I’ve been both excited and nervous about tackling this project — building my own wingback dining chairs from scratch. I wanted to challenge myself with a project I’ve never done before, but I also knew it could wind up being an epic failure.
Thankfully, I think it’s actually going to work out! I got the basic frame built for one of the chairs yesterday. Here’s how it looks…
Of course, almost the entire thing will be covered with foam, batting, and fabric by the time it’s finished. Only part of the legs will show. I also still need to add a few support pieces that the foam, batting, and fabric can wrap around and be stapled to. I’ll show that in the next post. But for now, I’m just relieved to have the basic frame done, and to see that it actually looks like a chair! 😀
Here’s how I did it…
The back legs are the most important thing to get right on a chair because of the angles. In order to get it right, I used one of my dining chairs as a template. I placed it onto a 2″ x 6″ piece of lumber, and traced around the entire side piece, from the bottom of the leg to the top of the side back.
Two areas I really concentrated on lining up correctly were (1) the very bottom (i.e., “foot”) on the leg. I wanted it perfectly straight so that it would sit right, and (2) the area where the supports for the seat are attached. Those areas also needed to be perfectly straight, so I lined them up with the very edge of the 2″ x 6″ board. I also marked where the top of the seat support attached to the leg. It was somewhere around 16.5 inches from the bottom.
And then I used my jigsaw to cut out the back legs.
I then used that piece as a template to trace three more pieces (since I’m making two chairs).
For the front legs, I wanted them to be 2.25″ square, so I cut two lengths of 2″ x 6″ lumber for each chair (FYI, 2″ lumber is actually only 1.5″ thick), glued the two pieces together, and clamped them until they dried. What you see here is enough to make four legs — two for each chair. In other words, they’re just glued together in pairs. There’s no glue between the two center pieces.
While those dried, I finished assembling the back of the chair. I made the top piece by cutting a piece of 2″ x 6″ lumber to 19.5″ wide. After creating a pattern with paper for the arched top, I traced the arch onto the board and cut it out with my jigsaw. Then I ripped several pieces of 2″ x 6″ lumber down to 2.25″ wide to use for the seat supports. I cut one of them to 19.5″ long to use for the bottom support.
Then I assembled those pieces using lots of wood glue and 2.5″ wood screws. I made sure to line up the top of the back seat support with the lines that I had marked from the template (i.e., ,when I traced the leg from the chair) so that I would have the proper seat height. You can see my faint pencil marks lined up with the top of the back seat support in this picture…
Here’s a side view. You can see that on each piece, I just drilled right through the outside of the side support and into the ends of the cross pieces. I pre-drilled all of these holes, and used 2.5″ wood screws to hold the pieces together.
After allowing the clamped wood for the front legs to dry several hours, I unclamped them and used my table saw to rip the pieces to 2.25″ square. The front legs were 16.75″ high.
I used my miter saw to cut a very subtle taper on the bottom of the front legs so that they wouldn’t just be completely square from the top to the floor, but I failed to get a picture of it. You can see the taper on the bottom in the pictures below, though.
Then I cut the side seat pieces using more of the 2″ x 6″ lumber that I had ripped down to 2.25″ wide. I cut those pieces to 16″ long, but in hindsight, I wish I had made them just a bit longer. 16.5 or 17 inches would have been preferable. I attached those side seat supports to the back side supports using pocket screws and wood glue, and then attached the front legs by screwing 2.5″ wood screws straight through the front of the legs and into the ends of the side seat support pieces. Again, I pre-drilled the holes. I pre-drill ALL of my holes when building stuff like this. If you don’t pre-drill, you risk splitting the wood.
Just a note about the side seat supports: I used the other dining chair to get all of the measurements, like the seat height, front leg length, etc. On the area where the side seat supports attach to the back side supports, the top of the side seat support is about 16.5″ from the bottom. However, the front legs are 16.75″ high. That means that the seat has a very slight angle to it, so the ends of the side supports needed to be cut at slight angles. I avoid geometry at all costs, so I just tested out some different angles to see what would work. I found that cutting the ends of the side seat supports at 2.5 degrees worked perfectly to give that ever-so-slight angle to the seat so that it was just a tad bit higher in front and angled down towards the back.
