the stretcher’s position on the leg. Use a bevel gauge to transfer the end-cut angle to your tablesaw’s miter gauge, and trim the stretchers to length. Because both ends are angled, this operation can be fussy, so sneak up on the fit by trimming off a bit at a time.

Capture the angle. Spring clamps hold the upper back rail in place so I can mark the angled line for tenon shoulders. The same angle is used to cut these rails to their finished lengths.

Dry-fit for back rail tenons, too

Though the back rails are curved, they start out as straight blanks and stay that way until their tenons are cut (see detail drawing, p. 41). Remember to account for 3⁄4"-long tenons in each back rail when preparing your blanks. Note also that the two rails won’t be the same length due to the tapers. Use a bevel gauge to transfer the taper angle to your saw’s miter gauge, and trim the ends of each top rail to length. With the same angle setup, switch to a dado cutter and cut tenons on both ends of each rail. The tenon is offset to the front of the rail, so cut one end first with the dado raised 1⁄8"; then reset the miter gauge to cut the opposite end. Raise the blade and repeat the process to cut the rear tenon cheeks. Trim the tenons to width with a handsaw, and fit them to their mortises by trimming with a chisel and a shoulder plane.

Cheeks at an angle. Saw the rail tenon cheeks using a dado head while guiding the piece at the appropriate angle with a miter gauge. Each rail will require four setups.
Nip the narrow shoulder. Use a handsaw, chisel, and shoulder plane to fine-tune the fit of the tenons in their mortises.

Curve the back rail. A 24" aluminum straightedge bent under string tension provides a great guide for tracing the curve on the bottom edge of each back rail.

Improve comfort with curves & round-overs

Lay out the curve on each back rail, then bandsaw it to shape. Smooth the rails afterward using a spokeshave, scraper, and sandpaper. Then round over their long edges with a 1⁄8" round-over bit. Now shape the other chair parts: Round over all the long edges of the legs, aprons, and stretchers with a 3⁄16" round-over bit in your table-mounted router. Round over the top ends of the rear legs to a similar radius. Finally, sand a gentle dome on the tops of the front legs, easing the corners for a friendly feel.

Front and back assemblies first. Begin assembly by gluing up the front and back assemblies. Work on a dead-flat surface, and clamp the parts together. Then add the side aprons and stretchers. Use custom clamping blocks against the rear legs to create parallel clamping surfaces.

Glue-up time

Do a complete dry-clamping of the chair to make sure all the joints fit correctly, and to rehearse your procedures. Then glue up the chair. If possible, enlist assistance to help hold the various clamping blocks in place. Alternatively, hold them in place with double-faced tape.

Weaving the seat

The seat is woven from laced Danish cord (see Buyer’s Guide, page 61), resulting in a woven panel that’s strong but comfortably resilient. To prepare for weaving, first install 12 L-shaped Danish nails into each apron, driving them into pre-drilled pilot holes. Locate the outermost nails on each apron 5⁄16" from the legs and 1⁄2" down from the top of the apron, as shown below. Space the nails evenly—slightly more than 11⁄8" apart. Leave each nail about 1⁄4" proud of the apron with the hook facing upward.

To weave the seat, follow the steps shown in the photos, working with pieces of cord about 30' long. Don’t worry if it seems complicated at first; once you work through the first few wraps, the process becomes simple and enjoyable.

Getting Started

Hook a knotted end of the cord on the first nail, and wrap the cord around back and over the apron (1).

Wrap over and around the front apron, and then hook the cord over the nail (2).

The main wrap (3) constitutes the primary pattern that is repeated across the seat: Wrap under the front apron, across its outer face, and back to the rear apron. Continue over and around the back apron, hook the nail again, and return to the front apron, wrapping and hooking again. Head back to the rear apron, completing the first 4-strand band, and then take four wraps around the rear apron to create the first space in the weave. Hook around the next nail before returning to the front apron with the first strand of the next band. Before continuing this band, wrap around the front apron back towards the first band, filling in the gap. After completing the 4-wrap opening, Loop across the next free nail (4), then wrap around the front of the apron and across the seat with the second strand to begin the next section. Weave your way across the seat in the same manner.

To splice on more cord, tie a sheetbend knot (inset photo) where it will be hidden behind the apron (5). To finish off the first course, tie off the cord to the last nail (6).

Weaving Across

Start the cross-weave at a rear leg, weaving a double-strand over and under the groups of 4 strands (7). 

Loop the free end over a nail, and pull the cord taut. Then loop the next free end over the starting nail and weave a second double strand across, and catch the looped end on the nail. Pull the cord taut. As you work your way across the seat, filling in the gaps with full wraps as before, pull the cord through as a loop whenever possible (8). 

After weaving the first cross band, you’ll need to begin and end each band by weaving a single strand across the seat so you’ll have a free end with which to make the wraps (9). 

After completing the cross-wraps, tie off to the last nail (10). Then have a seat.


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