Build a Queen Anne Side Chair
This challenging build will reward you with a gorgeous set of dining chairs that will be cherished family heirlooms for generations to come.
For many years I have wanted to build a Queen Anne side chair but found very little written about making one. I eventually pieced together the construction details from a number of sources. I made this chair from cherry, although most such chairs were made of walnut or mahogany.
Veenendaal created a template for some of the parts to make producing multiples easier and faster. Notice the detail he added on the template; mortise locations and any other important details are added to the templates.
Use the Offcut
Once the first leg blank is cut from the board you can use the offcut, placed on its edge, to support the workpiece while tapering the leg to rough width on the band saw.
There are many ways to machine angled mortises, but Veenendaal used an angled base block and angled vise cauls to help position the workpiece.
Level Playing Field
This jig will give you one at plane to work in while cutting the tenons on the tops of the legs.
By using a long straightedge clamped to your table saw's table, and raising the blade slightly every pass, you can create a perfectly sized cove cut in the shoe. Both curved ends are cut on a band saw then drum sanded smooth.
After marking the shape of the crest rail and the necessary joinery, cut the mortises while the workpiece is still rectilinear.
The Correct Angles
In order to properly cut the angle of the back splat tenons to the right angle use this simple 3-piece jig.
A curved back splat is not only comfortable to sit against, but it provides additional grace to these chairs. Rough cut the shape on the band saw and refine it with hand tools.
Veenendaal shaped his back splat then cut the tenons on both ends. You could also cut the tenons while the splat is still rectilinear then shape the splat.
Finishing with a splat that has two shoulders that mate with the crest rail and shoe nicely is critical to the overall look of the chair.
Refine the Splat
Band saw the back splat to shape, then use hand tools to fair and smooth the edges. Symmetry is important at this stage.
Mark a line along the side of the splat, then use hand tools to bevel the edge. This leaves you with a thinner-looking back splat.
Working in Three Dimensions
The crest rail is shaped in all planes. If this is a new approach to you, practice with a piece of full-sized softwood scrap first.
With the back assembly glued together you can start to shape the parts to their final look.
With the final overall shape of the front of the crest rail complete (top), it's time to sand the wood smooth to remove any tool marks. Portions of the back of the crest rail now need to be bevelled to refine the overall look (bottom).
After drawing the shape of the legs, as well as all of the joinery on the blank, Veenendaal uses his horizontal mortising machine to cut the mortises.
Some of the mortises in the legs need to be angled, so Veenendaal uses a shop-made angled platform to assist him.
Tape it Back Together
Once the feet are turned round, you can make the first cuts to start to shape the legs. Taping the offcuts back onto the leg will provide a stable platform to continue band sawing the leg in other planes.
Round it Off
An assortment of hand tools assists in turning the square legs into rounded, graceful legs. Fixed in a vise, a clamp secures each leg as you work.
After making the cheek cut, Veenendaal marks and cuts the angled shoulder.
With the chair assembled, you can measure the distances for cutting the turned side stretchers.
A sharp marking knife will assist in locating the shoulder of the tenon. The shoulder must fit snugly against the lower portion of the rear leg, while the tenon holds the parts together.
Cut the tenon shoulder with a hand saw. Notice the angled tenon in the middle of the joint that won't get trimmed off.
With all the parts fitting nicely, it's time to assemble the chair. Do at least one dry run, and use a glue with a very long open time, as this won't be an easy assembly.
Cut from the same material as each leg, knee blocks get partially shaped then glued in place. Notice the angled clamping block used on the other side of the leg.
Flush the Faces
Once assembled, the top face of the leg can be flushed with the face of the rail.
Shape the Knee Blocks
When shaping the knee blocks, tape a ruler to the face of the rail to protect it from getting damaged.
In order to allow the cushion to sit properly, remove the necessary wood at the top of the leg.
History of the chair
During the second quarter of the eighteenth century, the bold turnings, attenuated proportions, and dynamic surfaces of the Early Baroque, or William and Mary style, were subdued in favour of gracefully curved outlines, classical proportions and restrained surface ornamentation. This new style, variously called late Baroque, early Georgian, or Queen Anne, was a blend of several influences, including Baroque, classical and Asian.
Boston was the leading colonial city in the early eighteenth century and the first to implement aspects of the new style. “Crooked” or S-curved chair backs, which conformed to the shape of the sitter’s spine, first appeared there in the 1720s. This feature was borrowed from Asian designs and reflected a growing concern for comfort in the period. By the 1730s Boston makers had developed a standard chair form with a vase-shaped splat and S-curved cabriole legs. With their rounded outlines, chairs of this type represented a dramatic departure from the stiff, straight chair backs of the preceding eras.
