Adirondack Chairs

Published Monday, August 30, 2021 by Bryan
New Adirondack-inspired chairs.

Most projects I never build more than once, especially outside of gift-giving seasons. The chairs in the picture above, though, are the exception.

I first built Adirondack chairs based on a Popular Mechanics plan fifteen years ago. On a new-college-grad budget, I built two out of big-box-store pine to furnish our first apartment.

Dark, blurry photo of the first Adirondack chair I built.
Built before I was blogging or carrying a decent camera in my pocket, there are few pictures of these chairs.

Several years later, a local summer camp was looking for some furniture to outfit some of their newly renovated buildings. I prepped pieces for six.

Stack of cut and drilled, but unassembled and unfinished parts of six Adirondack chairs.
Luckily other volunteers were anxious to paint!

That makes these two numbers nine and ten. Though, each round has had its own unique elements. I've never followed the exact plan as published. For the first eight, that mostly meant correcting for plank thickness and choosing arm and back shapes. The plan for these latest chairs looked like this when I had finished:

Plans marked up with changes in red.
I should really archive some of this more formally. I would link to the original, but it's lost to Pinterest loops.

At this point, I think I have to call these "Adirondack-inspired". To me, a signature of the Adirondack chair is a significant reclined posture - the seat slopes strongly downward toward the back. That can be nice, but for most of the time we wanted to use these chairs, it felt like too much. Instead of the steep 20º seat angle, I've reduced it to 10º. Still relaxed, but not reclined, it feels much nicer to, for instance, write blog posts on my laptop in this one.

Side view of one chair
Shallower seat angle, and separate rear foot.

That reduction in angle meant that the second signature of the style had to change as well. Normally, the rear legs are simply an extension of the seat stretchers. Even at the normal 20º seat angle, these stick out a ways behind the chair, taking up quite a bit more floor space than necessary. At 10º, they would have nearly doubled the depth of the chair. I've cut the stretchers at the rear edge of the back brace, and attached separate rear legs instead. They're raked backward slightly, to give them something of a midcentury modern shape, but still land only a small distance behind the back. This is already saving space in our screen porch.

Folded view of one chair
Near-flat position is much easier to move around.

Speaking of space saving, I couldn't help but follow the trend everyone seems to be using in 2021. These chairs are foldable! Popping a latch on the back brace allows the back, arms, and front legs to pivot and lay flat against the seat. Many people are doing this for off-season storage, but there is a better reason: doorways. The standard Adirondack design will make it through a standard 30 inch doorway only with some careful twisting. Folded up, these can be walked through a doorway with ease.

Anything I could do to make movement easier was a necessary to counteract one choice that makes them harder to move. As I'm sure you guessed, one reason to build this chair again was that the original pine builds didn't last. They were fine for the ten years we kept them inside, but a few seasons out on a cement patio, and they needed a complete overhaul. I don't know how much we'll take these all the way outside, but they will see more climate fluctuation on our screen porch. So, I've opted for a much more rot-resistant wood: white oak. It's a beautiful wood, it feels solid … and it makes the chairs weigh nearly 50 pounds. At least they won't be blowing around in the wind!

It has taken me longer to finish these two than I expected. That's mostly due to me deciding not to rush, and to spend time focusing on little details like grain-matching dowel plugs. That means these chairs have missed most of the summer, but they've arrived in time for the best porch season. Coffee in the cool Autumn breeze is delightful.

Pile of nearly-finished parts of two more chairs
Guest chairs, for when guests are a thing again.

I do have a little more work to do. Guest chairs, a.k.a. numbers 11 and 12, await dowel plugs and finish. Could I ask you all a favor? Please do your part to help stop the spread of COVID-19, so that I can reasonably expect to have guests over often enough to need these guest chairs. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, wash your hands, and avoid large crowds, so that we can all see each other again soon. Thank you.

Categories: Woodworking