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16 Years and a Coat of Paint

Spring is a wonderful time of year. After months of huddling in the darkness and shivering in front of my shop space heater, I can now open the garage door and let in some natural light. There is nothing that puts me in a happy place more than listening to a baseball game on the radio and working at the bench with the sun streaming in from the garage door.

Unfortunately with warmer weather outside, Mother Nature shows up to monopolize my weekend shop time. Grass needs to be cut, plants planted, mulch spread, and all the general spring cleaning stuff that goes on inside and outside of the house. So it is that when I’m finally able to open the garage door, I rarely am able to scrape together the time to take advantage of it. Soon enough, I’ll be closing the garage door to keep out the heat and humidity. But maybe Mother Nature’s plan to pull me from the shop each Spring has backfired this year.

Pine is not a good exterior woodWhile cleaning off my deck this weekend, I started to slide one of my Adirondack chairs out of the way when the back slat I had grasped snapped easily off the back. Shocked I reached for the next slat only to have it break too. Then the third broke away right at the point where it is screwed into the back. This pair of Adirondacks is 16 years old and I built them from big box Pine lumber. Maybe I knew better than to use Pine for exterior furniture, maybe I didn’t back then but probably I figured that since I was painting it, it wouldn’t matter what species I chose. I was wrong of course and water will always find a way to rot the wood. It just so happens that I helped it along by drilling holes for screws. I used stainless steel screws (which I will salvage) and I plugged the holes afterward but water always wins in the end. A little closer inspection and I am finding some squishy parts all over the chair. It bears my weight right now, but I can’t honestly say that I’m certain it will for much longer. It looks like Mother Nature has just given me a reason to grab some Spring shop time and its time to dig out my faithful New Yankee Workshop Adirondack templates again.

Still I can’t help but be satisfied with the 16 years of service these chairs gave my wife and I. This is where we sat and ate many a burger and hot dog. Where we sat and watched fireworks on the 4th of July from our back yard. Where I enjoyed a cool drink after each grass cutting. Where I fell asleep one Saturday only to be awakened by a freak thunderstorm and hail.

It goes to show you just how much a coat of good paint does to protect the lumber underneath. These chairs even spent a few summers in the grass in direct contact with the ground and yet they kept on going for 16 summers. So perhaps I’m sad to see them fail, but mostly I’m proud of something that I built so early on in my woodworking career has held on this long in the elements.

Red Cedar Adirondack chairsWhen I build the replacement pair, I won’t be over engineering them and trying to get fancy with my joinery. I have built many many pairs of this same chair for friends and family over the years and truly its a design that I don’t feel like messing with. The one change I will make is the wood species, and will use a good exterior wood. Probably Western Red Cedar because it is rot resistant and lightweight. I have another pair of these chairs on my front porch that I never even applied finish to and they are going strong 12 years later. My in-laws have a set of Cedar chairs that are now 15 years old that live out in the grass of their back yard that are just as sound today as the day I made them. Cedar or Cypress would be a good choice here because of the weight.

I did build one pair out of White Oak and that is an excellent exterior wood, but it also makes for a VERY heavy Adirondack chair. My wife’s God Parents have that set and they don’t ever move them because of the weight. There are many other options and certainly anything that grows in the rainforest is a good choice. But then your humble Adirondack chair starts to get a wee bit expensive. If you plan to paint them then that just seems a crime to cover up something like Jatoba or Utile or Teak. Left unfinished all of these woods will turn a nice silvery gray and that’s what I plan to do with mine. In the end I’ll probably choose to use whatever species I can easily get my hands on cheaply and in the right sizes.

Then again, I do work for one of the largest importers of Teak in the North America, seems almost an injustice not to take advantage of that.

Now that I think about it, after building what at last count I believe to be 24 of these chairs the build has become a bit routine. Dare I say, even mundane. This pair will be the first that I will build without the use of any power tools (other than my planer) so that actually should be pretty exciting. I find rebuilding a piece by hand that I previously built using power tools to be very educating and a good indication of how my working rhythm has changed over the years. This build should be the same experience with lots of turning saw and spokeshave work and how can that ever be a bad experience.

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