A “Weekend” Project – Adirondack Chair

Anyone should be able to build an Adirondack chair in a weekend right? Go get some wood, whack out the parts, screw it together, and slap on some paint. Right? Dang! Why build one at all? Down at the nearby garden center, they have some for sale at $39. Of course, those look like they were made from pallet wood and are flat in every dimension. They might not “sit” so well.

Adirondack chair - front viewThis one started with some wood resawing back in April. I finally wrapped it up and moved it outside a couple of weeks ago.

Plans: I’m old enough to like things comfortable. Too many of these chairs have flat seats, flat backs, and look more like torture devices than chairs. I found one with curved seat and back. It’s a Fine Woodworking project. Oh look! It says “An Adirondack chair can be built in a day.” A companion article contains a video with a foolproof assembly sequence. Adirondack chair - side viewPlans are available for order, but by squinting (and imagining) a lot, I found enough detail in the low resolution online drawing. Who needs precise dimensions?

Lumber: 8/4 Mahogany (African) from Steve Wall. One 20 bd. ft. bundle will do if careful when resawing. :)

Process: No electrons (other than for lighting) were murdered in creating this chair. carvings on the chair legsNor were numerous photos taken along the way. It’s a simple one-day project, right? I resawed the 8/4 stuff into boards of two thicknesses, approximating 1″ and 3/4″. From those, I hand sawed all of the parts. I used the saw and chisel technique on all curves, and then faired them with a spokeshave. I drilled the bolt holes with a simple brace and Jennings bit, then the bazillion screw holes with my eggbeater and Fuller bits which drill a tapered hole and countersink all in one go.

Carvings: Carvings on the back of the chairEverything I make these days carries one or more carvings. Carving is what I enjoy most. The rest of woodworking is to make something that supports a carving. This chair has 4 Tudor Roses adapted from Mary May’s Tudor Rose lesson. It’s not that there’s any commonality between Tudor Roses and Adirondacks. It’s just that I like them. Add in a little bit of lettercarving with a year mark on one leg, and I’m delighted.

Finish: Three coats of Minwax Helmsman Semi-gloss spar varnish. I used to hate brushing on a finish … and I have no place where I can use any sort of spray. This was one of the first finishing projects I actually enjoyed. Two reasons: getting the work at a comfortable height (saw benches) and using a very good Purdy 1″ soft bristle angle brush.

Once done, it “sits” well, very comfortable indeed.


It took globes…

…to satisfy the building code.  You gotta love living in NY!

Last fall, I rebuilt the crumbling front entry steps and thought the rest would be easy.  Hire the making of a set of iron railings and be happy. … Silly me!

Railings have to meet building codes, usually pertaining to rail height and spaces between vertical bars (4 3/8 inches). (Can’t have all the wandering infants getting their heads stuck, can we?) And yes, you guessed it. Anything carrying a code also requires acquiring a building permit, and paying a fee.

I researched the local code and thought I knew everything I needed to know, ordered the railings, and watched with great satisfaction as they were impeccably installed. Those folks used an epoxy cement that will never leak and allow the water incursion that caused previous masonry failure. OK. Done! … Silly me!

Except… in addition to the local code, there’s a NY State code that has one further restriction: on the triangular space between the bottom rail and the tread below. This restriction keeps a wandering infant with a slightly larger head (6 inches) from getting stuck!

Inspection failed…

We gritted our teeth, gnashed and grumbled lots of gnasty words. Then, we explored many options. One of the simpler was to bolt on more iron pieces to the bottom rails. But those would mean drilling into finished materials and risk yet more water incursion, rust etc. My second choice was to have this sign made to actual size and post it at the bottom of the walkway.

danger sign for small heads

In the end, we decided on concrete “garden globes.” They were simple to make. Cast some concrete mix into glass globes (think electric light shades), and then break off the glass.

photo of garden globes under the railing  photo of garden globes on steps

They are attached to the blue-stone treads with an epoxy product called “PC-Concrete.” An early trial with simple mortar was not strong enough. The epoxy is many times stronger.

