Follow these 14 steps for a rustic one-of-a-kind slab-wood chair!
A hewing hatchet is the best way to get rid of the bark. It has a taper on one side, and is designed for just this purpose. If you see one in a flea market, buy it! The bark will slough off anyway, so it is a good idea to remove it, especially if it will be used indoors.
Lay out the cut lines for the chair.
A chainsaw is my tool of choice for cutting the slabs, but a circular saw or hand saw would also work.
You should adapt the design and techniques to take advantage of the tools you have, and your ability to use them.
It helps to screw cleats onto the legs to hold the seat. These will be hidden under the chair.
Use a drawknife to peel the bark off the legs. The thin bark of cherry peels easily, especially in the spring when new growth takes place. The legs should be cut 1 inch longer than the length from the bottom of the slab legs to the top of the seat.
A mortise on an electric drill is a quick way to round out the ends of the chair legs. It works much like a pencil sharpener on steroids. If you don’t have one, a drawknife also works well.
Line up the leg the way you want it to fit into the seat, then use the same angle to drill holes for the leg. I use a Forstner bit, but an auger in an old-fashioned brace and bit would also work.
Fit the leg to the hole. You can turn it until you get the perfect angle. Then cut it off flush with the seat.
Mark the end of the leg for the wedge. The mark should be perpendicular to the grain of the wood. That way it won’t split the seat apart when you drive the wedge to tighten it.
Using the mark as a guide, saw a slot in the end of the leg for the wedge.
Re-fit the leg to the seat and drive in the wedge. Just tap it in so it’s snug. Then trim off the end of the wedge.
With the seat in place, drill through the back of the chair for the pegs that will hold it. The hole should be about 2-inches into the seat, so it may be necessary to take the seat off in order to get the hole deep enough.
I used the drill and tenon maker to make a peg, then slotted both ends. This is called a blind tenon, since it doesn’t go all the way through the seat. With the wedge in place, the peg will self tighten as you drive it in.
Just tap the wedge in snug. It should hold the seat firmly, but not split the wood apart. Then trim the wedge, if it sticks out.
Set the chair on a level surface. If it rocks, trim a little off one of the long legs. It may take a few tries to get it just right.
Take a seat! Dave Boyt relaxes in his finished chair. He says that you can make a slab-wood project as simple or as complex as you want.
Slab-wood or “Slab” refers to the first cut from each side of a log. The process of turning round logs into square boards sacrifices the rounded part of the log. The sawyer’s job is to minimize the amount of wood lost in the process, but there will always be some slabs that are round on one side and flat on the other. Many sawmills sell slabs in bundles for firewood at a very reasonable price. Often they contain good material for slab-wood projects.
With a few hand tools and simple techniques, these slabs can become benches, chairs, tables and other valuable furniture.
Building a slab-wood chair can be as simple or complex as you choose to make it. This one uses a number of techniques that include using a slab, roundwood legs, mortises and blind mortises. The best way to get proportions is to duplicate measurements from a comfortable chair. This one does trade comfort for simplicity because it has a straight back, but it is stout and would be a good indoor or outdoor piece.
SLAB-WOOD BUILDING TOOLS
Here are the tools that I typically use when building slab-wood furniture:
- Skill saw
- Electric drill
- Assortment of drill bits
- Hand saw n Wood chisels
- Belt sander
- Hand planes
- Electric hand planer
Note: I seldom use glue, but wood screws are great, since you can tighten them up as the wood dries.
If you want to learn more about building rustic furniture, there are a number of helpful books that contain designs, as well as techniques. Making Rustic Furniture by Dan Mack is an excellent resource. It is available online at amazon.com.
This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Winter 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.
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