Step-By-Step Guide to Building a Chair

Roy Kain shares his step-by-step guide to building a chair out of birch wood and deer hide.

| October/November 2000

  • The author with his homemade birch chair.
    The author with his homemade birch chair.
  • The author weaves a seat of deer hide into his homemade birch chair.
    The author weaves a seat of deer hide into his homemade birch chair.
  • Hardwood jig.
    Hardwood jig.
  • Fitting detail.
    Fitting detail.
  • Chair frame.
    Chair frame.

  • The author with his homemade birch chair.
  • The author weaves a seat of deer hide into his homemade birch chair.
  • Hardwood jig.
  • Fitting detail.
  • Chair frame.

A guide to building a chair from birch wood.

How to build a chair to be proud of.

The idea of constructing a chair came to me back in 1989 — not long after I'd built my rustic cabin out in the woods and the old maple stump I used to sit on had really started to get uncomfortable. I'd always been interested in woodworking and primitive living and, like the settlers of a hundred years ago, I knew that the forest around me would offer any materials I might need to make a functional and sturdy piece of furniture. I soon learned that if I wanted any furniture, I'd have to make it myself . . . or sit on a stump.

Making a chair is not difficult. With a little time and effort you can construct a cheap, sturdy and good-looking piece of furniture. First, locate a stand of young birch trees — birch is a sound wood as well as being aromatic and comfortable to work with. Any of the hardwoods though, like oak, ash, maple or beech, will produce a fine chair. Using a hand saw, cut off a fairly straight 12-foot-high sapling, 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter (sawing is cleaner than chopping and prevents splintering) as close to the ground as possible. Take care to keep any large limbs that measure an inch or so thick. These will be used as the stretcher pieces, or rungs, that secure the legs of the chair and set its width and depth. Next, saw the sapling into various lengths: two pieces 40 inches long, cut from the base end of the wood, for the back legs, and two pieces 18 inches long, cut from the remaining wood, for the front legs.

Afterward, use a drawknife or pocketknife to peel the bark from the wood to reveal the wet and shiny "meat" beneath. A vise can work well to secure the wood while you're pulling the drawknife, but if you don't have access to one you can always whittle away the bark using your hands and a trusted pocketknife. Just be sure to cut away from your hands. When you're finished peeling the four legs, lay them alongside one another with their bottoms lined up evenly.

Now it's time to cut and peel the stretchers. First, cut lengths from the 1 inches limbs you held on to earlier. These will determine the width and depth of the chair and are commonly 17 inches long for the width and 16 inches long for the depth. You'll need six of each.


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