BTW, like all epoxies, this is a 2 part product. It is packaged in a “caulk tube” and very nicely mixes the two parts by forcing the materials through a multitude of baffles in the square portion of the attached plastic nozzle. Clever!

photo of PC-Concrete product

Now, we’re debating whether or not to decorate the globes with the faces of anguished children who got their heads stuck.

drawings of crying babies


Woodcarving Templates – repeated small motifs

There are lots of ways to make woodcarving templates, probably as many as there are carvers. Rarely does one need a reusable template for a one-off, but when the occasion calls for multiples of the same motif, a template really helps. Mary May often mentions templates and frequently suggest getting various materials (such as Mylar sheets) from craft stores. I have Scotch ancestry, and am, shall we say, thrifty about some things.

I find template materials in things that follow me home from the grocery store, such as the plastic lids on many products. Usually these are things in paper or cardboard tubes topped with plastic: oatmeal, dried fruits, etc. In this example, I slightly reduced the scale of Mary May’s Tudor Rose (computers are wonderful), printed out 3 copies and made 3 templates. Simple rubber cement attaches the paper to the plastic, and the templates are cut easily with scissors. Other glue sticks would probably work. Draw around them as many times as you want.  Even simpler still are pasteboard cartons from an even wider variety of foodstuffs; maybe not as durable, but easily at hand.

Simple, easy, and no extra stops at other stores for special materials…
BTW, most of these are of a plastic type that many recyclers won’t recycle.

photo of plastic lids  photo of plastic templates


Resawn lumber – Work in progress

Did you know that mahogany, like Cherry and I’m sure other wood types, darkens when exposed to light? That if you stack up a bunch of pieces and come back to them 2 months later, you’ll find lighter silhouettes of the smaller pieces that were placed atop others?

Yeah, that’s what I get for doing other things… More sunlight will fix them.

All the parts for the project were cut, shaped, and had their surfaces smoothed long ago. I deferred assembly of this “you can do it in a weekend” project until the carvings were done. Now, what’s my excuse?

photo of project parts - carved with tudor roses

The carvings are Tudor Roses. Mary May has a lesson that shows how to carve them.


Resawing – Dueling Saws

Yet two more poor choices to learn from.

a comparison of 2 cutsWhen starting this batch of resawing, I reasoned that using the plain ole rip saw would be OK because it was lighter and easier to handle than the 24″ frame saw. At one point I did show the frame saw to a cut in process but quit because the frame saw had decidedly stronger set and I didn’t want to resaw a resawing cut. Then, along came comments from others about frame saws. So, out it came for the second half of a board.

The saws:

The plain saw is a Stanley rip saw of 1970’s vintage, 26″ long, filed at 5 ppi, sharpened just before starting this recent work. Plate thickness is 0.034 inch. Weight: 1 and 1/2 pounds.

The frame saw is one I built from a Disston 1897 saw cut down to 24″ It is filed 4 ppi and I’m not sure when last sharpened. It has an identical plate thickness of 0.034 inch, and something like 50% more set than the plain saw. (I remembered it as 5 ppi, but it really measures 4 ppi.) Weight: 5 pounds.

The lumber for this comparison is an 8/4 piece of mahogany, 7 and 1/4 inches wide and 32 inches long. The resawing line is right down the middle of its thickness.

shallow angle cut - bad ideaI sawed the first half with the plain saw (marked with blue chalk in one of the pictures). I added something different to the routine … cutting in from the end at a shallow angle. It was not easy cutting from that direction and I broke the “manhandling” rule. Bad idea! I knew from the feel of the saw that the cut had gone a little wrong, but couldn’t see inside to know how it had gone wrong.

When it came time to cut from the other end, I switched to the frame saw. I kept to the routine prescribed in the previous post, without the shallow cut from the end: the saw didn’t fit well in that position.

The difference is remarkable! While heavier, the weight of the saw makes a bigger difference than I imagined it would. The combination of its weight and slightly stronger set made for both smoother sawing and faster sawing. It was almost twice as fast as the plain saw! Better yet, it has far less tendency to wander. The blade, being held taut from both ends has much less opportunity to go its own way.

my 24 inch frame sawTwo more points to add to the learning:

  • Given the choice, use the frame saw. Even though heavier, the weight of the frame saw is an advantage and the blade under tension adds to accuracy.
  • Avoid that shallow cut that has too little guidance and too easily goes astray. Oh yeah, don’t manhandle it.


