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Make Smoke, Boil Water!
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This article takes you through how to build a solid, long-lasting, and comfortable deck chair.

Here's a shot of the finished chair.

I'll give you our method for building it. I apologize for not having any "in-process" shots because my nephew was helping and he works FAST!! :dogrun: We were also trying to get it done before sundown. Total construction time was about 4 hours, with two of us going full-blast on it. Now that we know how it goes together, we could probably do another one in about half the time.

This project got started because I sit outside on the deck almost every night, in all kinds of weather, to try to honor God for this wonderful place in which we live, and for all the things with which he has blessed us. But my comfortable deck chair is now about 15 years old, I've repaired it about three times, and the metal in it is fatigued. Time for a replacement.

I'd been thinking about how to do this with some kind of economy, but something better and longer-lasting than you can get at a box store; and I happened to see this online video here from Popular Mechanics about a guy who builds deck furniture out of heavy framing lumber.

If you take a few moments to watch that video, then continue with this article, it’ll give you a framework to understand what we did. Because we used his basic concept, but made many modifications, a lot of things will make more sense.

After watching that video, I began to get excited about something like this for a replacement chair, and so emailed my nephew. We got to emailing back and forth about dimensions, materials, finishes, and so on. He occasionally comes down to help with projects around the house, and his son, my great-nephew, came down one morning and helped me get a bunch of things done around the house. And we had this as a side project.

But after watching the video a few times, my nephew noticed several flaws in the guy's design: first, if you built it like he did, then your backside would be right down near the floor and it'd be nearly impossible to get out of it. That's OK if you're young, but me, with my old knees... not so fun.

That was the first modification.

Second was that the back is too low - no support for your upper back.

Our third modification came when we were discussing the brackets to hold the seat and the back. It looked like the guy used joist hangers, and those would be mighty rough on any seat cushion materials, with all their sharp edges. Not to mention your pants! So we chose instead to use good heavy L-brackets.

The next modification came when we went to the 'box store' (I prefer to do business locally whenever possible, but my local lumber yard was closed) and we found the box stores don't carry 4×8" material. However, they do carry 4×6" material.

Here’s our Bill of Materials:
  • 3 ea. 4×6×8’ #2 or better ‘prime’ Doug Fir beams*
  • 2 ea. 2×8×8’ #2 or better ‘prime’ Doug Fir (seat material) *
  • 1 ea. 2×4×8’ fir (had a good one stashed in the barn, so we used that)
  • 22 ea. 3/8×5” galvanized lag screws (11 per side)
  • 22 ea. 3/8 flat-cut galvanized washers
  • 12 ea. 90° angle brackets
  • Box of good quality 1-1/4” deck screws or ‘outdoor’ screws
  • 4 ea. 4” deck screws
  • Cabot Gold “Sunlit Walnut” stain (you’ll need about a half-gallon)
*Note: “Prime” seems to be a relative term for the box stores; we had to pick through an awful lot to get good ones; we even had to go to two different stores to get enough.

Time to get to work.
If you’re like us, you’ll have one end of one of the 4×6s that you like a little less than the others. Keep that piece in mind for making the feet of the chair.

First cut is to cut the 4×6×8’ beams to length. We found that the beam lengths varied by up to a little less than half an inch, so we took the shortest, made our measurements from that one (you get 3 lengths per 96" beam), and cut all of them to match.

Here's a SIDE VIEW with measurements:

Cut the 2×8×8’s into 24” lengths. Sand and finish all sides of all the lumber if you have the time to let it sit and dry. However, as you assemble the chair, you need to apply a wet coat of stain to both the mating surfaces of the beams, before bolting them together. This acts like both a really strong glue and as protection from the elements.

Now’s the time to pick the best-looking cut beams for the ‘top’ or what will become the armrests of the chair. Once you have these chosen, they go with the good side down, because you’ll be drilling for, and running lag screws into, the bottoms. You’re building the sides upside down.

We were doing this in one day, so my great-nephew cut the beams and seat boards while I did sanding. It’s important to give the 4×6 beams a coat of stain on the mating edges, both to 'stick' them together and for weather protection. This would be the only time I could get protection on them, so they got done now. Remembering that the ‘good’ side is down, the side facing up now gets a coat of stain, as does the mating surface for the next piece of 4×6.

