DIY: A Modern Scandinavian Chair

This is the first patio chair I designed and built (with my father’s assistance) with the bare minimum of tools: drill, miter saw, sander, and a ton of clamps.  I lovingly call him Sven.  I think he has all the elements that I love about Scandinavian design: simplicity and strong, clean lines. I love the angled piece on the side that makes up the arm panel – simple but bold.  So, here is how I made Sven!

How Sven came to be.

Sven began as an idea in SketchUp.  I like SketchUp because it’s relatively easy to use and has a lot of functionality.  You can model in 3D and then figure out the parts and pieces and lengths of pieces.  In fact, I used SketchUp and InDesign to create a complete set of step-by-step instructions to build Sven.

For me, modeling the chair in SketchUp was the fun part!  Starting with a blank slate and the ability to create whatever I felt like creating….  The best feeling!  Imagine if you had a style in mind and could create ANYTHING.  No settling for whatever is available at a store or online.  And the best part – this chair is exactly what I wanted and only cost me about a day to build and a little more than $100 in materials!

List of lumbar purchased:

(6) – 2x2x8 cedar planks

(1) – 2x4x8 cedar plank

(3) – 1x4x8 cedar plank

(1) – 1x6x8 cedar plank

Once I had everything figured out in SketchUp and a rough set of instructions made in InDesign, it was time to build!  I took my instructions to the lumber store to purchase the sizes and quantity of cedar needed to build Sven.  Then I cleared the driveway and set up shop.  When building anything with wood, I think it’s best to make most of your cuts first.  It just keeps the process more organized and efficient. Some pieces will need to be test-fit before cutting and can wait until you’re ready for them.  

Alright, so truly the trickiest part to Sven is building those arm panels.  That angle is beautiful but it sure adds an extra level of difficulty that a square arm panel with all right angles wouldn’t have.  I was able to cut the top, front, and bottom pieces ahead of time, when I was doing most of my cuts.  But the angle piece and the middle support had to be measured and test fit and cut after laying out and clamping in place the rest of the arm pieces.  I also was challenged with laying everything out on those saw horses.  If I had a giant work bench on which I could lay out the pieces, I think it would have gone a bit smoother.  Next time, I’ll just get a giant plywood board to set on top of the saw horses as a make-shift work bench.

Making the seat frame.

The seat panel was up next, and after the arm and its tricky angle this was easy peasy. Now, at the time of this build I did not have a pocket hole jig so you’re seeing a lot of exposed screw heads.  You can learn more about that in my article A Proper Screw by clicking here. But without that handy tool, I also needed to find a way to nail the seat slats on.  I wanted them to sit flush within the seat frame versus on top where you would see their edges.  Scandinavian style is all about being clean and minimal.  If the slats sat on top of the frame it would just detract from that minimalist look.  So the frame consisted of 2×2 pieces and 1×4 pieces screwed into the sides.  This allowed me to lay the slats inside of the 2×2 frame and nail them to the 1×4 pieces below.  Pretty tricky, right?  Don’t have a workshop full of tools?  No problem! There’s always a way to build something beautiful, even if you only own the basic tools! It just takes a little planning and creativity!

Okay, next up was building the back panel.  

Assembling the back frame was a breeze since it’s just 2×2 framing and a couple of 1×6 boards set within that box frame.  I did realize that it’s important for the width of the back frame and the seat frame to be identical. These both will attach to the arm panels so they need to be the same overall width. So this is one of those pieces where you’ll want to make  the cuts for it later to compare and test-fit against the width of the seat frame. And the back slats (the 1×6 pieces) should definitely be test-fit and cut later, once you’re ready for them, since they’ll be set within the frame. Doing this when you need it will prevent wasting material due to bad cuts.

So now that all the components are made, I spend time sanding each one’s edges and corners so they are smooth and even. Once all the components are sanded. You could finish them however you want. Since I love the look of cedar, I decided to just slather everything with teak oil to protect it from the elements.  But you could stain or paint them, whatever floats your boat.  I think this design would look amazing in a matte gray or white paint…. I’ll have to try that next.

Time to assemble the parts!

Okay so the last step is putting it all together.  This will take many hands to help hold and clamp the components in place.  This is where you can never ever have too many clamps! Start with attaching the seat to the arm panels, setting the seat frame at an angle so the back is lower than the front.  A seat angle gives the chair a nice, comfortable sit.  After that, attach the back and voila!  Beautiful, Scandinavian, modern Sven!

Like the look of sven?

The Complete Instructions Are Available For Purchase.
They Are Made For Beginner DIYers!
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