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Tailgate Woodworking: Adirondack Beach Chair

It looks like it's going to be a while until I can get a proper woodworking shop up and running. In the meantime, I still need to make stuff out of wood. The solution: making stuff in the parking garage of my apartment complex from the back of my pickup truck. Don't worry, I'm not firing up the power tools at midnight, but instead while my little buddy is taking a nap and giving his mom a break.

The project du jour is something that's been on my bucket list since I finished the Kentucky Stick Chair. A more comfortable, elegant design by my buddy Phil Barley. I found him on and followed his link to where he sells the plans for his very nicely designed adirondack chairs.

Here's my first completed chair based on the plans that I purchased. Phil had done a lot of work to get the geometry right for these two-position chairs, so I felt it was worth buying the plans from him. As show above is the upright position, but if you pull the bottom out and click it onto the lower dowel rod shown under the chair, the 2nd position is a very comfortable reclining (read napping) position. I can almost feel the sunburn...

Phil has an excellent writeup of the procedure that goes with his plans, I'm only documenting my build to augment his because of the way my brain works. I find it sometimes difficult to follow other people's directions.

First, print out the plans full size (which is 24" wide). I was able to get mine printed at the local Kinko's for about $5. Then using spray adhesive, I carefully glued that down onto a 2' x 4' piece of masonite that I got at Home Depot for about $5.

Using the 9" bandsaw I bought just for this project ($149), I carefully cut out all the templates. Then using the sanding station that I bought just for this project ($89), I sanded everything carefully to the lines. I now had accomplished Step 1 of his plans.

Full disclosure, since my real woodworking tools are all buried in storage, I had to do this hobbyist style, which is fine, but it's pretty inefficient. As fallout from this, instead of starting with rough quarter-sawn white oak and running it through the planer/jointer, etc. I had to go to Home Depot and buy their S4S red oak, which I'm not a fan of having to do since I went semi-pro. Regardless, lots of us have to deal withe these kind of necessary evils.

In order to have to buy as little of the red oak as possible, I carefully nested the parts on the dimensioned lumber. I also drill holes through the centerlines of each 1" dowel location to locate the forstner bit. I also wrote how many of each part I'd need on the template so I didn't make too many or too few.

The way the chairs lock into position is that the 1" dowel clicks into half of a 1" hole. It's MUCH easier to drill those holes before you cut out the parts on the stock because you have to have some wood there for the spur in the center of the bit to positively locate the bit.

With a piece of scrap behind as a backer to eliminate/reduce tear-out, drill the 1" holes (there are one on each leg). Then commence to cutting out the rest of the part(s) with the band saw.

Because there are two sub-assemblies for the seat and the back that need to be glued together, I found it more efficient to only cut out the legs first, do the glue-up, set them aside to dry, then go to town on the rest of the parts.

Once you've got the four leg pieces, cut your 1" oak dowel to the specified lengths. I then drilled through holes in the locations specified on the templates, then augered out 1/4" on the insides (read mirror images) of the seat and back pieces. Sand the flats and ease the edges on all 4 parts.

Using Titebond III because I tend to use these outside (it's waterproof, not water resistant), I glued the dowels in place and secured them with temporary drywall screws. Now I did not just set these aside to dry. I took them inside and laid them gently up against the wall to make sure that all four points were in the same plane. Then I carefully laid them down and measured the diagonals to ensure they were square. Satisfied, I was able to go back outside to tackle the rest of the parts.

Since I'm literally working off the back of my tailgate, I'm cutting all the parts out with a bandsaw. This includes all of the straight and tapered pieces. It's MUCH more efficient if you can use a table saw for these. All of the back slats have the exact same angle taper, so making a dedicated tapering jig to slide on your tablesaw will make things go MUCH faster. In fact, Phil smartly includes plans for a quick and dirty tapering jig with the plans. If you go the tapering jig route, just make your slats all long because they're different lengths. I was stuck cutting everything out by hand then cleaning up the somewhat wavy cuts on the sander.

There are a couple of parts that you want to either leave a little long/wide and trim to fit. Those are the two yin/yang pieces of the seat that sandwich the back slats. The inside piece needs to be trimmed to fit nicely between the back uprights, and the half moon shaped piece needs to be trimmed to follow the curve once you've put the back on.

The rest of the seat pieces are just 1-3/4" x 16" slats that fit on the seat. Setup a stop block if you can on the miter saw to make these all perfectly the same length.

Once you've got all your parts made, sand them all and ease the edges. Your two sub-assemblies should be safe to go grab by now. Using one of the seat slats, fix the wild ends of the bottom sub-assembly. Measure the distance between the uprights at the dowel location, then screw the front slat in place to establish that same spread.

Using the same concept, attach the curved piece that goes on the top of the back uprights. The directions call for cutting a temporary spacer as needed. One the first chair, I was so embroiled with the build that I only used one set of screws on the back uprights. On the second chair, I used two. With the back slats screwed and glued to the same piece, I don't think it really matters.

