Build this Muskoka chair

This twist on a classic cottage chair improves on perfection

By Paul Lewis

outdoor chair

Photo by Roger Yip

Before I built my own version of a traditional cottage chair, I had been known to take the easy (albeit more expensive) way out by assembling chair kits. Each time I did, I thought how simple it would be to make these chairs from scratch. I could have just traced the kit pieces to make some templates. But, then I decided to evolve the 100-year-old design that was born in the Adirondack Mountains. My version is built with 1″-thick cedar, and I’ve included a few unique features.





Behind the Design

This chair is lean and low, but the most unusual design feature is the offset arms-making it easier to get in and out of. Now, before you dismiss this as a quirky choice, hear me out. The shorter arm allows you to swing out your leg as you stand up. It really works too. My parents (and, in the not too distant future, probably me) have difficulty getting out of a traditional Adirondack chair with its deep, low seat and forward-reaching arms. But there's no such trouble with an offset shorter arm.

This design tweak didn't come easily. I made four full-size prototypes of the chair before getting the proportions just right. The comfort of the chair hinges on the relative angles of the seat and back. Knocking together quick, full-size mock-ups of these parts is a worthwhile exercise if you want to customize your chair to suit your own proportions. Your models needn't be pretty­-I used cheap pine and an air nailer to cobble mine together. Whether you follow my plan exactly or experiment with your own adjustments, the basics of the construction process are the same.

Chairman of the Lake

Begin by working on the main legs. They are the foundation of the chair and making them is the only tricky part of the whole process. Cut two blanks from 5/4 decking, then transfer the pattern onto these blanks either from a template you can download from this page, or by enlarging the grid pattern in the plans. Chances are I'll be making more chairs in the future, so I created a template for the pattern on a piece of 1/4"-thick plywood.

Cut the main legs to size with a bandsaw. Then cut the material for the rest of the pieces to width and length. Take the time to smooth all the edges with a stationary belt sander.

You'll need to add contours to the arms and the arm supports as well. Again, you can trace the pattern by downloading a template from our website or using the plans.

Transfer the patterns to the arm and arm braces now (or to plywood templates if you choose to make them), then cut and smooth them to final shape. Before moving on, use a router to roundover any freshly cut edges of the slats to match the rounded profile of the factory-milled edges.

Coming Together

Assembly starts with the main legs, front legs and seat slats. Predrill and countersink all the screw holes to prevent splitting.

Attach the rearmost seat slat (the one that the back slats attach to) into the pockets on the main legs by using a couple of #8 x 1 3/4” screws and a weatherproof adhesive. I like Type II PVA glue, but a polyurethane glue would work well too. Just be sure to dampen the mating surfaces prior to assembly if you are using polyurethane glue. It needs a bit of moisture to cure properly.

Attach the next seat slat to the main legs. Continue assembly by positioning and attaching the front legs. Secure them with screws through the inside faces to avoid having visible fasteners on the outside. The angle cut on the back of the main legs helps to locate the correct spot for the front legs. Don’t forget that the legs (and arms) are offset and non-symmetrical.

Finally, fasten the arm blocks to the top of the arm braces and then attach the arm braces to the front legs by driving through the inside faces of the legs.

Take Your Time

The next few assembly steps are a bit tricky because the parts have to hang in mid-air before you can join them together. It’s important to follow the correct assembly procedure so that everything lines up properly.

Start by attaching the bottom end of the back slats to the rear seat slat. I like to measure and mark each screw location carefully when they’ll be visible in the final project. This leads to a more pleasing look in the end.

It’s easier to attach the rest of the seat slats now, rather than when the arms are in the way. The slats are best spaced by eye, since the undulating surface of the main legs makes using a fixed space difficult. Lay out all the remaining seat slats now. Make sure to leave a gap to allow water and debris to fall through and not get trapped. When you’re happy with part positioning, screw all the slats in place.

Next, rip a 73 degree bevel on the forward-facing edge of the back arm brace. That’s 17 degrees from square on your table saw bevel scale. Attach the arms to this part by driving screws up from underneath. Position the arm brace and arm assembly so the arms rest roughly in the correct position on the arm supports. Adjust the part positioning to get the arms level and the back brave neatly intersecting with the back slats. Use a couple of spring clamps at the union between the arms and arm supports to hold them in position as you experiment.

Finish then Start Again

Adirondack chairs are often painted, but I like to let the cedar wood grain show through. That’s why I opted for a few coats of Sikkens Cetol 1.

Once the first chair is done, the offset-arm design just begs for another chair. Only this time, reverse the long and short arms to make a mirror image of the first.

Once you show off the matched pair of chairs, I have a feeling you’ll be making more of these summer classics (and you’ll be glad you made those templates for the contoured pieces).

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Main legs Western red cedar 1" x 5 1/2" x 36" 2
Front legs Western red cedar 1" x 4 1/2" x 21" 2
Arm braces Western red cedar 1" x 3" x 12" 2
Arm blocks Western red cedar 1" x 3" x 4" 2
Long arm Western red cedar 1" x 5 1/2" x 29" 1
Short arm Western red cedar 1" x 5 1/2" x 23" 1
Wide back slats Western red cedar 1" x 5 1/2" x 24" 2
Middle back slat Western red cedar 1" x 3" x 24" 1
Seat slats Western red cedar 1" x 2 1/2" x 20" 9
Back arm brace Western red cedar 1" x 4" x 24" 1
**All wooden parts cut from 5/4 x 6" cedar decking

* Length indicates grain direction

Recommended Tools


Build this Muskoka chair

Illustration by Len Churchill


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Jan. 3, 2013

1:54 pm

Thank you for the great design and instructions. I used most of the design as is. However, I did change the following:

-put a slight curve to the back

-used 6 pieces of 2 inch wide , 3/4 inch cedar for that,

Tip - to put the back slats I screwed the two arms to the upper back support. I then I propped the upper back support with a 2x4 while I positioned the front legs to where I wanted and clamped it to the seat. Use a level on the arms to make sure that it is positioned correct. I aligned everything up before started to screw the back slats

Now my wife wants the chair a bit higher and my son wants the back slats a bit lower. I guess I'm making at least 3 more chairs :-)

Once again, thanks for the great design


Feb. 16, 2012

5:26 pm

I came across this plan in your magazine and at the time a customer asked me to make an adirondack chair for her. I decided to make this one, in fact 2 chairs. they are shorter and she just loves them. I think that they are excellent. I did make templates and I came across them today, so I guesss I will make a couple more. Great plan.

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