by Jeff Miller
I’ve always found making something simple yet refined to be more work than it seems. I suspect that the slat-back chair doesn’t exactly look simple to build if you’re not a chairmaker. But it is relatively simple in the world of chairs, and it is a great entry into chairmaking. It covers all of the basic issues: curves, angles, comfort and structure.
In its refinement, though, it goes well beyond the basics, and gets into some sophisticated joinery that adds considerably to the strength of the chair. This is also a very comfortable chair, which is neither basic nor at all common. And it is a chair that has great presence, especially around a dining table. Simplicity. Comfort. Presence. Not a bad combination.
I don’t build my chairs from plans. Instead, I rely on patterns. They define the shape of the legs, and I make sure to include information for all of the joinery that will be cut in the legs. Even though I’ve provided plans here, it still makes sense to begin by making your own patterns.
I use 1⁄4″ plywood for most of my patterns, but there are also advantages to working with 1⁄8″ clear plastic. With the latter, you can see the grain as you trace the leg shapes onto your wood. But 1⁄4″ plywood is always available in my shop, and it can be smoothed out easily with a handplane (I actually keep a garage-sale block plane handy for use as a plywood plane). You’ll want to spend time smoothing the edges of the pattern as well as you can, because any problems will be transmitted down the line to the actual work.
Once your rear leg pattern is cut, spend a few moments on the joinery layout, and mark out the two side-to-side and the one front-to-back mortises on the pattern.
Blog: Visit Jeff Miller’s blog and web site.
Plan: Download a free SketchUp model of the slat-back chair.
Web Site: Sign up for one of Jeff’s classes at his shop in Chicago.
To buy: Get Jeff’s new video: “Design & Techniques for Curvy Furniture.”
In Our Store: Jeff’s book and DVD, “The Foundations of Better Woodworking.”
From the October 2015 issue