For woodworkers, building a chair is one of the most challenging projects. Unlike other building projects, chairs have to hold the weight of the user and still be comfortable. Chairs can also have intricate designs and they require the builder to know about joints and joinery. If you are new to building chairs, try your hand at constructing a child’s chair.
Before you can build the chair, you need to design it to the height of the person using it. In this case, consider the age of the child who will use it. What is his height? The child’s feet should be able to rest easily on the ground when he is sitting. Keep that in mind when you build the height of the legs and the seat. Make sure the chair will offer support and comfort. A straight chair is not truly straight. The seat and the back of the chair should connect at a slight angle for proper lumbar support. For a child, this angle will be a bit smaller compared to a chair built for an adult.
You need to decide how the chair is going to fit together. This is where joinery comes in. Several different woodworking techniques can be used to connect the legs with the seat or connecting arms to the back. The general way of connecting these pieces is with dowels and tenons. A dowel is a small wooden pin that will slide into a hole where the chair connects. A tenon is a thicker carved-out piece of wood that will slide into a chiseled-out connection. While dowels are easier to install, a tenon will hold more weight and stand up better to abuse.
Putting it together
When you're ready to cut the wood, in most cases you will start with one side of the chair. For example, you will cut out one back leg which will curve up to the back of the chair. Take this back leg and add either the dowel or tenon joints. There will be two sets of joints, one to accommodate the bottom side stretcher and the other for the top side rail. Cut out the side stretcher and side rail along with the front leg and glue them together at the joints. Use a clamp to adhere the glue to the joints. You will repeat this process with the other side of the chair. You will now have two sides of chair that will now need to be added together with a seat and back. Cut out joints to accommodate the crest rail, which is the top of the chair, along with a front and back rail. Glue into place and use clamps until the glue dries. You can now add a back or seat made out of wood or cushions. You can even add arms rests to the chair if you desire. This will require you to add joints to the sides and back of the chair and cutting the wood to fit. You can finish up the child’s chair by sanding it and staining it or by painting it in vivid colors.
- Practical Design Solutions and Strategies; Fine Woodworking; Taunton Press; 2000
- Basic Woodworking; Sunset Books; 1986
James J. Siegel is a journalist with over ten years of experience. He graduated from Bowling Green State University and works as an editor for a trade magazine. His freelance work has appeared in San Francisco Apartment Magazine and Meefers.com.