To put the first two pieces together: Get a couple pieces of scrap and a couple good clamps, and line up the two pieces of 4×6, then clamp them securely together. The pieces of scrap help keep the 4×6s in line. Mark for the lag screws, at 8” in from each end, and one in the center. Get a spade bit a little bigger than your washers and drill about halfway down into the beam on the ‘up’ side, then switch to a long bit for your pilot hole (determine your pilot hole size by the shank of your lag bolts). Drill down another 5” for a pilot hole. Do it in this order because the spade bit makes a great starter for your pilot bit. Apply soap or wax to the lag bolts and drive them in good and snug.

Our first modification: The guy online had been using 4×8” material, so he just lagged the side pieces together, one on top of the other, and that's probably OK if you're using that thicker material. We didn't have that much 'meat' to work with, so we offset the lag bolts from one beam to the next. So for the next course, make your marks at 6” in from each end, and offset the center mark by 2” in the direction of your choice.

Now it’s just a matter of doing the same thing for each course until you have four courses stacked up, and a duplicate for the other side.

To make and install the feet: Mark and cut 4 each of the remaining 4×6 into 5-1/2” lengths. Drill your countersink and pilot like before, and as you’re tightening it down, it’ll want to twist; worse now because it’s just a short piece. Counter this by drilling a 45° pilot for a 4” deck screw from the inside of the foot and driving that screw home before you finish tightening down the lag screw.

Choose the best-looking seat board to be the top back board. Set this one aside. Center and install the angle brackets on all of the seat boards.
Determine which sides of the chair will be ‘front’ and ‘outside’, then lay the two sides of the chair down, with the ‘inside’ part facing up.

On the inside of the chair, measure 15-1/2” from the front bottom, and 14” from the back bottom. Snap a chalk line or draw a line between these two measurements. This is the bottom of the seat. Screw on the seat boards with their tops along this line on one side, spacing them with a pencil so water will drain from the seat.

Here's a FRONT VIEW with measurements so you can see what I mean:

Now comes the tricky part. My nephew elected to screw the seat boards to the other half of the chair from underneath, so one of us held the one side in place, while holding the boards in place, again spacing the boards with the same pencil. Things were much less wobbly after we got two of the boards attached. Afterward, we both thought this could have been done easier had we just turned the chair so that it was on its back, then we could have reached in from the front to screw on the seat boards. We also thought it could be done by one guy if you were to take your clamps and put them on each side of the chair, at the bottom – kind of like making wide, temporary feet for the chair sides.

Now the chair can be set upright, if it’s not already. Measure from the front of the chair and mark 24” for the backrest bottom, and 25-1/2” for the backrest top. Connect these marks, insert a pencil on each side of the bottom for a spacer, and screw in the backrest boards, with their tops (or fronts) along this line, also – just like you did the seat boards, now using two pencils for spacers.

Cut two 22” lengths of the 2×4 and lay one up against the backrest boards (with the pencil underneath for a spacer), and mark it for 2-3/4” in from both the top and bottom of the two bottom seat boards. Transfer those marks over to the other 2×4, flip it end for end, and transfer the bottom marks to the first 2×4. Likewise, transfer the missing marks on the second board. The marks should now be even on both boards. (I’ll admit here that I’m not nearly as handy as my nephew, but this is the way I saw him do it.)

Drill the countersink and pilot holes for the 1-1/4” screws in both 2×4s, then mark 2” in from the outside on the back of the backrest boards, clamp each 2×4 in place, then drill a shallow pilot through into the backrest board (use a depth gauge so you don’t go through!) and screw the 2×4s to the back.

Here's a photo of how the angle brackets work and how one of the 2×4s looks from the back:

(Hmmmm... in closeup, those holes aren't so pretty. Might be a good idea to fill them when I get some time.)

Meanwhile, we're nearly finished!

Now clamp the top backrest board (the pretty one you saved out) in place, with the pencils as spacers, drill shallow pilot holes again, and screw it into place.

Time to stand back and admire your work!

The chair might seem a bit side-to-side-wobbly at first, but as the stain in between the courses dries, the chair will become rock-solid.

The chair is designed to use a standard 24×24” cushion set. My wife likes red for the deck cushions. I found this set in “Chili Red” at Home Depot.

Because we have so much wind out where I live, I also elected to add tie-downs to keep the cushions secured to the chair, allowing me to use it in any weather.

Here's how the tiedown looked after we used a 3" hole saw to make a recess for it, and fastened it into place.

And here's how the cushion set bungees into place:

I also added a stainless ring to the back of the chair to give me a place to hang my bungee cord for when I’m using the chair.

Time to take a seat and enjoy an adult beverage!

Hope you enjoyed the article, and hope to see pictures of YOUR version!
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