Make Chair Templates


When I took my first class in making Welsh stick chairs in 2003, the instructor asked if we wanted to trace his seat and arm templates.

It would be fair to say that John (the other guy in the class) and I freaked. We quickly grabbed cardboard, paper and pencils and began tracing all the templates. I still have those templates down in the basement, but I’ve never used them.

When I returned home from the class, I took a good look at the templates and realized that almost everything about the templates could be described with rectangles, squares and simple arcs. The rest could be easily sketched in with French curves.

Since that realization, I’ve always made my own templates. And I would rather show you how to make your own templates instead of providing a silly gridded drawing or something that had to be blown up 478 percent on a photocopier and then printed on a plotter.

Here are the tools you need:

  1. A big sheet of paper (I use cheap newsprint sheets). You also can draw these templates directly on thin MDF.
  2. Trammel points with one end being a pencil.
  3. A yardstick
  4. Drafting triangle
  5. Pencil

Draw the Seat
Most of my chairs use a D-seat, which looks like a more complicated shape than it really is. It’s simply a rectangle with a half-circle attached to one edge. To make the seat, first draw a rectangle that is 20” wide and 6-1/2” high. Draw a centerline though the rectangle’s 20” width.

Set your trammel points to a 10” radius. Scribe the half-circle arc where the centerline intersects one edge of the rectangle. That’s it.

All of the other parts of the chair – the arms, doubler and the crest all evolve from the seat shape. So, I’ve shown the seat in the illustrations to make this clear.

Make the Arms
The arms for my stick chair are 2” wide and start about 4-1/2” back from the front edge of the chair. Here’s how to lay them out. Start with the seat plan you just drew. The first arc is a half-circle with a 10” radius – just like the seat. Scribe that. Then adjust the trammels to describe a 12”-radius circle and scribe that on your paper.

Now add 2” x 2” squares to the front of your arms to make them longer and to match the shape of the seat. The illustration above shows this clearly.

Now you have the basic shape of the armbow. You can alter this shape to suit yourself. I decided to widen the arms at the front and add a curve to the front area of each arm. This part of the armbow is called the “hands.”

Create the Hands
I made my hands 3” wide at the front. Then I wanted the additional 1” to flow into the original arm so the armbow ended up 2” wide at the back.

This is the only difficult part of the exercise. I used French curves to create this irregular curve. You also could draw an ellipse, but using French curves is faster (for me). Then draw the arc at the front of the hands. It can be a simple arc or an irregular curve. Your call.


The Doubler
The “doubler” is a piece of wood that beefs up the armbow and helps strengthen any short grain. It has the same basic shape as the armbow but is only 12’ wide. Scribe two the arcs – one at a 10” radius with the second at 12”. Then use your yardstick to create endpoints that are 12” apart. Use these endpoints to connect your two arcs.

The Crest
The crest begins just like the doubler – by scribing a 10” arc. Then set your trammels to draw an 11-1/4” arc. Use your yardstick to create endpoints that are 10-1/2” apart. Join the two arcs using the endpoints as a guide.

All the text above is much more difficult to follow than by simply studying the drawings. Everything flows out of the 10”-radius arc that is the back edge of the seat. Once you get that in your head, everything else is easy.

After you make your templates, you can transfer them to MDF or hardboard. Cut them out and smooth the edge with files and sandpaper. And put them in a safe place. While templates are easy to make, remaking lost ones is a grumpy affair.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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10 Responses to Make Chair Templates

  1. hiscarpentry says:

    Thanks for teaching us how to fish.


  2. antinonymous says:

    The seat plan in the top figure shows a 10″ total width at the bottom of the seat, which must actually be 20″ wide to accommodate the diameter of the semi-circle on top of it with a 10″ radius. This does not compute in wiener-space.


  3. Judith Katz says:

    have not made a chair yet buts its on the list. Thank you for all you help an these plans. Always appreciated.


  4. jenohdit says:

    There is a much easier way for most people to widen the arm without having to use a french curve with virtually the same result.

    For the left side arm in the plan view, mark a point 1.5 ” to the right of the intersection of the vertical center line and the line that is 2″ below the center point.

    Draw a line from that point through the center point to intersect the outer (12″) circle. The distance from the initial point to the intersection with the circle is 14.5″ (recalling Pythagoras’s theorem we just made a 3,4,5 triangle but divided the lengths in half).

    An arc of that length will hit the lower horizontal line at the desired 3″ hand width (12″ + 1″ + 1.5″ = 14.5″) and be tangent to the 12″ circle at the point of intersection found in the second step.

    Mirror that for the other side.


  5. Mike Mavodones says:

    I buy rolls of butcher’s paper in the restaurant supply section of warehouse stores (Sam’s Club, Costco). Get the non-waxed stuff you can write on with a pencil. It’s tougher than newsprint and easier to see pencil marks.
    For me, 1/4″ MDF is more pleasant to work with than Masonite/hardboard, although I keep both on hand.
    See- through templates are great when grain orientation and appearance matter. Like in chairs. A solid template can be skellatonized. Do that once and you may conclude that it is easier to make a plexiglass template. I use thin cheap plexiglass, recycled from cast off storm doors, etc. It can be pretty scratched up and still great for this purpose. Acrylic and polycarbonates cut clean if the heat build up is controlled so you’re making chips, not melting. A 6TPI hook tooth blade on the bandsaw works (in other words, I use the blade that’s already on my bandsaw 99% of the time). Melt-free, clean cuts with a coarse tooth wood blade in your jigsaw can be done by putting the acrylic sheet on top of at least one layer of corrugated cardboard, cutting through the stack. Turn the speed down, osillation off and don’t be tentative. Make a practice cut. You’ll be surprised at the smooth finish you get right off the blade.


  6. pinusmuricata says:

    You can achieve a similar curves using the trammel only. When you have drawn the inside curve, reset the trammel to 13″ radius, set the pivot 1″ below the original one and draw the arc. The top of the arc will be 2″ above the inner one, the hand ends will be 3″ out from them.


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