How to build a garden chair from pallets

I made an ‘Adirondack Chair’ from free pallet wood. It is super strong, super elegant and super easy to build. Here’s how I did it, step by step. And if you want to build a garden chair from pallets too, there are plenty of tips.

Lets start by showing you the finished product. This is what mine looks like now that I have painted it.

Adirondack chair from palettes painted blue

I started with the completely unnecessary step of spending half an hour whipping up a quick 3d model just to familiarise myself with the basic plan of an Adirondak chair. This particular style of garden furniture has been popular in North America for over a century and the rest of the world is slowly catching on. They are very comfortable, and the construction requires only minimal tools.

I still wasn’t entirely convinced. Next I told myself that a model would somehow help. I made a small model from foam board. It was raining heavily so I wasn’t going to be doing any proper garden woodwork that weekend anyway. But it was time to face facts. I was procrastinating and needed to bloomin’ well get on with it.

My foam board and glue construction being inspected by our chief tester

The great thing about the Adirondack design is that it is made up of lots of short pieces of wood. In the full size version there are very few pieces more than two foot long. The whole thing is held together with carriage bolts and wood screws so people with limited woodwork skills and only basic tools can put one together with surprising ease. I hadn’t actually intended to use pallet wood originally. I downloaded some plans online and translated the measurements from imperial to metric and headed to the local DIY store.

Materials for a garden chair from pallets

I returned from the shops with:

  • three 8ft boards of 6inch by 1 and a half inch
  • three eight foot boards of 4 by 1 and a half (I needn’t have bothered with that imperial to metric conversion after all).
  • 100 deck screws that were less than 2 inches long (£8.00)
  • six size 10 carriage bolts with washers and nuts.
coach or carriage bolts

I bought sawn softwood timber that had been pressure treated to enhance its resistance to rot.

Cost of materials

The total cost for timber and fixings was about £40 but consider this. All the horizontal pieces are less than two foot wide so you can pull a pallet apart and use that wood instead. In fact, rather then cut an 8ft board I just grabbed some pallet planks that had been sitting in the alleyway for about six months and used them instead of the new timber I had just purchased. In the end about 60% of my chair was made from pallet wood and I still have plenty of bought wood in the shed for the next project.

Tools required

The minimum kit needed for my garden chair from pallets would be as follows. 1 drill, one saw, one screwdriver and one coping saw.

I know that’s a hacksaw, not a coping saw, but I took this photo when the coping saw was at the bottom of the tool chest so the hacksaw is there as a stand in.

I printed out the plans I had downloaded (lousy broadband reception in the shed so having a printed version to refer to was a must.) .

To start my garden chair from pallets, I took a piece of six by one and traced the outline of the back legs from the plans. I cut them using my jigsaw and then sandpapered the rough edges. I used 80 grit paper to quickly get the shape and then 120 grit to smooth things flat.

Next I cut 5 cross pieces from the 4inch wide boards (this is where I realised that pallets were just as good as bought wood) and screwed them to the back legs to make what looked like a sled. I predrilled all my screw holes to ensure the wood wouldn’t split.

Next the front legs were cut to plan and drilled and then bolted to the sled. Here I used pallet wood again because I had a couple of pieces that were a few millimetres thicker than the bought stuff and figured these front legs are main load baring pieces so why not add a bit of thickness for extra strength?

By using bolts at this point you really do ensure the chair will last a very long time. This is wear a majority of the forces are acting against each other so if this holds, the rest of the chair will too.

I cut out the arms from one of the bought 6 inch wide boards. These armrests have a nice curve to them so that the final piece has lovely wide arms great for resting a beer or cup of tea on.

Again I used the jigsaw and then spent plenty of time with my sandpaper to ensure that there were no sharp corners.

I attached two small arm supports made from offcuts to the the tops of the front legs. There would ensure the front of the arm is properly attached to the front legs.

So far everything had been surprisingly easy but attaching the arms and the back would prove to be a more complicated process. During the construction you need to support the arms to keep them horizontal. This is a two person job, but you can do it alone by using wood to prop stuff up at the right height.

Because the back sits at an angle the supporting crossbars needs to be mitred at an angle of 20 degrees .This is where I made a couple of mistakes and had to recut my supports twice. When you are using pallet wood it doesn’t matter if you mess up on occasion.

The back itself is made from 7 narrow strips each one and a half inches wide. These were ripped down from leftover planks but cutting long straight pieces like this with hand tools is slow work. The jigsaw is hard to use for this sort of thing so a circular saw or table saw would definitely be worth using if you have one available.. The length you choose is up to you but my tip is to go longer for a more impactful appearance .

garden chair from pallets

I put it all together to make sure my garden chair from pallets was good with the idea of then taking it apart to do a final sanding and painting. It is solid, comfortable and I think it looks great so I could have left it natural, but we had some blue paint in the shed. Used less than half a litre for two coats of paint.

Actually there are one or two changes that would improve the chair. I could redo the arms so there are no screws visible at the front. In fact the footrest (my next project) will be done with dowels instead of screws for a neater finish. I could also re do the back support, now that I am happy with my angles. I also intent to add a curve to the tops of the back supports to make them fit in with the rest of the design.

You may notice one clear difference between the painted chair and the back of the finished full size chair unpainted. I realised at the last minute that extra supports might be necessary. The design means that when you sit in the chair the down force on the back is actually pretty low so those struts don’t add too much strength at all and can probably be ignored. However, I wanted to be safe so a couple of ‘back legs’ were chucked on at the end.

My final tip is not to actually work on a deck as you will lose things between the gaps. If you are planning to build a garden chair from pallets it will probably be mostly screws. But when I dropped a drill bit I ended up magnet fishing in my own back garden just to get it back. Next time at the very least I will put down a tarpaulin to work on.

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About the author

Loves to learn new things and make stuff...properly. Born and living in the Thames Valley west of London, England. I have an office job during the day, but evenings and weekends are all about making.