DIY Outdoor Lawn Furniture
I live in the rural outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, in a sleepy country town where most of our Sunday afternoons are spent sitting outside, visiting with friends and family. And we’re multiplying. Our family is growing with new additions, so our available seating is in decline. I decided to build a couple of lawn chairs from cedar. These two chairs—one a single-seater, the other a bench—can be built in a weekend without specialty tools and using only basic carpentry skills. It’s a fun DIY project, and one that you can customize in a variety of ways. I used some old extension service plans I found at my grandfather’s house, which I modified slightly. Here’s a look at the basics of construction.
You can find ready-made chairs in a similar style that are made of vinyl, but I thought that for such a traditional style of furniture, vinyl just looks too plastic. I definitely wanted the classic look of wood for the furniture. Although pressure-treated wood can be used, I opted for western red cedar. CedarOne from Weyerhaueser contains natural preservatives in the wood fiber that help it withstand insects and harsh weather conditions. It’s also a beautiful building material with a rustic look that is lightweight, stains well and resists decay, which cuts down on maintenance. I don’t expect these chairs to last forever, but the cedar would give it some extra life and character.
Fasteners are another must-have. The project requires strong, waterproof glue and exterior-grade screw and nails. I used galvanized 6d and 8d nails, along with 1-1/4-inch and 3-inch decking screws.
Getting started, a good rule of thumb is to gather all your building materials, tools and fasteners at the work site. Keep everything organized to prevent return trips to the hardware store. A comfortable work site is also important. I was building in my back yard, which afforded plenty of space to work and lots of natural light. I set up some sawhorses and used a couple of plywood sheets as a tabletop.
Begin with the leg assemblies. The leg assemblies are built the same way for both the single- and the bench-style chairs. For each leg assembly, use 1-by-4 stock to cut two of each component: 22-inch-long front legs, 24-inch rear legs, 24-3/4-inch upper supports, and 37-1/4-inch lower supports. Mark the pieces so you don’t mix them up.
Fasten the front leg to the upper support as shown in Fig. 1. The leg goes on the outside of both the supports, and the “outside” will swap sides when you build the other leg assembly—remember, one leg assembly should mirror the other one, not duplicate it. Make a simple overlap joint, aligning the two pieces flush at the two foremost edges. Use a square to make sure you’re joining at 90 degrees. Apply a quality waterproof glue at the joint—a strong polyurethane adhesive like Gorilla Glue works great—and drive three 1-1/14-inch exterior-grade screws to secure the connection.
Note: Throughout this project, anywhere you drive screws you should first drill pilot holes and countersink the screws to avoid splitting the wood.
Next, install the lower leg support to the inside of the front leg with screws and glue. Take note of Fig. 2 (see pg. 63); the front end of the lower support is cut at an angle parallel to the edge of the front leg, and set back 3/4 inches to allow for the installation of the front fascia board (cross-member) of the chair.
The upper edge of the lower support should be located 15 inches from the bottom of the front leg. In relation to the front leg, this sloped angle of the lower support represents the angle of the chair’s seat, laid back for a comfortable sitting position. You can play with the lower support’s angle in relation to the front leg, but the angle must match the support’s angle on the other leg assembly, or you’ll be sitting kind of funny in your poorly constructed chair. I used a 71-degree angle, and found it created a comfortable seat. Make note of your angle with a protractor and transfer the same angle to the other leg assembly.
The rear leg is then fastened to the inside of the supports. Construction of the leg assemblies is the trickiest part of this project. After fastening the front leg and upper support, you’ll need to initially lay out the other two pieces loosely, sliding them around to adjust their positions and marking their installation locations accordingly. You’ll need to mark the angled front cut of the lower support in place, make the cut, then replace the support and fasten securely. Because of the various layers of boards, the leg assembly won’t sit flat on a workbench, so use some scrap pieces of 1-by-4 to support it as needed. Fasten with three screws and glue at each joint.
Once assembled, use a jigsaw or hand saw to trim off the excess corners. Then use a T-square along the bottom of the front leg—where the chair will meet the ground—and make a flush line along the bottom of the rear leg and lower support. Trim off this excess wood so the chair will sit evenly on the ground. Use the first leg assembly as a pattern for the second, remembering to build a mirror image, not a duplicate of the first. Note: The leg assemblies for the chair and the bench are built exactly the same; the only difference is the construction of the seat back and length of the seat boards.
Finishing the Seat
Next, it’s back to the saw to cut the remaining chair components. For the single-seater chair, use 1-by-4 stock to cut eight 25-inch-long boards. These will be the four seat boards, the two seat cross-members, and the two seat-back cleats. From the 1-by-4, also cut two 20-inch pieces to serve as the seat-back wings.