Resawing again! How to go wrong…

Learning to resaw well has been a long journey. With all the resawing I’ve done, I’ve found it’s very easy to end up with something like this: photo of dished cuta dished out area in one board and an matching hump on the other board. That kind of result is rather minor on small boards, or with stock where there’s ample room for error. But as board sizes increase, so do the probabilities and the scale of the mishaps. How do these things happen and how can they be avoided? I picked up some useful suggestions at the School of Hard Knocks.

Long ago, I built  a couple of wonderful small boats. For one of those boats, I made a frame saw and resawed a LOT of cedar into very long planks. (4/4 live edge white cedar, up to 10.5 inches wide and 16 feet long). Minor mishaps there were no problem because the raw boards had more than enough material to produce two 5/16 inch thick boards.  More recently, I’ve resawn cherry and walnut, but on a much smaller scale for desk boxes. Smaller pieces mean less opportunity to go astray.

Now, I’m working on something larger than desk boxes and smaller than boats. My lumber for this project is 8/4 African mahogany that varies from 6 inches wide to 10 inches wide. I bought this lumber from Steve Wall Lumber in Mayodan, NC. They have 20 board foot bundles that are packaged for delivery by FedEx. I bought two bundles and am delighted with what Wall Lumber delivers. Both bundles contained clear lumber, S2S, in generous widths, and easily 20 bd. ft. No end checks, splits, knots or other defects. None! The only one complaining is the FedEx delivery guy who carries the 62 pound packages up our steep driveway. (Takes too much time to get out the hand cart.)

setting a kerfThe project calls for boards 1 inch thick and 3/4 inch thick. With careful resawing, I can get one of each out of an 8/4 board. OK, scant 1 inch and scant 3/4 inch That’s plenty sturdy enough for a project that is not super critical about board thickness. Scant thicknesses will work. But, there’s not much margin for error. Which also means, no room for going astray. However, the boards are long, up to 4 feet, giving yet more opportunity to go astray.

OK. What goes wrong? What causes the problems? In a single word: inaccuracy. BTW, I used my kerfing plane to establish a 1/2 inch deep kerf around all edges of these boards. That kerf is a lot better at guiding the saw than is a pencil line.

Inaccuracy in resawing can come from a lot of things:

  1. Sawing too long from one position.
  2. Guiding the saw instead of letting the kerf guide the saw.
  3. Being too aggressive with the saw — “manhandling.”
  4. Impatience.

No matter what the cause, here’s what happens. Resawing is always done a little from one side, then a little from the other. Switching back and forth frequently eliminates irregularities before they become bothersome. Imagine the cut becoming off by a mere fraction in one direction or the other. Sawing too long from one side lets the problem grow. Then, when you move to the other side, the saw will take the path of least resistance, through that inaccurate kerf. This results in the saw bowing within the cut, creating a dish on one side of the cut. The longer the sawing goes with a bowed path, the deeper the dish gets. Since you can’t see inside the board, the only external awareness you have about this happening is increased friction. It sneaks up slowly, and if you’re manhandling the saw, or holding it with a death grip, you won’t notice the increased friction until it’s too late.

Once a bowed path gets established inside the board it is almost impossible to correct. So, don’t let it get started.

Frequent direction changes are the most important factor for success. Aligning yourself to the work is equally important. As an aside, unlike the boat lumber that I did with a frame saw, I’m cutting this lumber with a common rip saw. Nicely sharpened, but nothing special. It is lighter than the frame saw and has a broader blade that (one hopes) helps keep it moving straight. No matter which saw, the body and saw both have to line up precisely with the cut line.

Stance: I face the work with my shoulders square to the work piece, so that both arms can move as one. I spread my feet about a shoulder’s width distance apart, but position them in a line with the cut. I’m right handed, and place the left foot forward, with the toe exactly in line with the cut. The right foot is back. Why? So I can use the bigger leg muscles to power the work. Using the legs to rock back and forth is far less tiring than just the arms alone, and leads to better accuracy. In fact, when properly lined up, one could pin their elbows to their side and let the legs do all the work.

