An Easy to Make Truss Chair

Even experienced woodworkers consider chairs hard to make well, but this truss chair design is well within the ability of novices.

| November/December 1984

Most woodworkers consider a chair to be the most difficult piece of everyday furniture to make. The problem is that these usually delicate seats are subjected daily to enormous stresses (such as 200-pound people leaning back on the rear legs), and the mortise and tenon joints traditionally used to handle such loads aren't easy to construct.

Well, I've come up with an alternative design that even a novice should be able to cobble together fairly quickly, using nothing more than a hammer, a saw, some nails, and some glue. It incorporates simpler joinery — lap joints — and the structural strength of a truss framework to make a truly durable chair: My dining set has withstood five years of abuse from adults and children alike. As for aesthetics ... well, you decide. I think the design looks great, particularly when you consider the price: zero, in my case (because I used salvaged wood) or anywhere from about $2.50 per chair (for medium-quality spruce) to around $8.00 (for clear-grade hardwood) if you buy your own lumber.

Here's how to build a truss chair.

The Jig

First, you'll need to make a jig: a guide that helps you position the components accurately, and also assures that all of your chairs will be identical in design. To build one, just round up some scrap plywood and a few pieces of 1 x 2 lumber. Refer to Fig. 1, my Jig Assembly Diagram, and proceed as follows:

Use an approximately 24"-square piece of plywood — any thickness will do — for the jig's base (part Q in the diagram). Nail a 20" 1 x 2 (part R) flush with, and centered along, one edge of the base. That'll be the jig's bottom edge. Then cut a piece of 3/4" plywood to form a trapezoid (part S) measuring 9 1/4" at its top, 15 1/4" at its bottom, and 14 1/4" on each side. The sides should each form a 78° angle to the base of the jig's bottom edge (make sure that both angles are identical).

Now nail the trapezoid in place so that its bottom is flush with, and centered along, part R. Nail a 12" 1 x 2 (part T) parallel to, and 4 1/2" above, the trapezoid's base. Then affix a 9" 1 x 2 (part U) across, and flush with, the top of the trapezoid.

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