Adirondack Chair Class #4: Templates and Front Leg Support

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 12-21-2011 06:54 AM 6008 reads 5 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Buying lumber and supplies Part 4 of Adirondack Chair Class series Part 5: Making leg support (part G) and making leg assembly »

On to making the templates, as I’ve said before, templates are not an absolute necessity, but you’ll end up making more than one chair so templates are nice to have.

MDF is my preferred material of choice for patterns. It’s easy to work with and has no voids that plywood would have. MDF comes in ½” and ¾” thicknesses. One-half inch is much more manageable for patterns. Before I made my MDF patterns, I actually ironed the paper flat to take out the creases. The fact that I even own an iron would shock most of my friends, the fact that I have used it may actually cause them to have heart attacks! Of course using it as a woodworking tool probably would not be so shocking to them. The creases in the paper can make a difference when you put it onto the MDF.

I make patterns of the front leg (part I), leg support (part G), arms (part K), the arm support (part J), the middle slat (part A) and the four skinny slats (parts B & C). The 4 skinny slats are the same side to side dimension the only difference is length. I’ve marked the two different lengths on the one pattern.

It’s not really necessary to make patterns for parts A, B & C, but I did just because I put notes to myself on how to build or other things that come up while I’m making a chair. It’s just as easy to simply cut your slats to length and use a compass to mark out the radius on each piece.

You’ll notice that the leg support – part G has no screw holes marked at the front. You’ll be determining that as you go along.

The first thing I do is make the font legs (part I).

The front legs are 19 3/4” high
5 1/2” across the top
2 1/4” across the bottom

The legs are made from a 1×6. I’m careful to work around any knots and plan ahead for where my dowel holes are going to go. I generally mark out the shape and mark the waste portion of the board before I start cutting so I don’t have to think about it when I start actually cutting at the table saw.

Use either a chop saw or hand saw to cut your legs down to 19 ¾”. I use my chop saw to do this. When using the chop saw to cut boards down to length be sure to use a support under the board that hangs over the end of the saw’s table.

Also, to avoid blow out (splintered edges) on your board use a backing board that will support the fibers of the board.

Finally use a stop block to ensure all pieces you cut are the same length. It’s not a huge deal on this type of project if you end up with a leg that is 19 7/8 or 19 ½ instead of the 19 ¾” you are shooting for. The important thing is that the legs are all the same height. With that said, you should shoot for the right size in everything you do, but don’t get a gray hair or throw out a perfectly good leg over a small measurement error.

There are two ways to make the legs. The simplest way is simply is to take your same-height legs and put a measurement mark at 2 ¼” from one bottom edge. Then using a straight edge draw a line from the very corner of the top of the leg and connect it to the 2 ¼” mark.

Using this method take the legs to the band saw and cut as close to the line as possible – but stay outside the line. It’s easiest if you carpet tape the two legs together and cut them at the same time. Once cut use a palm sander or a belt sander to sand down to the line. Cutting and sanding at the same time will ensure both legs are the same.

Part of the beauty of an Adirondack chair is it’s “homemade” look – so little variances in shape actually add a bit of character to the chair so while you are trying to make the best chair possible – try not to get upset if you have a knick here or there.

The second way to make the leg is to make a tapering jig. This is very best way to ensure your legs are exactly the same.

The tapering jig does not have to be anything fancy. Use a scrap of MDF as a base, measure up from the end 19/34” then measure over 5 ½” from the top mark then measure from the bottom edge 2 ¼”, use a straight edge to connect the marks 5 ½” and 2 ¼” marks. You can use straight edged scraps to use as stop blocks. You can either tape or nail the stop blocks down. I also tape my actual wood piece to the jig.

You can use the paper pattern to check your jig measurements. Once you get the jig finished you can cut all your legs at the same time. The sled will pass by the right side of the blade and as the work piece passes through the blade the waste will fall to the left of the blade.

If you are going to make a template – I would suggest using the tapering jig to make it that will give you two crisp edges to use to mark future work pieces.

From here I’m going to assume you are making a template, but it should be easy enough to convert to a one-off making of the chair.

Carefully place your paper template onto the MDF template. You’ll see there are three marks for screw holes at the center of the leg and two marks for screw holes at the top. The three marks are what you will use to connect the leg (part I) to the leg support (part G). You’ll see on my template that I have drilled a 3/8” hole through all five screw locations. I used a drill press to do this so that the holes are completely straight.
When you drill your holes be sure to have a backer board under the template piece so you can avoid blow out. Use a 3/8” Forstner bit for this as you’ll use that size throughout the project.

Now take a look at the tip of your Forstner bit. You’ll see it has a very sharp point in the middle and several sharp points around its edge. You’ll use the point and those edges to your advantage.

Tape your legs together using carpet tape. Then tape your template to the top of the legs. Use your table saw fence as a backstop to be sure your legs are taped together even.

Here is where those sharp edges and tip come in handy. Use an old Forstner bit (provided you have one) to mark where you will drill your holes. Yes you can leave the template on the legs and simply position the drill bit to go through the template and into the work piece, but do this often enough and you’ll eventually get your template holes chewed up.

Place your Forstner bit into each hole and use a small hammer to tap down on the bit hard enough to make an impression of the bit into the wood.

Take off your template but leave your two legs taped together. You’ll see that the bit left a large centering hole/mark and several smaller gouges where the edges of the bit marked the wood.

The top two holes that will connect the arm support (part J) will only be drilled at this point with the 3/32nd drill bit. Use the bit to drill through both legs. Use the large center hole created by the Forstner bit as a guide to drill the pilot holes.

Then go back to the drill press to drill your holes that will connect the front leg and the leg support (part G). You can now see that the marks made by tapping the bit into the template’s holes give you the location to drill now. As you drill through the wood, be sure to bring the bit up and out to clear out wood chips. Not allowing the chips to clear out will heat the bit and probably burn your wood – not so bad in this scenario but still good practice to clear those chips. Drill all the way through the two pieces being sure to have a backer board to avoid blow out. (If your drill press will not go through both pieces it will probably go through enough of the second piece to mark it so that you can finish drilling after separating the pieces.)

You now have your legs and will be prepared to get the leg supports marked. That’s next lesson.

As always, if you have questions or I’ve not explained something well enough, please feel free to ask.

Thanks for sticking with me on this.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

2 comments so far

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3780 days

#1 posted 12-21-2011 05:22 PM

Super tutorial, Betsy!

I love the center marking tip of using the Forsner bit. That one goes to the top of my tool box of helpful hits. THANKS!!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Ken90712's profile


17563 posts in 3213 days

#2 posted 01-11-2012 11:50 AM

Well done.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

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