Dining Chair Build

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Blog entry by PPK posted 06-28-2016 02:49 PM 1354 reads 2 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Here’s what I decided to make, more or less.

I drew up some plans. I followed them pretty closely, but did change a few thicknesses of some of the stretchers. I red-lined them and will save them fro later.

Plan of the chair back.

Plan of the chair seat/legs, from the top.

I glued up some blanks for the chair seats. Some people don’t like the “mismatch” of hickory, but I absolutely love it. The more contrast, the better, I think.

I cut out two templates (the second one is for a smaller set of chairs to go around the dining room table – future project) from baltic birch plywood, 1/4”.

I used the templates to trace the back chair legs onto a piece of 8/4.

Then cut them out with my jigsaw. This was pre-band saw ownership.

Part way cut out now.

I screwed the templates onto the chair legs in places that the mortises would be, so the screw holes would not be visible. This was a good plan, but I ended up changing the location of the mortises a little, so I did have to putty 2 holes in each chair. Oops.

I took the chair leg to the router table with a big top bearing flush trim bit. This is tricky, and I ended up getting a few divots. I got good with the spoke shave and hand planes to clean up the legs after routing them. Since then I’ve bought two more hand planes! Its really fun when you get them sharpened and working right.

Ok, now on to the steam bending. Here’s my steam box assembly. Nothing fancy here. But, after a few tweaks, it works great.

I did end up wrapping the whole thing in 1/2” rigid styrofoam insulation, to get the temperature up. It now runs just over 200 degrees. I let the kettle run for about 20 mins or half hour to get it hot first. Then I leave the wood in about 1 hr. per inch of thickness, so about a 50 mins in this case.

Here’s the simple form I made to bend the chair backs over. Sitting on top of the form is a compression strap I put over the wood. This forces the wood to compress, not stretch. Wood fibers don’t stretch well. I had zero blow outs doing it this way.

Here’s the wood in the form, clamped and cooling. It does require VERY quick work before the wood cools. we’re talking seconds. And it also requires a lot of force. More than my beefy vise can deliver. Hence the pipe clamp. Kinda like a turbo charged vise now.

Once cooled, I clamp the pieces on the bench for about a week until they dry out to prevent too much spring back. I did end of with some spring back but it was just right, I guess I guesstimated the “over curve” just right!
I’m no pro at this, this was my first try. I’ll be honest.

Back the the seats now. I traced the shape of the “butt impression on using a simple template.

Then drilled several holes with a stop collar on the drill bit to gauge my grinding depth. Once the hole is gone, stop grinding. Worked perfectly.

Now I’ve got a super rough seat . you can kind of see the cheap Harbor Freight grinding wheel with carbide bits embedded in it. After I used that, I used a “flapper disk” one of this disks with the little flaps of sand paper on the angle grinder to get some of the scratch marks out. Right about now I’m wishing hickory wasn’t my favorite wood. It is HARD.

Then I spent lots of time with the Random orbital and progressive grits.

Finally cut the seats to size and applied the finish.

Then I started cutting lots of mortises and tennons. There are a lot of them.

I assembled the backs. There was a lot of dry-fitting that occurred.

Here are the legs after getting mortised. Nothing fancy. Just 3/8” mortises. Not at all concerned about strength. Hickory is tough stuff.

I cut most all the tennons on the table saw. Used a shoulder plane to trim them if they fit too tightly.

I did end up cutting some of the shoulders by hand. It was easier than trying to set up the saw.

All the parts laid out for sanding and assembly.

This was one of the tricky parts to make.

I call it a “compound tenon.” Its angled in both directions.

I used an adjustable-angle tennoning jig that I made to make these compound tenons.

I can adjust the angle in one plane by loosening the big eye bolts. The other angle I achieve by cutting a wedge of the appropriate angle. I actually used the SAS triangle math stuff I leaned in high school and it work out for me… lol Another shot of the jig with a peice in place to be cut.

Ok, I assembled the fronts and the back separately so that I wouldn’t be too overwhelmed with time constraints of glue setting up too fast.

Then I glued the fronts and backs together. Checked diagonals and adjusted when necessary to ensure squareness. I used TiteBond bottled hide glue for everything.

I installed some beefy corner blocks

They have oversize holes to allow for the chair seat to expand and contract with seasonal changes and not split.