BIG problem source: Maintaining this stance from both sides of the cut is essential. Not keeping this stance on both sides of the cut was the biggest cause of my problems for a long time. There’s plenty of room to take this stance from the end of the bench. But walk around to the other side of the board and the bench is in the way. Modifying the stance to accommodate simply didn’t work.  So, that meant turning the work piece so I could always work from the end of the bench. Open the vise, turn, close the vise, saw, open the vise, turn, close the vise, saw. Yeah, it was too much trouble to turn the board as often as I should have. Instead of turning, I was spending too much time sawing from one side. added blocksOften, way too much from one side. Very slight wanderings were not being quickly corrected from the other side. They added up… until…

Fix: I solved that problem by adding blocks to offset the work piece from the bench. I started with one 2-by and added a second one later. (They have pegs fitted into holes in the face of the bench so they can easily be added to the vise space.) Bingo!!! That provided enough space to maintain the correct stance from either side of the board. No more need for turning the work piece. It stays in the vise and gets approached equally well from both sides. Now, it’s much easier to change directions frequently, as frequently as 25-30 saw strokes at a time. The only need to open the vise now is to raise the work piece as the cut progresses.

holding the sawHolding the saw: How to hold the saw is almost as important as stance. The operative word is “loose!” I hold the saw loosely enough that only the webs of my thumbs push forward and the inner parts of my fingers pull back. The saw handle is free to move within my grip. Why? That method provides the least “guidance” to the saw. It let’s those kerfs do their work. Holding the saw too tightly leads one to “manhandling” the saw and diverting it’s path. Holding the saw loosely also makes it easier to feel friction increasing, to know about an oncoming bowed path before it’s too late. Over time, I’ve found a comfortable grip with only 2 fingers of each hand in the handle’s hole. Index fingers and pinkie fingers point toward the blade: same on each side. It is a grip that is very balanced, one that prevents favoring one side over the other and keeps the blade nicely centered in the kerf.

Changing directions: Cutting in “sets” of about 30 strokes from one side and then a set of about 30 from the other side has given me the most accuracy.

Cutting angles: I’ve tried many different approaches. The “cut toward the center from all corners” approach works well for pieces that are almost square. For long pieces, I cut with the saw’s tooth line running at 90° across the board … mostly. The majority of the strokes are straight across the board. But for 10 strokes of each “set,” I drop the handle stroke by stroke until the tooth line is at 45°, then another 10 to 12 at 30°. This deepens the kerf line gradually and accurately.

Keep the cut line high: By keeping the cut line about chest high, the arms are less inclined to do the hard work, and thereby less likely to push the cut astray. Keeping the cut high almost forces using the legs, and when done this way the arms can be kept even and the saw centered on the kerf more easily.

oil-canOil the saw: That’s a small tomato sauce can with a cloth rolled up inside it. It’s soaked with light synthetic oil (3-in-one). A couple of quick swipes on each side of the saw after every few direction changes keeps the saw smoothly gliding along.

Take a break: Sawing too long makes one tired. Tiredness leads to impatience. Impatience leads to manhandling. … and so on. Sawing for the length of an Oscar Peterson album, a Travis Tritt album, or a Beethoven piano concerto is about right. Then, take a break and come back refreshed.

…and what to do when it goes wrong? The easiest answer is to stop as soon as you detect the bowing and go saw from the other end of the board. ~carefully~ You’ll have to saw from the other end at some point anyway. Make it good.


  1. Make sure your heart is healthy enough for resawing.
  2. Work all the way around the board with a kerfing saw.
  3. Mount the board in a vise in the manner that enables the same stance from both sides of the cut.
  4. Develop and maintain the same stance from both sides of the cut.
  5. Hold the saw loosely enough to allow the kerf to guide the saw, not your arms guiding the saw.
  6. Switch directions frequently. Work in small “sets:” 10 straight across strokes. followed by 10 strokes of increasing angle (about 45°), then 10 strokes at a more acute angle (about 30°).
  7. Let the kerfs guide the saw, not your arms.
  8. Switch directions frequently. (90°, 45°, 30°)
  9. Let the kerfs guide the saw, not your arms.
  10. Switch directions frequently.
  11. Raise the work piece in the vise often enough to keep the cut line about chest high.
  12. Oil the saw every few changes of direction.
  13. Take a break BEFORE you get tired, grumpy, or impatient.
  14. For resawing that lasts longer than 4 hours, seek immediate medical advice.