I started the chair by making full-size templates on plywood or posterboard. Carefully note the position of mortises and other features such as bevels, as well as the tenons on the various parts, and mark these on your template. Another important bit of advice is to save all of your cut-offs, as these will be needed to support the various parts in the vise for shaping, or on the band saw for further cutting.
Cut the tenons on the top of the legs where they meet the crest rail. Note that the tenons are tapered so that they are not exposed once you begin shaping the crest rail. You will need to cut these tenons using only hand tools, but this task can be simplified by using a very simple jig.
Start with the back legs
I began with the two back legs, made from 2″-thick cherry. Note that I have marked the location of all the mortises on the template as well as the tenon at the top of the post. The two posts can be cut from a single board by nesting the two posts.
A second band sawing operation is needed to taper the upper part of the back post on the inside surface. The work is supported on the band saw by the scrap saved from the first band sawing of the leg posts.
Once cut on the band saw, smooth the rough surfaces using a hand plane and spoke shave, then chamfer the back of the rear legs, ending the chamfer in a gradual slope. I used a router table to do most of the chamfering and finished the ends with a sharp chisel, as the slope of the ends from the chamfering bit is too short. Be careful at the top of the post where the inside cut recurves to meet the crest rail. The grain is very short at this point and is easily fractured.
With the rear sub-assembly dry fitted and clamped together, use the jig to mark the tenon shoulders using a sharp chisel. Mark the tenon thickness using a marking gauge, and then saw the shoulders to the required depth. Stay somewhat away from the marked line. Then saw the tenon cheeks. Once the waste is removed, pare to the shoulder line using a sharp chisel. A shoulder plane can be used to clean up the tenon cheeks once they have been cut with a tenon saw.
I cut the mortises with my mortising machine. Note that the mortises for the side rails are angled at 10 degrees. The mortises for the shoe and the lower back stretcher are cut at 90 degrees to the rear legs. The turned side stretchers of the chair meet the rear legs and front legs in a similar manner, but the angle is closer to 8.5 degrees because the side stretcher and seat rail do not lie in the same plane. The tenons for the seat rails and for the back of the lower stretcher are bare faced, having only one shoulder. These shoulders need to be pared at an angle to meet the back post and front leg at the correct angle.
To cut the angled mortises, first make an angled support from scrap to hold the post at the correct angle. My mortising machine has been modified by adding a cross sliding vise to hold the work. This has been an invaluable improvement to the machine for all of my projects, allowing precise positioning of the mortising chisel.
Shoe and stretcher
The shoe is the shaped rail into which the splat will fit. I start with 6/4 cherry and shape the cove moulding using my table saw, running the shoe across my blade on an angle. I took multiple passes, raising the blade about 1/16″ each pass. I then cut the curve on either end with a band saw. The long grain surface can be cleaned up using a curved scraper, while the end grain part is smoothed using a drum sander in the drill press.
The turned rear stretcher distance between shoulders must be the same as the distance between the shoulders on the shoe to keep the back legs parallel. With all the parts in the back assembly fitting together nicely it’s time to glue them together.
Once the back assembly is glued up we can start on the crest rail, which will accept the top of the back splat. I determine the length of the crest rail by laying it across the previously cut tenons and carefully marking the outer and inner dimensions. Cut the mortises for the back leg tenons and the splat next, while the stock is still rectangular. The crest rail shaping will take place a little later.
The back splat is a signature feature of the Queen Anne chair. It’s gracefully curved in two planes and conforms to the sitter’s spine. The vase-shaped profile is elegant, yet equally important is the negative space between the rear legs and the splat, which appears to be two birds facing each other. Select a board 6″-wide and at least 5/4 thick. A nice grain pattern for the splat will make the chair stand out.
A difficult aspect of making the splat is making sure it exactly fits between the shoe and the crest rail. Too short and you’ll have a gap, too long and the crest rail won’t seat on the back posts. To avoid too much fussing, make a simple jig consisting of two short pieces of wood with a bare-faced tenon cut on each. The shoulder for the bottom piece will be on the back of the piece; for the top piece it will be on the front. Fit these short pieces to their respective mortises, and once they fit perfectly use glue to join the two pieces. This will give you an exact measurement that will be used to cut the splat to its final dimensions.
