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Reitveld Chair


Reitveld Chair

We’ve turned an icon of modern design into a comfortable, easy-to-build outdoor project.

By Tom Caspar

In 1918 the Dutch cabinetmaker Gerrit Rietveld reduced the idea of a chair to a 3D grid of painted sticks and boards. His revolutionary design became one of the most famous pieces of 20th-century furniture—the Red- Blue chair.

Let’s take a new look at it. Although his chair appears easy to put together, getting all those sticks precisely located is tough, especially if you have only two hands. And all the pieces look alike! To make this jigsaw puzzle simpler to put together, I’ve figured out a building system based on two plywood boards and a few spacing blocks. If, like most people, you want to build a bunch of chairs instead of just one, this system is the ticket.Once you’ve built the first chair, the rest will be easy as ABC.

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We’ve painted this demonstration chair to show you how easy it is to put together. Each color refers to a separate group of parts.

Click any image to see a larger version.

Mark the ends of all the D rails with this reversible guide block. Drill holes on your marks by hand or with a drill press. The screws must easily slip through these holes. Countersink both sides.

While you have the drill set up, put holes in rails E and F as well and countersink both sides.

Assemble the front legs and bottom rail. Lock them in place on Fixture A. Spacer #1, at the end of the rail, sets the overhang. Spacer #2 (which is actually a chair arm) fixes the rail’s distance from the bottom of the leg. Drill pilot holes into both legs, then remove the rail and blow off the wood dust. Apply water-resistant glue to the joints. Then replace the rail and drive in the screws.

Repeat this operation for the middle and back assemblies.

Flip the leg assembly around and re-install it in the fixture. Then insert spacer #3 to position the upper rail.

Install the upper rail of the middle assembly with two #4 spacers.

Butt rail E of the back assembly against the stop stick. Place two seat boards under the fixture to raise the stop stick to the level of the rail. Use two spacer blocks #1 to set the overhang.

Screw the back leg assembly to the arms. Clamp the arms in place across Fixture B. Spacer blocks #1 position the arm rail from the stop stick and set the overhang.

Clamp the middle leg assembly in place with spacer #4 (the same spacer you used in Photo 4, but turned the other way around). Spacer #1 sets the legs in from the arm’s edge.

Drill pilot holes through rail F, then screw and glue it in place.

Repeat the same process on the other side of the chair and remove Fixture B.

Install three corner brackets on both arms. Use stainless steel screws if your chair’s going outside.

Clamp the front leg assembly in place. Drill pilot holes into the legs and drive in two screws to temporarily hold the assembly in place. Then remove the clamps, drill the pilot holes into the front assembly’s rail and remove the temporary screws. Apply glue to the assembly and drive in all the screws.

Add the backboards. Tilt the chair back on a support block made from the spacers. Pre-drill the holes in the backboards and cut registration dadoes in them. Then drill pilot holes into the chair rails and drive in the screws. This is not a glued joint.

Insert a thin spacer between the seat boards to keep them parallel. The seat is not glued to the rails.

Glue and screw the cleat behind the top of the backboards.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April 2000, Issue #79.

April 2000, Issue #79

Purchase this back issue.