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Adirondack Chairs

built with Ipe wood

©2005 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas, USA

Basic Adirondack Chairs

Years ago, before air conditioning was common, families spent summers outside the cities, such as in the Adirondack mountains North of New York City. Large houses with spreading lawns overlooked the hills and lakes. The traditional lawn chair became known as the Adirondack chair. They were always large, somewhat reclining, with flat arms (to hold the book, beverage, or canape brought by the butler). The "originals" that I have seen were painted a gloss green, but I understand others were left natural wood tone or painted white.


These chairs are made from Ipe (pronounced ee-pay), a very hard, very heavy Brazilian wood. When used for decks, the expected life is at least 30 years, even in contact with the ground. When used for doors, the doors have the same fireproof rating as a metal door. It is so heavy that many pieces don't float. It can be left plain and will age to a natural gray, like teak or cedar, or it can be oiled (like these) to bring out the rich natural wood color. These are our chairs, and I regret oling them - they looked great initially, but the oil weathered out unevenly, so the next year's oil was splotchy, and the following year even worse. I now recommend leaving the ipe chairs plain to weather naturally.

I have never seen a table in the original setting in upstate New York (the butler keeps things fresh anyway, doesn't he?) And the flat arms are horizontal to hold the drinks and snacks you aren't going to share. But if your butler service is inadequate, I have built a small table in a style to go with the chairs.


Ipe Chairs $600* each, Small Ipe Table $300*

Ipe wood is so hard that it is time-consuming to work with and dulls the workshop tools. Every cross-grain cut has to be immediately sealed. Each screw requires 3 drilling operations (and screws are used so that parts can be replaced if it becomes necessary). There are lots of places that sell Adirondack chairs for $100-$300, but I can't even buy the raw Ipe wood and stainless steel screws for $100 per chair. And that nasty asterisk by the price is because I have heard that the price of ipe lumber has skyrocketed, and I haven't recalculated the cost of materials for these chairs recently. I expect the actual cost will be higher, unless you have leftover ipe available from your deck project that I can use.

Other Adirondack Chair styles

Smith&Hawkins offered a teak Adirondack chair at a reasonable price - for teak ($499 for the chair, $199 for the footrest). Teak is a durable wood, and Smith&Hawkins was a reputable vendor, until they went out of business. But notice that the front of their chair is straight (not the kind of chair I knew from upstate New York), which often leads to a separate foot rest (not something I saw either). I prefer the curved front of the seat on my chairs.

Many do-it-yourself plans and chairs from some vendors include a brace from the back of the chairs down to the back leg. There is no law that says this is wrong, but it doesn't look "traditional" to me.

Adirondack Chair at Swarthmore College

This falls into the "you gotta see it to believe it" category. On the campus of Swarthmore college near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is an Adirondack chair. Excellent design, well built. But just a little large. My wife is on the right in the picture (seated on the left). Mine aren't this big.

The deck suite

This client liked the chairs so much that they added a large hexagonal "coffee table" in the center of their suite. This table was originally to be a 40 inch diameter round table, 19 inches high. The way you make a round table is to make a hexagonal or octagonal table, then cut it round. We liked the Hexagonal shape so much we stopped there.

The Adirondack Deck Suite

This is the deck that also eventually got a sauna and an ipe planter and rolling work table

Large Hexagonal table $600

Construction (and finishing) details

As noted, the ipe may be left plain, oiled, or a number of finishes applied. Initially I used Thompson's waterseal, but it did not penetrate, so washed off in no time. They were then resealed with Cabot's Australian Timber Oil, which applies quickly, then after a few minutes the excess is wiped off with a rag. As the sun and rain take their toll, that oily rag can refresh the exposed areas as quickly as dusting indoor furniture. However, there is a little surface film left by the Cabot's oil, so later coats don't go on as evenly. No finish is available that doesn't have to be renewed periodically, but ipe can be left unfinished without harm if you like the gray of weathered wood, rather than the rich mahogany color when it is oiled. My choice now would be to leave it unfinished. To maintain the mahogany color, I suspect that the finish should be reapplied every year or so - if you wait longer, dirt gets into the surface, and the furniture needs to be power washed (and the old finish removed) before refinishing.

Designing your own Adirondack Chair.

There are lots of plans available on the Internet, some free, many for a small fee. My plan is based on building many chairs, adjusting the design each time, until I no longer recognize the original plan. Someday I may write up the dimensions and directions, but I currently only have notes.

These chairs were built with IPE wood - obviously strong and heavy. For a while the local lumber yards carried a premium treated yellow pine lumber that was not toxic to sit in - I used that to make a number of chairs - but they don't have that wood any more. The plans may need to be modified to use a softer wood like cedar or redwood. I expect that white oak or mahogany would be fine.

I would be glad to cut these chairs for you to assemble, thus saving some construction labor and shipping cost. I haven't figured the cost of making a "chair kit," in part because of the lack of "ideal" lumber. If you find that perfect wood, each chair requires 34 linear feet of 5/4 x 6 inch wood (actual dimensions 1 inch by 5 1/2 inches).

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