Design & DIY

How to build a lakeside recliner

To the list of things that are quintessentially Canadian—Robertson screws, hockey, maple syrup—I’d add the Muskoka chair. For me, it conjures up memories of summer days and cottage decks. The Muskoka chair is a sister of the American Adirondack chair. In my opinion, the Canuck version is a better, more sophisticated design, as the Adirondack has a straight back (often just a solid plank) and a flat seat; whereas, the Muskoka chair has curved back slats and an arched seat.

Tools and Materials

Tools and Materials


For this project, I revised the chair’s design a bit and made the seat easier to get out of, and incorporated a footstool for added comfort. For simplicity’s sake, I left the back flat, but made up for it with fanciful outer slats. I also played with the design to create what I thought was a more feminine-looking chair. I used solid pine for this version, as it was to be painted. (I used CIL CP28 Pacific Coast in a semi-gloss exterior.) If you want a clear finish, I would suggest building with cedar or teak.

Build the Base

Begin by laying out the two base pieces that will anchor all the other parts. Draw the grid pattern on a piece of 3/4″ x 8″ x 36″ pine and cut out the shape with a jigsaw. Next, trace this first base piece onto a second pine board and cut.

The seat slats come next. Cut all of them to length, then attach them to the two bases, spacing the slats 1/4″ apart. Leave the last slat, the one that will be behind the vertical back slats, off until the back is in position.

With the base pieces joined together by the seat slats, it’s on to the front and back uprights. The front ones will support the chair arms and the back supports will reinforce the back. Using #8 x 2″-long screws rated for outdoor exposure, attach the back uprights to the inside faces of the bases, 3 1/4″ in from their ends. Add the front uprights to the outside faces, 5″ in from their fronts.

Get Back

Now, it’s time to build the back of the chair. To create the shape, lay all back pieces together tightly and make sure they are square at the bottom. You can draw the arch freehand or with a shop-built compass. Make one by driving a nail through one end of a thin, straight board and taping a pencil to the other. I used a radius of 30″ across the tops of all the back pieces and a 6″ radius for the sides of the end pieces. Cut the curves with a jigsaw.

The back pieces need to be secured to two back supports, an upper and a lower one. Lay the back slats on their front faces, spaced 1/4″ apart. Place the bottom edge of the lower back support 12 1/2″ from the bottom of the slats and fasten each slat to the support with two #8 x 1 1/4″-long screws. The upper back support should be roughly 23″ from the bottom, but verify its location using the back uprights, which will sit just beneath the upper back support. Turn the back assembly over and position that final, still unattached seat slat 1 1/2″ up from the bottom of the back slats. Affix this seat slat with screws driven in from the front of the back slats. The screw heads will be hidden later, behind the second-last slat, once everything is in place.

Feet Up

Even though the chair isn’t complete yet, it’s time to move on to the footrest. Cut the two rails that will hold the footrest slats, and then cut the slats themselves. Attach these slats with 1/4″ spaces between them. The front of the footrest is capped with a wider, longer front slat, which you should cut and attach now. Before you make the legs for the footrest, turn back to the chair base pieces. Cut and attach the rail guides to the inside of these bases, then test to make sure the footrest slides in nicely. It doesn’t hurt to keep things a little loose to allow for any wood expansion that may occur.

This footrest now needs its legs, each one pivoting on a screw. Cut the legs to 8″ in length with an angle of 15° from square on the bottom. Mitre cut 1/2″ off the opposite top corner of each leg or round it over to allow it to pivot. Attach the legs, test them and make any adjustments. If the legs pivot nicely, remove the screws and place a washer on each one, between the leg and the rail, to ensure a bit of clearance when the footrest is slid under the chair. Slide the footrest under the chair on the guides. How does it slide? If it needs some help, make adjustments now.


Arm Yourself

You can now attach the chair’s back assembly. Slide it behind the second-last seat slat. The seat slat attached to the bottom of the back slats should rest in the notches in the base pieces. Attach the last seat slat to the bases and drive a few screws through the end back slats into the back uprights.

You can take artistic licence with the arms. I like chair arms big enough to accommodate a beverage and a novel, which is the recipe for a great day in your new chair. The radius of the curve on the front of the arm is 3 1/4″. The length of the arm has a gentle curve but is square on the inside edge of the back end to allow for easy attachment to the back upright. Cut an arm with a jigsaw, then transfer its dimensions to another workpiece to create a mirror copy. The arms are attached to the front uprights and the back uprights with #8 x 2 1/2″-long screws. Attach the wedge-shaped arm supports to the outside of the front uprights and the bottoms of the arms with two more screws each.

Finishing Touches

Give the chair a final sanding up to 180-grit sandpaper before painting or staining. Spray finishing is often easier with a project such as this if it has been assembled first. Once the finish has dried, grab a sunny location and a cool drink and relax on a truly Canadian work of art.

To download a detailed illustration of the plan, click here. 

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