The Seat Base & Corner Blocks
Note: When I talk about the many parts of this chair, I name them as if I were sitting in the chair.
It was at this stage of the project that the excitement in my shop was so heavy it couldn’t be cut in two with a new chain saw.
We’ve come a very long way…from boxes of parts…to a full set of chairs.
I now had 10 assembled chairs scattered about my shop just waiting for their final parts. YeeHaw!! Wait a minute…that’s not how a true Minnesotan shows his excitement. “Hey Dale…are you happy right now?!!” You betcha!!
As far as assembly goes, there are only two more parts to fabricate. The corner blocks and the seat base. Once they were complete, it’s on to the finishing stage.
The Corner Blocks:
The corner blocks serve two purposes. They give you a nice anchoring system for the chair seat, but more importantly, they give much more strength to the overall structure of your chair.
My corner blocks were made from leftover 1 1/8” thick cherry stock roughly 2 1/4- 2 1/2 inches wide. (You can certainly get by with smaller stock.)
A couple tips to keep in mind while making your corner blocks:
The two rear corner blocks are basically identical to each other, and your two front blocks are identical to each other. (However, they are not identical to each other from front to rear.)
The two rear corner blocks will have a 45 degree angle touching the rear rail and a 49.5 degree “open” angle (or more than 45 degrees) touching the side rails. The two front corner blocks will have a 45 degree angle touching the front rail and a 49.5 degree “closed” angle (or less than a 45 degree angle) touching the side rails.
So here is how I whipped out a pile of rear corner blocks.
I set my chop saw to 49.5 degrees right. (My chop saw will not go beyond 45 degrees left.)
Then I’d cut that 49.5 degree angle on both ends of my stock.
Next, I’d swing my chop saw in the opposite direction to 45 degrees left, and chop a corner block off of both ends of my stock.
After cutting the two corner blocks in the photo above, you’ll end up with 45’s on both ends of your stock. Next I moved my saw back to the 49.5 degree mark right, then flipped the board over, and finally I slid the stock to the right side of my blade to make those 49.5 degree cuts. And so on…
For the front corner blocks you’ll have to take into account that the 49.5 degree cut will be a closed cut…or less than a 45 degree cut. But the process is basically the same. In no time at all, you’ll have a pile of rear and front corner blocks.
On my first couple corner blocks, I cut a notch out of the inside corner allowing the block to fit in around the inside corner of each leg. (You can see those notches in the corner block photos above.) Later I found that it was much easier (and quicker) to just grind down that same corner on the disc sander.
Normally one would pre-drill and countersink two holes into each block, add glue, and then finally screw the corner blocks to each corner. However, I tried something new this time. I glued and “tightly” clamped all of my blocks into place, let them dry, and then predrilled and countersunk my two screw holes into each corner block. Once done, I screwed two sheetrock screws into each block and into each rail.
Very important note: Please be sure to choose a drill bit and screw length that won’t allow you to go though the outside surface of your rails!!
From there I drilled a 1/4” hole down through the top of each corner block on just one chair. (More on why just one chair later.) This hole will be for the 1/4” bolt that comes up through the bottom of each corner block and into the seat base’s t-nut.
Note: I went back and enlarged the hole in each corner block giving me a little more fudge room for the four seat base bolts. If I recall correctly I think I enlarged each hole to 1/2 inch.
The Seat Base:
I built one seat base (or seat frame) according to Kevin Rodel’s plans.
Enter our local upholsterer.
My wife and I have a very good friend who lives about 6 blocks away that has been doing professional upholstery work for many, many years. She’s such a treasure to have living so close to our home.
When I brought the seat frame over to her house, she told me that this type of seat frame tends to stretch the webbing over time…eventually giving the seat a “sinking” feeling. So she talked me into making a very simple 1/2” thick plywood seat base. And I must say, it worked out great. Plus it took a lot less time to make.
I started out by making a seat base template out of 1/4” plywood. She told me to leave about an 1/8” space all the way around the edge. This would give her plenty of room for the fabric.
Take your time on this part. It’s really important to get this part just right.
Once I had the template done, I placed the template in place, and then stuck a pencil up through the hole in all four corner blocks of my first chair…making a mark on the underside of the template. This would mark the exact position for all four holes on the template.
Next I drilled a 1/4” hole at all four marks on the seat template.
With all four holes drilled in the seat template, I set the template in place and marked a pencil mark on the top sides of all corner blocks on the remaining 9 chairs. This assured me that the holes on all 10 chairs were identically located in relation to the seat template.
Now it’s on to making the actual seat bases.
Taking the exact front to back measurement of the seat template, and a “strong” side to side measurement, I cut a pile of seat base blanks from 1/2” birch plywood.