And then I finished up the main frame of the seat support by adding the front piece, cut to 19.5″ long, and secured with wood glue and 2.5″ screws through the sides of the front legs and into the ends of the front support piece. I just used one screw on each side to attach this piece.
To add more support for the seat frame, I cut four corner pieces with 45-degree angles, and attached it with wood glue and 1.5″ 16-gauge nails in my nail gun. Then I added one screw going through the center of the corner support and into the leg.
Here’s a view of one of the back corner pieces, secured with wood glue, four nails gong into the side support pieces, and one screw going diagonally into the leg.
I did end up using one screw between the nails on each side of each corner support, but I failed to get a picture of that. So in the end, each corner support was attached with wood glue, four nails, and three screws.
Next I cut a piece of 3/4″ plywood for the seat using my jigsaw, and attached it with wood glue and 16-gauge nails.
Just a note about the seat. I used a plywood base because these are dining chairs. I prefer a firm seat on dining chairs because if the seats have too much give to them, you can end up sitting too low at the dining table. It’s probably less of a problem for most people than it is for me since I’m just 5 feet tall. But if I were making occasional chairs rather than dining chairs, I’d forgo the plywood and use jute upholstery webbing for the seat. And if I were making living room chairs, I’d probably take the time to learn how to use actual springs. I’ve watched videos of springs being added to chair frames, and it doesn’t look difficult. Springs can be purchased at upholstery supply shops.
But since mine are dining chairs, and I like my chairs very firm, I used plywood.
Next I created the arm framing by ripping 1.5″ square pieces from the 2″ x 6″ lumber. The front short piece is 5 5/8″ high. I don’t recall the length of the long piece, but I cut it longer than it needed to be, and then held it in place to mark where it needed to be cut. It had to be cut at a slight angle to match the slight angle on the back support piece. After gluing/nailing/screwing those pieces together at a 90-degree angle, I attached them to the chair frame using pocket screws. I used two on the outside…
…and two on the inside…
The main thing I had to keep in mind with the arms is that I had to keep the height low enough so that the chair would slide up to the dining table. That meant that the arms had to clear the apron on the dining table.
Next I prepared the framing for the wings. I used more of the 2.25″-wide lumber that I had ripped for the top piece, and then used a full 2″ x 6″ piece for the side. I attached those together with wood glue and pocket screws.
Then I held that piece in place on the frame, and marked where each piece needed to be cut. Each one required a slight angle (which you can see in the photo below) to fit against the back supports and the arms.
Then I drilled more pocket screw holes to use to attach the wing to the chair frame, and then I drew a curved wing design. I just freehanded the design until I had one that I liked. And the reason that I offset the wood pieces is because I wanted the curve at the bottom (where it would attach to the arm) to extend past the top curve of the wing.
I cut out that design with my jigsaw, and before attaching it, used this piece as a template to trace the design onto the other three pieces. (I need four since I’m making two chairs.) Then I attached the wing frame to the chair frame using wood glue and pocket screws. And just like on the arm, I used pocket screws on the outside AND on the inside of the wing to make it very secure.
And after repeating that whole arm and wing process on the other side, I had the basic frame for a wingback dining chair!
Like I said, it will need a few more support pieces. When making a chair frame that will be upholstered, you have to keep in mind how the foam/batting/fabric will wrap around the frame, and where it will be stapled. Right now, I have nothing that the foam/batting/fabric can be stapled to where the chair back meets the chair seat, and I also don’t have anything to wrap the inside arm foam/batting/fabric around and staple to where the bottom inside of the arm meets the chair seat. And if that’s clear as mud, it should be much clearer when I actually get started on the upholstery.
But for now, here’s the 360-degree view of the basic chair frame.
Having that other dining chair right there to use as a template throughout this building process really made the whole thing much easier. If you decide to take on a dining chair building project, and don’t have a dining chair to use as a template (especially for those back support pieces), I highly suggest taking a trip to Goodwill or Salvation Army and picking up a cheap chair that you can use as a template. If you don’t get those back supports right, the whole chair will look awkward and feel very uncomfortable.
To see how I upholstered this chair, you can see Part 1 here.