Making "The Zephyr" Adirondack Chair

Just about every American woodworker, from the novice to the master craftsman, will at some point make a set of Adirondack chairs. They're straight forward and use simple traditional construction techniques. In fact, I encourage you not to buy this chair from me and instead take a shot at making your own - its really fun!
I made my first set eight years ago and I remember actively trying to add my own style to the design to make it my own - experimenting with different recline angles and unique features like drink holders and even hidden drawers. But as I've gotten older I've moved closer and closer to the traditional lines of this classic design because, quite frankly, it just flat out works.
I love walking around the shops in beautiful places like Lake Placid, Saranac, Inlet, Old Forge, and Keene viewing different craftsman's takes on the classic chair design. Building a great Adirondack chair for me isn't about reinventing the wheel anymore - its become very nuanced with the focus on fit, wood selection, finish & build quality.  Over the years I've made slight changes to my pattern and finally feel like I've landed on the perfect Adirondack chair, one that if cared for will last well beyond a lifetime. I'm calling it "The Zephyr". 

What makes a great Adirondack chair?

1. Material.  Adirondack chairs are made from all sorts of different materials that hit just about every price point. Ranging from thin plastic stackable's to chairs made from old snow skis. I've even seen some made from concrete - pretty cool. I chose to use select white oak because of its straight grained strength, tight cellular structure and natural resistance to the elements - a rare feat for a North American hardwood. Not too mention, its just a beautifully figured species.

2. Fit.  No other chair design throughout history evokes relaxation vibes quite as much as the Adirondack chair. Not to overly romanticize a piece of furniture but some of my finest memories and most meaningful conversations of my life have occurred while perched in an Adirondack.  It has to feel good. Seat height is important because it impacts the way your legs rest and also influences the ease of getting in and out. Back angle and curvature are the two areas that I really focused on hard with the Zephyr because to me the chair's fit needed to match it's universal function - I didn't want a pure star gazer with a lean that feels like you're in a hammock. I wanted a balance that cupped the back and relieved pressure but also allowed you to not feel like your falling backwards. 

3.  Finish. Weather will always win.  It's very popular these days to see Adirondack chairs made out of synthetic materials like plastic and trex style decking that resist rot and uv damage.  They're great for a specific purpose. But for me, wood is good. I need to feel it - that connection to nature. When it comes to finishing a piece of exterior furniture the options are pretty much endless. Epoxy and painting are by far the best options if you all you care about is protection.  A polyurethane or shellac will do a good job but will break down overtime often bubbling and chipping causing you to have to sand it down to refinish. I prefer to use a penetrating hard wax oil that get into the wood instead of laying on top of it. I like this for a few different reasons - it maintains the look and classic feel of a wooden chair and upkeep is a breeze. Every year or two you take a rag and wipe some oil on your chair and its good to go. I equate it to caring for a cast iron pan - it will out perform any other material and will literally last a lifetime if you keep oiled.

4.  Hardware. If you are in the market for a piece of outdoor furniture pay attention to the hardware. The Zephyr is assembled using all stainless steel hardware that will not rust or break down over time. Galvanized will rust and zinc even worse so.     

5.  Style.  A chameleon of a chair, the ADK can work with just about any decor under the sun. Beach vibe, mountain house, luxury loft, farmhouse, industrial, etc... Therefore it was important to dial in an aesthetic that isn't too one way or the other. Some chairs I've seen have large ornate backs that work incredibly well by the fire pit or on the dock but fail when in comes to applications beyond that. The Zephyr is a design aimed at working just as well in your living room as it does on some pavers. 

Like I said in the beginning of this article, if you have the time and some basic tools I recommend you roll up your sleeves and try making your own chairs. They will be a wonderful conversation piece and if you focus on the 5 categories above you will have a chair that will fit your needs and last forever. 

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