Next I placed the seat base blanks up against my table saw fence one at a time, and then traced the outline of the template to the blanks.
By cutting away the pencil mark with a straight edge and circular saw, your seat base should come out identical to your template.
Note: My upholsterer and I thought that it would be a wise decision to create one complete upholstered seat to see if it fits OK before upholstering all 10 seats. Good thing we did, because it was just a bit too large side to side between the leg areas.
Now you can transfer your template hole markings to your seat base blanks, and drill the bolt holes.
Placing t-nuts into the four seat base holes from the top gives you a strong anchor for the four bolts that will eventually be threaded up through your corner blocks. To make sure that the t-nuts wouldn’t fall out during upholstery time, I covered each t-nut with a small chunk of duct tape.
Here’s what things look like once you have all of your seat bases complete.
Well, if you’ve made it this far…it’s time to start thinking about adding your “finishing” touches to the chairs.
Seeing that I completed my 10 chairs in December (in Minnesota), using my HVLP sprayer was out of the question. Spraying 3 coats of poly outdoors with 3 feet of snow and temps hovering around 20 above Fahrenheit just wouldn’t cut it.
So all finish work had to be done indoors via brush. Brushing on one coat of Zinsser’s Bulls Eye Shellac to even out the cherry grain, then cherry stain to help match the chairs to our existing cherry furniture, 1 coat of gloss polyurethane, and 2 coats of satin polyurethane was what it took to complete my set of 10 side chairs.
And yes…at this stage of the game…a cocktail just might be in order. :)
Note chair plans hanging in the background.
Once everything has had a chance to dry, I installed the upholstered seats, applied chair pads to the bottoms of all legs, and of course added my final “brand” to each chair.
The following photos are just a quick glimpse at how things turned out:
The following two shots show you how the laminated rear legs turned out on two different chairs. One chair the grain was hardly noticeable, and the other turned out quite wild. I actually don’t have an issue with the way either one turned out. So I wouldn’t let “leg lamination” hold you back if you can’t find thick enough stock for your legs.
Here are two shots (of the same chair) showing what the two completely different grains look like on the laminated front leg. Kind of interesting look. Again, I can certainly live with this look.
The next two shots show an interesting and very wild grain on the upper crest rail of one chair. At first I though that maybe I should have had the grain going in the opposite direction, like a smiling face…but I kind of like how it turned out nonetheless.
(It gives you a good idea how grain direction can really affect the looks of a chair.)
Here is a shot of another chair with the grain running in the opposite direction compared to the chair in the photos above.
During the very first chair assembly, I came across an upper crest rail that had a huge hole in it. (Originally it was just a spare “practice” part.) I was about to throw this upper crest rail into the cull box when my wife said that she wanted it installed into her chair. And so it is indeed a part of her chair. (Note that this chair has no pyramids on the tops of the rear legs. This was before I learned how to perform that task with help from Mr. Marc Rosen.)
Going back to the “Lower Stretchers” chapter, I mentioned that I wanted the two opposing lower stretchers to stand out from each other in relation to their grain flow. The following two photos show what I meant when I mentioned that small detail.
Here are a couple close ups of the pyramids on top of the front and rear legs.
Here I’m showing you how flash photography can drastically change the appearance for the same chair. (First shot is with flash, second is without.)
Our chairs turned out looking more like the non-flash version without the higher gloss look. All chairs ended up somewhere between satin and semi-gloss. Which is exactly what we wanted.
Just a couple more photos showing the beautiful grain of cherry.
And my very final photo for this class…thank goodness the chairs have been “shop foreman” approved.
A final note about finishing. Seeing that I had to brush on all finish coats indoors, I ended up with ever so tiny chunks of dust in my finish…as usual. Even with having a fairly nice air filtration system and walking about my fairly clean shop with very light steps, I still end up with lots of airborne crud.
Here’s a great tip to help solve the issue of “dried in” dust:
Cut up some brown paper grocery bags and hand the pieces out to your guests at your first “chair party”. If they feel a part of the chair that needs attention, have them rub that part of the chair with the piece of grocery bag about 6-8 times. Think of it as free 2000 grit sandpaper. Works wonders!!
That’s pretty much the end of this class on Kevin Rodel’s Side Chair. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey.
I also hope that you’ve learned how to use at least one or two chair-building tips, and can now use them in your shop while building these really nice…and I might add…very comfortable chairs.
If you ever decide to build this chair and have any questions that I might be able to help you with, please feel free to ask. I’ll do my best to help you along.
And one final note. Again I would like to thank Marc Rosen (a member of LumberJocks) for his extremely helpful tips during my “pyramid shaping” days!!
Until next time…happy and safe woodworking everyone.
Dale “Grampa Doodie” Peterson
-- If at first you don't succeed...DO NOT try skydiving.