Build an Outdoor Easy Chair

Create your own cabin-inspired seating that's simple to build and perfect for easy livin'

Once Club member Scott Wallraff completed the weekend-getaway cottage that he designed and built with his wife, Cathy, and their daughter, Mary, he knew it was time for a new project: replacing the metal folding chairs with comfy, complementary indoor seating. Besides matching the cabin's North Woods aesthetic, the new chairs needed to be attractive and sturdy yet swift to assemble and easy on the wallet. Scott did such a great job on all counts that we asked him to share his design with HANDY readers.

Using dimensional pine, Scott designed the chairs' simple parts to be assembled as four basic units for quick, modular construction. That efficiency, along with the casual look of an Adirondack/Morris chair hybrid, makes this a great addition to any getaway spot — whether it's a cabin, a deck or your backyard.

To adapt the chair for outdoor use, we chose cedar and modified the measurements to fit the lumber's heftier (7/8-in.) thickness. Depending on where you plan to use your chair, you could make it from any type of wood; just be sure to check the exact dimensions of the material.

All parts are fastened with exterior-rated glue and deck screws. Be sure to bore pilot holes for all screws to prevent splitting. Add 1/4-in.-deep counterbores for the screws that will be exposed after assembly; you'll conceal the heads with shop-made cedar plugs later.

Assemble the sides
The two sides (which ultimately become the chair's frame) are made from parts A through E (see cutting list, below). Out of the 2x3 stock, cut the four legs (A) to length. If you're using 2x6 boards (see shopping list, in PDF below), rip them down to 2-1/2-in. wide and round over the cut edges.

Cut crosspieces B and C to length, and cut 1/2 x 1/2-in. bevels in the outside ends as shown in the illustration, opposite. These parts will form the outer surfaces of the sides. Build a frame of two legs, one bottom side crosspiece (B) and one top side crosspiece (C), using a framing square to ensure 90-degree joints (photo 1). Note that the top crosspieces will extend 7/8 in. beyond the back leg.

Attach a bottom side crosspiece (B) and then a top side crosspiece (C) to the legs, allowing a 7/8-in. overhang to extend beyond the back leg. The two side panels should be mirror images of each other — not identical. The inner side crosspieces (E) will be attached after the side slats.

Next, cut the side slats (D) to length. Flip the side assembly over and attach the slats, starting at 1-1/2 in. from each leg and leaving a 1-in. gap between the slats (photo 2). Counterbore these pilot holes just deep enough for the screwheads to be flush with the wood. (Plugs will not be necessary because these screws will be hidden.)

For uniformity when attaching the side slats, use a 1-in. spacer between them as you bore the pilot holes and drive the screws. Tip: To save time changing bits on one drill, use two drill/drivers: one to bore and one to drive.

To complete the side assembly, attach the inner side crosspieces (E) between the legs, aligning them with the slat ends. Fasten with two 2-1/2-in. screws at the ends of each piece.

Assemble the seat and back
Two more panels (which are essentially squared-up frames covered with slats) make up the chair's seat and back. To construct the seat, clamp two side seat supports (G) between two horizontal supports (H) and adjust so they are square. Secure the joints using a 2-1/2-in. screws.

Install the seat slats (F), aligning the first and last ones with the seat front and back edges. Attach the slats with two 1-1/4-in. screws at each end. Add the other slats, leaving 1/2-in. gaps (photo 3) between each pair except for the second and third slats — there you need a 1-1/8-in. gap for inserting the chair back. Round over the front and back edges of the chair seat to a 1/8-in. radius, and plug all of the seat's counterbores before assembling the chair.

When attaching the seat slats to the side seat supports, use a 1/2-in.-thick spacer. Drill pilot holes and 1/4-in.-deep counterbores; then drive 1-1/4-in. screws.

To construct the chair back, cut the back slats (I) and back rails (J) to length. On two of the slats, cut a 1/2-in. radius in one corner; these will be the top corners of the chair back. Lay those slats 20-1/2 in. apart (outside to outside edges) on your work surface; then place the other five slats between them, spacing them evenly. Square up the assembly, and using glue and 1-1/4-in. screws, fasten the two back rails (J) in place, perpendicular to the slats. See the illustration in PDF below for spacing above and below the rails.

Assemble the chair
Now you can connect the seat to the two sides. Lay one side on your work surface (outer side down) and attach the seat, making sure that the back of the seat is oriented toward the back leg (photo 4). Next, lay the other side panel on the work surface with the inside facing up. Set the seat assembly on top, aligning front and back edges; drive two screws into each leg (photo 5). Insert a horizontal support (H) between the two front legs and one between the back legs. Secure each connection with two 2-1/2-in. screws.

Align the seat edge flush with the front leg, resting the seat frame against the inner side crosspiece. Drive two screws through the frame into each leg.

Attach the second side, being sure that the outside surface of the chair is facing down. Note that the armrest support pieces extend toward the back of the chair.

To install the backrest supports, set the chair upright. Secure the outer backrest support (L) between the chair sides by driving two 2-1/2-in. screws We made plugs from a scrap of cedar to match the chair's wood. After you've installed the plugs, trim them flush with the surface using a flush-cut pull saw or a sharp chisel and mallet; then sand them smooth. into each back leg (photo 6). Clamp the inner backrest support (M) to part L and fasten them together with four 1-1/4-in. screws. (All of these screws will need plugs, but the toescrew connection will not.)

After the backrest supports (L and M) are attached to the chair and to each other, toescrew into the insides of the back legs (using 2-1/2-in. screws) to enhance stability.

Cut the armrests (N) and backrest (K). Add a 1/2-in. radius to the front corners of each armrest. Clamp the armrests to the sides, being sure to fit the backrest (K) piece between them (photo 7). Attach them to the chair, driving 1-1/4-in. screws into the tops of the side crosspieces (C and E) and the backrest supports (L and M) and into the tops of the legs.

Clamp both armrests and the backrest in place before you start drilling pilot holes so you can be sure they are adjusted evenly. The fronts and backs of the armrests will have a slight overhang.

There's no need to fasten the back panel to the chair; it's removable for easier transportation and storage. We made and installed wood plugs to cover screw holes (photo 8) and then added a clear finish, which brought out a warm, orange tone in the cedar, and a cushy cushion (see sources in PDF below).

We made plugs from a scrap of cedar to match the chair's wood. After you've installed the plugs, trim them flush with the surface using a flush-cut pull saw or a sharp chisel and mallet; then sand them smooth.

Once you complete a chair or two, sit down and enjoy your getaway — and start thinking about your next project.

This project is part of HANDY's Top 5 Collection: Furniture Projects.
Click here to check out the other four furniture articles in this collection.