At this point, your sub-assemblies are structural enough to make sure they fit together. The bottom half slides through the gap between the top two dowels for the upright position. They should just clear with almost no gap between the sub-assemblies, then the 1" dowel should just settle right into the 1" radius notch. There should be a very satisfying sort of "click" and the chair should now be rock solid on a flat surface.

Note: If for some reason, your sub-assemblies just slide into one another, don't worry. That happened to me so I came up with an easy fix which I'll expand on a the end of the procedure.

Now you're ready to install the female back piece. It should be installed at an upward angle so that the back slats lie flat on the edge. It also has to be located so that the forward edge is flush with the dowel. This is important for assembly purposes.

As you can see, I countersunk all of my screws since I was planning on plugging them with matching oak plugs. This is a bit more work, but I think is important for that seamless Adirondack chair look. It's also common to use stainless screws and install them flush with the surface.

Now it's time to install the center back piece. Locate the center of both the top and bottom back supports. Hold the center back piece up so that the bottom is flush with the bottom of the dowel. Once again, important for assembly purposes. I glued and screwed all of my slats to eliminate that slight creaking sound that makes you not quite trust a chair.

Conveniently, the plans call for using a 1/4" spacer for the back slats and my templates were made from 1/4" masonite, so I just slid the scraps between the slats and glued/screwd them in place.

Continue on with the process until all 7 back slats are attached. There should be a very symmetrical overhang by the time you get to the outside two slats. BTW, those slats need to be notched a little bit so they fit up against the back uprights. It doesn't have to be that pretty since no one will ever see them.

Once you've finished with the back slats, let's move to the seat slats.

Locating the seat slats is a bit tricky. You want a constant spacing, but with the weird profile of teh seat (which makes it so comfy), it's difficult to find a happy medium. Start with the same 1/4" spacer and see how everything lands at the back of the seat. The last male curved part of the seat can be trimmed to fit as needed.

Once you get to the back piece, I actually bevelesd the edge to the same angle as the back slats. This allowed the piece to fit nice and flush with the curve of the back slats and create the 1/4" gap with the previous slat. I also had to trim the ends a bit since the directions said to leave it long.

Now make sure that your bottom piece still slides in and out of the back piece for easy assembly/disassembly.

As I mentioned above, I chose to plug all my screw holes with oak. I bought a special countersink for the screw heads (3/8") and a matching plug cutter specifically designed for a hand drill not a drill press. It has a center spur that positively locates the plug cutter prior to it biting in. I did a test plug on a piece of scrap first. Here's how I plug the screw holes.

Starting with the countersunk hole and the screw driven in nice and tight.

Cut the plugs out of a piece of scrap and pop them out with a flat-bladed screwdriver.

Put your glue of choice in the hole and on the plug.

Carefully insert the plug into the hole. It will be tight and the glue will start to expand the wood grain. Make sure you align the grain of the plug with the grain of the receiving piece as it will allow the plug to almost disappear.

Gingerly hammer the plug down into the hole making sure to not destroy the plug.

Saw/sand the plug flush and voila! It will look even better once the wood gets a finish.

Now, as promised: what do you do if the bottom doesn't fit into the back? This happened on my second chair, so I thought I'd show you my fix. The important thing is that at worst, you have to buy more 1" dowel stock.

First, flush cut the dowel off of the bottom sub assembly on one side only. Then sand smooth.

Using the forstner bit, redrill the dowel holes down to the 1/4" depth, removing the remnants of the previous dowel installation. Test fit the dowel and secure with a drywall screw and see how it fits. If it's nice and close, reglue the dowel into the seat base. If, like mine, the dowel is way too short, then remove the other end of the dowel using the above procedure and cut a new piece of dowel. Repeat the gluing, screwing, squaring, drying process until the bottom easily slides into the top. Make sure you do this before intalling the 2nd seat slat. The first one has to be installed at the front in order to keep the sub-assembly structurally strong enough for the test fitting.

It's also easy for the back uprights to not be parallel to each other. If you're aware of this before you set them aside to dry, it's a much easier fix. If not, then sand the inside of the uprights until the base slides through. No one will ever notice.

Okay, so hopefully now you've got a chair that is easy to assemble and disassemble and is unbelievably comfortable to sit in in either position. I'm still wrestling with a finish that is durable and will look nice. I've got over $100 and 12 hours into each chair, so I want them to last. I'm stuck between using Danish oil or epoxy but I can't do both. I'll update this blog once I've made the leap.

So to prove that I did this on the tailgate of my pickup truck, here's a pic of my setup:

The idea was to make a pair the hard way first (check!), then to make another set using a CNC machine with the DXF files I purchased with the plans. Stay tuned and I'll let you know how that goes.

All in all, I'm super-happy with these chairs. Thanks Phil! In fact, I took one to work to show the guys what I did over the weekend and my coworkers ordered 6! Better get that CNC thing worked out ASAP.

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