A while ago I was browsing instructables.com when I found a fantastic build for a Pallet Adirondack Chair. Me and my wife moved into our current home only about 3 years prior and we’ve been doing renovations every year since. As a result, we just happen to have some pallets lying around. After reading the build I thought I would give it a try. Some people were a little skeptical, but I had faith remembering my days in woodworking class, back in high school. In the end, the results spoke for themselves, and everyone loves the chairs.
The instructions for the build can be found over at Instructables.com. (I have linked directly to the project.) This blog post is more about my adventures in building and some of the lessons I learned, more so than just a re pasting of the build instructions. If you’re interested in this build yourself, I’d suggest checking it out.
Here’s a look at some of the tools I was using during my build process…
The first chair I made, I somehow did without a table saw. This still kind of blows my mind today, because a table saw is really needed to make this project flow, especially when you get to cutting the seat pieces, and the back rest. I also used a reciprocating saw (not shown), for making the curved cuts around the arms and in other areas. For my first chair I used it for the tapered back support pieces and, well, some of them are about as straight as a wobbly noodle. Now with the table saw, its a much improved process.
For the Grinding Wheel, I used it when cutting pallets that would just not come apart with a crowbar. This was back in the beginning, mind you, and I don’t bother with that now as I’ve developed some skills with regards to how to properly use a crowbar. Regardless, here’s a video of what I used to do. And since I was using a grinding wheel, because I wanted to cut through the nails, there was a whole lot of smoke as the wood was friction cut.
The small table saw I have is a little wonder. It cost less than $100 (US) and its great for small projects like this. I can actually angle the blade as well, something I haven’t played with yet, but would like to for table and frame construction. I’ve built 4 chairs with it so far, and the blade is starting to get a little dull. So my next task there is to remove the blade and sharpen the tips before starting the next projects. I can feel, now, that wood isn’t going through the saw with as much speed or fluidity as it used to, something the sharpening should remedy.
The power drill is, of course, used for screwing everything together, but also I put on a sanding disc and use it for the first pass of cleaning the old pallet wood. Something I will not miss when I make future chairs from proper wood.
The worst part about making these chairs, or well, anything from pallet wood, is the amount of time you need to put into cleaning the wood. Each piece will have holes from the nails, chips from taking it apart and grooves from where you pulled it apart with the crowbar. All of these need to get filled with wood putty if you want the end result to at least look half decent. This easily doubles the time you need to put into making the chairs, so keep that in mind if you decide to try this build yourself.
All of this aside, this is still a great project. Everyone has been impressed with the chairs that I have made so far, and I do plan on making many more. We want 4 for the house, and I’ve also made 4 to sell to a local caffe for their front balcony area. However, all future chairs will now be made with 4m x 20cm pine cuts of wood. I can get them locally and it will save me a lot of time, not to mention the quality of the wood itself will be much higher.
If you find yourself doing this project and you don’t have wide enough pieces for the arms, take 2 pieces, using wood glue and clamps you can stick them together, then sand them flat and voila! Wide arms!
I wouldn’t recommend this procedure for the 2 wide pieces that make up the sides of the main frame due to the overall stress load that you will put on these chairs. Also, the chairs are not light, so you want single pieces for the frame to keep it strong.
Its funny when I compare what I did to make my first chair, and what I’ve progressed to do ever since. For example, I spent about 3-4 hours hand sanding each piece of the planks that make the seat area on my first chair. And that was sanding the whole thing, all the way around. Now I just scratch my head at why I thought I needed to sand the bottom of the wood, to a fine touch, when you’d never touch or even see it! Also, after that experience I almost immediately went and bought the oscillating sander, shown in the gallery above.
There are still things to learn though. I would love to make a proper rig for my table saw that lets me cut a tapered piece of wood. That is, small on the bottom, then wide at the top. Its not impossible, its just that my table saw is not exactly the best, its actually the cheapest one I could find. The surface area is not ideal for big projects and I usually get a friend to help out with longer cuts. I am thinking about building it into a larger table though, so that could solve some issues. So far so good, but someday I would like to upgrade it.
Also, from an engineering perspective, I’ve been thinking about making a mold to help with lining up all the wood properly when building the sides of the frame. I’ve had one chair turn out a little off balance and I’d like to prevent this from happening in the future by creating some kind of contraption to hold the 3 pieces that get drilled together so that I don’t have to worry about minor movements upsetting the balance of the chair during that crucial moment. When I get to these upgrades I will post them here as well.
Several people have asked me how long it takes to make a chair, I honestly have no idea. Typically this is hobby work, so I do a bit of sanding here, a bit of cutting there, a bit of wood putty some other day. I don’t track the time I’m putting into it, and typically I’m really taking my time with them as well. I’m in no rush, that’s what makes the project fun. I say give this one a try yourself, because the results are totally worth it.
Currently I have 2 chairs in use on our back deck and plan to add 2 more this Spring. Also, as this project has awakened the carpenter in me, I’m also planning some more wood projects for in and around the house. All from instructables.com, so far. But to mention some, a garden bench, and interior mini shelves to cover our heating pipes. For now though its time to finish up 2 more chairs for a friend who will put them on the front deck of his caffe in town.