Once the final length is determined in this way, the sawing can begin. Trace the ‘S’ profile onto the side of the splat blank. Cut to the profile lines using a 3 tpi skip-tooth blade in the band saw.
Before cutting the vase shape on the wide surface, it’s best to smooth the splat while it’s still rectangular. I use a sharp hand plane on the convex surfaces and spoke shaves on the concave surfaces, finishing with a card scraper.
The tenons on the back splat are both bare faced, meaning they both don’t have two shoulders, but just one. The lower tenon has its shoulder on the back of the splat, while the upper tenon has its shoulder on the front. I roughed them out on the table saw and then used a sharp shoulder plane to trim the tenons to fit. In retrospect, it would likely be easier and safer to machine the tenons on either end of the back splat before shaping it. This would have provided me with a flat and square workpiece to work with.
Once the final fitting of the tenons is done, test fit the back assembly. Make any adjustments necessary to get a gap-free assembly and then remove the splat and trace the vase profile from the template. Cut this on the band saw, then smooth the rough edges with hand tools.
The next step is to bevel the back edges of the splat. This is done to give the splat a thinner, more refined appearance. Lay out the bevel using your fingers as a marking gauge. Note that the bevel is not 45 degrees but about 60 degrees.
Crest rail profile
Begin refining the crest rail profile by band sawing the face of the crest rail, but leave a square shoulder at both ends to provide a clamping surface. These square shoulders will be removed after the back assembly is glued up. Tape the off cuts back on, and rotate the piece 90 degrees to cut the profile on the top surface. Some rough shaping of the crest rail can now take place, but leave the square shoulders until after glue-up.
Now glue the splat into the shoe, the crest rail onto the top of the splat, and the tenons on the back posts. Once dry, the assembly can be placed flat on the bench for the final shaping of the crest rail. Now is also the time to remove the square shoulders that were left on for the glue-up. The shaping of the crest rail yoke is important. The curved surface on the front of the crest rail needs to sweep up toward the back.
The cabriole leg has a graceful, S-shaped curve that is characteristic of Queen Anne furniture. The leg starts as a 2-3/4″ square blank that is band sawed to the basic shape and then refined using rasps, spokeshaves, chisels and cabinet scrapers. On Queen Anne chairs, the leg is round in cross section all the way up to the knee. Also note that on the side of the leg that faces the back of the chair, you will need to leave a flat surface for the front of the lower stretcher, which fastens to the leg using a rectangular tenon, not a round tenon as might be expected.
Careful orientation of the grain on the leg blank is required. Try to use flitch cut stock and position the knee so that the grain is oriented nicely. Orienting the grain in this fashion will prevent a bullseye pattern on the knee of both legs.
Make the leg blanks about 6″ longer than the finished leg length. As a general guideline, the extra material should be at the top of the leg. In my case the grain in the leg blanks was doing weird things, and a better match was found in the wood at the lower end of the leg blanks. Remove this extra length, saving the pieces, and label each to its corresponding leg. This extra material will be used to make the knee blocks at the sides of the knees, because it’s important that the grain appears to be continuous between the knee and the knee block.
Before cutting the leg pattern on the band saw, I lay out the mortises for the seat rails and the lower stretcher front tenon. Cutting angled mortises is much easier while the stock is still square.
Start by placing the leg pattern template in the orientation that will give the best appearance. Draw the lines, and mark the location of the mortises. I also like to place the back leg post and front legs side by side to ensure the mortises will line up at final assembly, keeping the seat rails and stretchers parallel.
Cut a scrap of pine about 3″ to 4″ square, to create a bed that will hold the square leg at the correct angle to be mortised.
Place this in the sliding vise and clamp the leg into the assembly. Again, note that the mortise for the stretcher is not at the same angle as the mortise for the chair rail, so adjust the jig accordingly. On my chair, the angle is 8.5 degrees. Be mindful of the mortise depths so that you don’t go into the waste area.
Once the mortises in the legs are completed, place the blank in your lathe, and turn the pad foot to its finished diameter of 2-3/4″. Once this step is completed, you can proceed to the band saw for the initial shaping.
Cut to the S-shaped lines, and then tape the waste back on. Rotate the leg 90 degrees and cut the adjacent side with the taped-on waste supporting the leg blank. Leave the square post end full size for now. This will be trimmed off in a later operation.
