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Craftsman-Style Outdoor Chair



Craftsman-Style Outdoor Chair

Jigs and fixtures make building this chair a breeze—whether it’s one or a whole yard full.

By Randy Johnson

If you’re looking for an outdoor chair that’s comfortable and stable, and yet light enough to move around, you’ll appreciate this Craftsman-style beauty. It’s based on a chair design published in the early 1900s in a Stickley design magazine called, The Craftsman. Originally, I built an exact replica of this chair, but discovered it was too large for the average person and the sling seat was so low and deep that everyone who sat in it responded with “whoa!” and then struggled to get out.

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So, I made four additional chairs, changing various parts in an attempt to improve comfort and looks. In the end, I came up with a chair that is smaller and has a stretched-fabric seat. I also added some curves for a softer look.One thing I kept from the original design is the mortise-and-tenon joinery. And for good reason—it’s strong.

Mark the mortise locations on the legs. Pairing up the legs improves the accuracy of the layout. Mortise-and-tenon joinery is a good choice for this outdoor chair because it provides strength and durability.

Click any image to see a larger version.


Cut the mortises. With 24 to cut, use a machine if you can, it’s much faster! All the mortises in this chair are 13/16-in. deep.


Cut the wide cross-grain mortise for the front seat stretcher in four steps. 1. Cut the first set of holes. 2. Add the spacer and make the second set of holes. 3. Flip the leg end for end. 4. Repeat steps one and two.


Cut the angled ends of all three side rails at once using a cut-off sled.This sled takes the guesswork out of measuring and allows you to make multiple parts with ease.


Cut the tenons on the rails and stretchers using a dado blade on your tablesaw. For the angled tenons, set your miter to match the angle and run the end of the tenon against the fence.


Bandsaw the shoulders on the angled tenons. It takes a careful hand, but it’s quick.A fine-tooth handsaw works as well.


Round over three corners on the front seat stretcher with a 1-in. round-over bit in your router table.These large round-overs can also be made by hand planing.The fourth corner is left square. This provides a larger, flat surface to attach the fabric seat to later.


Clamp the leg frames using a notched clamping caul. The notches keep the clamping pressure in line with the rails and provide a flat surface for the clamp jaws to hold onto.The hooked end keeps the caul from sliding under pressure.


Taper the top of the leg frames with a saw sled. If you are only making one or two chairs, you can forgo this sled and just use a bandsaw and belt sander.



Glue and clamp the chair base. Assemble the base on a flat surface and make sure all the legs are touching the benchtop.


Attach the foot assembly with one screw at each leg. Drill pilot holes in the feet and legs to lessen the chance of anything cracking. I don’t use glue here so the foot assemblies can easily be replaced if they become worn or suffer decay.


Taper the back post with the help of a planer sled. Wax the bottom of the sled so it feeds smoothly through your planer.You can also make this taper with your jointer or a hand plane.


Assemble the back frame with glue and clamps. Check for square by measuring corner to corner.


Attach the back frame to the base with the help of angled clamping blocks and a 2x4.This arrangement puts pressure at a right angle to the joint and keeps everything tight until the glue dries.


Rout the side profile on the armrest with the router template and a large pattern bit. A belt sander can do the job if you are only making one or two chairs.


Mark the armrest for the notch that connects it to the back post. Be sure to mark this important joint carefully because it helps support the back post. You want the joint to fit snuggly. To simplify this task, clamp a scrap of 2x4 to the side frame to support the armrest while marking the notch.


Cutting the notch in the armrest requires angled and straight cuts. First make the angle cuts with a handsaw.Then mark a stop line so you don’t over cut when bandsawing the rest of the notch.The waste remains attached by a small amount of wood, but it is easily snapped off. Clean up any roughness with a chisel.


Attach the armrest. First screw it to the back post.Then twist the arm slightly to create a 1/4-in. overhang on the inside at the front leg. Counterbore for the wood plugs and drill pilot holes for the screws. Finally, glue and screw the armrest to the legs.


Sew the fabric seat. Do it yourself, bribe a relative or hire an upholsterer. Outdoor canvas is available in many colors and patterns. It’s made to withstand sun and rain, and is mildew resistant.


Install the fabric seat with small screws. They’re easy to remove if you need to retighten or replace the seat. Stretch the fabric taut when installing it.









This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April 2002, issue #93