I sanded scraped glue squeeze-out and sanded forever and day (yuck) and then applied a coat of danish oil and wiped on 3 coats of Arm R Seal.

There are some flaws than I notice, but overall, I’m happy.

I just don’t point out the flaws to others, and they think they are great!
Thanks for looking, let me know if you have any questions.

-- Pete

10 comments so far

View dotson79's profile


9 posts in 1099 days

#1 posted 06-28-2016 03:36 PM

Thanks for sharing. I’m wanting to build my son a bar height table and chairs out of a couple of ash trees we cut down in his yard. I’ve been looking for a nice chair design for a year, and this is exactly what I’m looking for. Beautiful looking chairs and the blog will help immensely.

View tool49's profile


6 posts in 167 days

#2 posted 06-28-2016 05:09 PM

I must say, these are great looking.

I am planning a very similar looking chair set to replace our kitchen set.

Have you considered bending the back legs instead of cutting them? Also do you think shorter chairs will survive without the lower set of braces in the legs?

Thanks for sharing your process and congrats on the results!

View PPK's profile


180 posts in 226 days

#3 posted 06-28-2016 06:18 PM

Thanks Dotson and tool49.

I am planning to build table-height (18” seat height) chairs, and I do intend to have just one stretcher in the bottom, centered, or more toward the back. I have no doubts that they would be strong enough with no stretchers, but that’s just not the style I’m going for. Also, I did briefly consider bending the back, but the wood is so thick (1-5/8”) that I just don’t think it would go. Also, there really was very little waste – I just situated them like a jigsaw puzzle on the board, and i was only left with a few skinny triangles of scrap.

-- Pete

View gargey's profile


393 posts in 192 days

#4 posted 06-28-2016 06:38 PM

That must have taken forever

View jr8's profile


2 posts in 106 days

#5 posted 07-06-2016 12:36 PM

I really appreciate you posting this; I was looking for a project like this and hope to make some chairs.
Question though, not clear on the compression strap you mention in bending the backs and it’s not very clear in the photo. Can you elaborate a little more on what it is and how it works?
Thanks again


View PPK's profile


180 posts in 226 days

#6 posted 07-06-2016 01:13 PM

The compression strap keeps the wood from stretching. Supposedly, wood is not good at stretching, even when the wood fibers are “plastic” from being heated via steam bending (or dry bending). However, wood can be compressed to a certain extent, before it starts to buckle on its self. Image the folds of an accordian… you don’t want that look when steam bending ;-). So, the concept is to use a steel strap that does NOT stretch to keep the wood from stetching on the outside radius. Then the only way for the wood to move is to compress. Here’s a shot of my bending strap. I just make it so the wood fits snugly in between the two cleats. I actually did start out with some thinner “plumbers’ tape” that they use to hang pipes with, but it literally stretched about 1/2”... Not good. so, I made another one out of thicker steel strap I bought at the big green home improvement store.

This strap is the one i made with plumbers tape. I don’t think I ever took a pic of the new one.

This shot shows the strap in place. See the two little pieces on either end of the piece being bent? That’s the strap in place, bent along with the wood.

Hope this helps!

-- Pete

View a1Jim's profile


115166 posts in 2994 days

#7 posted 07-06-2016 01:18 PM

Super Blog thanks for sharing.

-- Custom furniture

View PPK's profile


180 posts in 226 days

#8 posted 07-06-2016 01:19 PM

One more thing – for slight bends like this (large radius) I doubt the compression strap is really necessary. I think when you start doing 90 degree bends and things where you are really putting a lot of forces on the wood is when the compression strap really becomes necessary for successful bending.

-- Pete

View jr8's profile


2 posts in 106 days

#9 posted 07-06-2016 01:31 PM

Pete, that was exactly what I was looking for. Now I understand and it makes a ton of sense!
Thanks for the very quick reply and the extra photos. I haven’t tried any steam bending but a co-worker has and he’s been having some troubles – this might be the answer he needs.
Today is my first day signed up to LumberJocks and so far I’m ‘way smarter than I was before…


View PPK's profile


180 posts in 226 days

#10 posted 07-06-2016 02:18 PM

No problem. Ditto to the learning curve. I learned so much from places like this, (and I’m still learning a lot) and I wanted to be able to give a little of my experience and learning back, limited though it may be! Do a search on here (Lumber Jocks), and you can find information and pictures on just about anything you want to learn or build…

-- Pete

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