Take the leg blank to your bench, clamp the leg into a large F-clamp, and secure that into your vise. This will facilitate rotating the leg for shaping. I start with spokeshaves, reducing the square cross section to an octagon. Then, using rasps, files and a cabinet scraper, I finish shaping the leg. Keep the knee area more or less square, but make the rest of the leg down to the ankle round.
Seat rails and side stretchers
The tenons on the seat rail are bare faced, meaning you’ll only have to angle one shoulder to the 10-degree angle. Rabbet the top part of the seat rails to accept the slip seat frame onto which the upholstery is fastened.
The next task is to turn the side stretchers. This is probably the fussiest part of making this chair, as the shoulders of the rear tenon need to be angled in two planes. Place a piece of scrap across the space between the front leg and the rear post, and measure the angle where the piece meets the back leg.
The length of this stretcher is also critical. Because the back leg post angles back from the vertical, the stretcher is longer than the seat rail. Make a test assembly of the chair, holding the parts together with clamps while you mark this measurement.
I determine the distance between the front leg and the back leg using pinch rods. Pinch rods are two thin pieces of wood held together that can slide back and forth. Slide the pinch rod parts apart until they touch the flat spot on the front leg, then adjust them to measure the distances to the four corner points on the front face of the rear leg, where the side stretcher will meet the rear leg. Make careful notes of these measurements, as they will be transferred to the stretcher. Make sure you add the length of the front tenon to these measurements.
The front of the side stretcher uses a 5/16″-thick tenon. Make the tenon width the same as the turning diameter at that point, about 1″. This type of joint is necessary because the ankle is too small in diameter to accept a cylindrical tenon.
The final part that needs to be made is the turned stretcher separating the two turned side stretchers. This stretcher will fit into the square sections of the side stretchers using a 7/8″ hole. The turning does not have shoulders where it enters the side stretchers.
Prior to test fitting the entire chair, take a moment to make the top of each front leg trapezoidal. Do this with a band saw or hand saw. You’ll need to also remove some of the material at the end of the turned side stretcher to make it trapezoidal in cross section, so it meets flush with the rear leg.
Once you are content with the fit of the parts, you can begin planning your glue-up. There are 12 glue joints in all that need to go together at the same time, so a glue type with a long open time is preferred. I use liquid hide glue heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but I’m told white glue will also work. Take time to make sure everything lines up and that the joints remain gap free.
Leave the chair in the clamps for at least 24 hours, then pin each joint with a 1/4″ dowel using whatever wood you used to make the chair. Use a 3/16″ dowel pin for the front of the lower stretcher. These pins do not go through the entire leg. I pin each end of the seat rails and side stretchers, and each end of the front rail, 10 pins in all.
The knee blocks
The knee blocks provide a visual transition between the curves of the cabriole leg and the rectangular seat rails. You will need to make your knee blocks. Cut the profile shape first and remember to save the cutoff. Test fit the block to ensure a gap-free fit. Once you are satisfied with the fit, hold the block in place, and mark the curve of the cabriole leg onto the side of the block. Using the cutoff to support the piece, make the second cut on the band saw. The two front blocks are square to the leg and rail, but the side blocks meet the chair at an angle, so you will need to bevel the face that fits against the leg at 10 degrees.
Using the waste from cutting the square part of the leg and from the knee block to make two cauls to hold the knee block in place for gluing. Cut a bevel on each scrap. Glue both surfaces and clamp them into place.
Once all four blocks have been fastened, do the final paring to fit. Take your time with this task as you will be cutting across the grain. I tape a metal ruler to the rail to ensure a slip of the chisel doesn’t damage the rail. A sharp shoulder plane can also be used to bring the knee block and the leg knee into the same plane, planing across the grain. Once this shaping is complete, turn the chair over so you can blend the curves with files and chisels.
Finish the rabbeting at the top of the legs to bring the rabbet into line with that of the seat rail.
I did very little sanding on this chair, in order to preserve the shaped edges. Remember, the original makers from the 1740s didn’t have sandpaper. That said, it’s your chair and your decision how to approach these sorts of things.
Upholstered seat frame
The seat frame is simply a 3/4″-thick frame made of secondary wood. A lap joint or a bridle joint can be used to join the four pieces. Make the frame about 1/8″ smaller overall to allow for the thickness of the upholstery materials. You can choose whatever upholstery fabric you like, but traditionally these chairs would have a damask fabric or sometimes leather.
The final finish on my chair is a generous coat of boiled linseed oil followed by six coats of orange shellac, applied with an HVLP spray gun and then a final coat of 10 degree nitrocellulose lacquer to reduce the shine of the shellac.