These contemporary wooden dining room chairs are a simple way to add color and style to your kitchen. Plus, they're a great beginner's woodworking project thanks to the use of simple cuts and basic tools.
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The instructions below are for one chair, but you easily can get seats (F) and slats (I, J, and K) for six chairs from a single sheet of 3/4" MDF. A full sheet of 3/4" MDF weighs about 100 pounds, so even if you have a van or pickup truck capable of hauling a full sheet, handling it can be a challenge. Have a Lowe's associate crosscut the sheet into five 18-1/2"-wide strips about 4' long (or one for each chair). Now you'll be able to load the material into just about any vehicle. The extra width allows you to trim away rough-cut edges on your tablesaw, and then crosscut the resulting 18"-wide panels into finished-size parts. If your fledgling workshop doesn't include a tablesaw, see Stretching Your Tool Dollars.
Even after trimming on your tablesaw, the cut edges of the MDF parts will show saw-blade marks. Sand the edges smooth using a random-orbit sander with an 80-grit disk. When painting, the edges of the parts soak up more paint than the faces and tend to dry rough and fuzzy. To seal the edges, mix equal amounts of water and wood glue and brush it generously onto the edges. With the glue solution dry, lightly re-sand the edges. Now you'll have smooth edges that take paint the same as the faces.
Tablesaw Substitute: If you don't have a tablesaw, you easily can trim the rough-cut panels to width and then crosscut panels into seats and slats with a portable circular saw and cutting guide. For good cut quality, fit your saw with a 40-tooth blade. The cutting guide can be as simple as a board with a good straight edge and a pair of clamps. Or invest in a Swanson Tool Co. straightedge cutting guide (#119887). This sturdy aluminum guide comes in two 50" sections that join together to allow you to rip the 8' length of a full sheet of MDF or plywood. To use a cutting guide, mark the cutline on your workpiece. Then measure the distance on your circular saw from the blade to the edge of the saw base. Offset the cutting guide the measured distance from the cutline, and clamp the guide to the workpiece. Then slide the saw base along the guide to make the cut.
Basic Stowable Workbench: You could build one of these chairs while squatting on the floor of your basement or garage, but if you're considering a set of four or more, give yourself a break and speed the process by setting up a simple workbench. You don't have to spend a lot of money. A pair of sawhorses and a 3/4×24×48" piece of MDF will do the trick. To keep the MDF from shifting around, capture the top rail of each sawhorse between a pair of 1x3 cleats screwed to the underside of the work top. Now you can simply lift the top off the horses for storage or when you need the horses for another job. Economical folding horses, such as the Task Force Twin Pack folding sawhorses (#161034) fold flat so your entire bench, horses and top, take up very little space when not in use.
From 1x3" poplar boards, cut the front legs (A), back legs (B), upper side rails (C), and lower side rails (D) to length with your mitersaw or tablesaw (Project Diagrams and Materials Cutting List). Note that both ends of the front legs and the front ends of the upper and lower side rails are square cuts and that the back ends of the upper and lower side rails and both ends of the back legs are cut with a 14° bevel. Finish-sand the parts using a random-orbit sander with a 180-grit sanding disk. Ease the part edges with a 180-grit sanding pad.
To ensure that your chair is square, trim about 1" to remove the factory-cut end of the 1x3s. Then use a cutoff stop on your mitersaw work support and cut each set of parts using the same cutoff-stop position.
Following the pocket-hole jig instructions, drill pocket holes on the bottom faces of the upper side rails (C) and lower side rails (D). Now glue and pocket-screw the leg assemblies. Clean up any excess glue with a wet cloth.
Tip: To align the corners where the legs (A, B) meet the upper side rails (C), clamp the rail to your workbench with the pocket holes facing up. Place the leg against the end of the rail, and then position a 1x3 scrap tightly against the leg and clamp the scrap to the bench. Now drive the screws. To hold the ends of the lower side rails in position on the front legs (A) and back legs (B) while driving the pocket screws, clamp the leg to the workbench with the inside face up. Then clamp a 1x3 cutoff to the leg to position the rail (Project Diagrams). Now place the rail against the cutoff and drive the pocket screws.
From 1x3" poplar boards, cut the stretchers (E) to length and drill pocket holes into the bottom faces (Project Diagrams and Materials Cutting List). Finish-sand the parts. Clamp one leg assembly upside down to your workbench. In turn, apply glue to one end of two stretchers and position them against the upper side rail (C). Secure each stretcher with the face clamp supplied with your pocket hole jig, and drive the pocket screws. Now, again using the face clamp to secure the remaining pair of stretchers to the lower side rail (D), glue and pocket-screw the stretchers in place.
Retrieve the remaining side assembly and, as in the previous step, glue and pocket-screw the stretchers (E) to the upper and lower side rails (C and D).
Place the seat (F) on the workbench. Apply glue to the base assembly upper rails (C) and stretchers (E) and position the base assembly on the seat. Align the upper side rails with the seat edges and the front faces of the front legs (A) with the front edge of the seat. Clamp the base assembly to the seat. Drill 1/8" pilot holes through the stretchers and into the seat (Project Diagrams). Enlarge the holes in the stretchers to 11/64" and countersink them. Drive #8×1-1/4" flathead wood screws.
From 1x3 poplar boards, cut the back rails (G) and back stiles (H) to length. Drill pocket holes in the rails and glue and pocket-screw the rails to the stiles, creating the back frame (Project Diagrams). Clean up any excess glue, finish-sand the frame, and ease the edges.
Retrieve the edge-sanded and sealed large slat (I), medium slat (J), and small slats (K). Arrange the slats on your workbench, aligning the ends and using 3/4"-thick scraps as spacers. Apply a glue bead about 3-3/4" from the end of each slat. Position the back frame on the slats, centered side to side with the upper small slat and top of the back frame flush. Clamp the frame in place. Drill pilot and countersunk shank holes and fasten the slats to the back frame with #8×1-1/4" flathead wood screws.
Clamp the back assembly to the base assembly with the lower edge of the back frame and bottom face of the lower rear stretcher (E) flush (Project Diagrams). Drill pilot and countersunk shank holes through the back stiles (H) and into the upper and lower rear stretchers. Drive #8×2" flathead wood screws.
Inspect the chair and finish-sand, where needed. Vacuum off the dust. Place the chair upside down on a pair of sawhorses Apply one coat of interior latex primer to all the bottom surfaces. With the bottom surfaces primed, flip the chair, place it on a drop cloth, and prime the top surfaces.
To provide "standoffs" to keep the wet paint from sticking to the drop cloth when you flip the chair to paint the top surfaces, drive a 1-1/4" pocket screw into the bottom of each leg, leaving 1/2" protruding.
With the primer dry, lightly sand with a 180-grit sanding pad and remove the dust. Apply two coats of interior latex semi-gloss paint. (We used Valspar Ultra Premium interior latex semi-gloss paint in Grandma's Cherry Pie color.)
With the paint dry, install felt pads on the bottoms of the legs.