Canadian Woodworking

Spectator chair

Author: David Voth
Published: April May 2004

When playing a relaxing game of pool, it’s nice to have a comfortable chair to sit in as you watch your opponent and prepare your next shot.


It’s especially nice if that chair offers you a place to rest your cue and set your drink.

This ‘mission style’ spectator chair uses plain, flat sawn ash, but any type of hardwood or softwood could be used with equal success. The chair features ‘stopped’ and ‘through’ mortise and tenon joints. Notice how the back legs extend up to support the backrest. The slight bend in the legs offer more comfort than a straight back. This chair has a scroll sawn accent (or decorative appliqué) on the back rest, but it also looks nice plain. The chair’s seat and backrest are made from leather, but use any fabric to match your room.

The mortise & tenon joints are secured using countersunk screws with matching plugs to pin the tenons. All mortises are 1/2″ wide. All stopped mortises are 1/2″ deep. The tenons are 1/2″ narrower than the rails. The legs are 2″ square rough stock, planed to 1 3/4″ square. All other parts are from 1″ rough stock, planed to 3/4″. That way you can use already planed 3/4″ stock from retail stores.

The first parts to cut are the legs. When cut, sand to smooth but not to finished.

The layout of the mortise locations is very important, so separate the front from the back legs. Then clamp each set together so the top and bottom ends are lined up. Be sure that the rails which attach the front legs to the back legs are lined up. Lay out the arm mortise for the back leg by using the front leg as a guide. Clamp the front leg and back leg together so the bottoms are flush.

Chamfer tenons

Cut Mortises in Front and Back Legs

When cutting the through mortises, enter from the side where the tenon will show through. That way you will get the cleanest edges and any tear out will be on the side where the tenon enters the mortise.

Assemble Side Frame

Cut the top side rails for the spindles. Make the bottom rails by cutting them a little longer, so that the through tenon can be cut to final length, after the dry fit. The tenons can be cut in various ways. I use the table saw. By adjusting the blade height, when you flip your material around to do the other side you get a perfect 1/2″ wide tenon. Then, by adjusting the fence to the correct distance, you get the correct depth. If tenons are slightly oversized, a quick once over with the sander or rasp file will make the perfect fit. To ensure consistency, do both top and bottom (for both sides) at the same time. Cut the front and the back of the top and bottom rails in the same way. Before cutting the spindles, do a dry fit of the side rails set into one set of front and back legs. Then measure between top and bottom rails to get the correct length for each spindle. That way, if there was a slight error on layout or wrong cut, you can still compensate here.

Add 1″ (1/2″ at each end) to get the spindles’ final length (including tenons). Cut the spindles and tenons. Reassemble the sides with spindles and side rails into chair legs. Clamp all together ensuring a good fit of all joints. Cut the top rails (for arm support) a little longer than required. Cut the tenon to fit in the front leg only and extend the rail to the back leg mortise.

Mark the location on the back leg and trace the angle (approx. 5º) that intersects the back leg. It is important to note that the mortise is cut at the angle of the back leg (and not at 90º) because the leg face is angled back. Cut this rail 1/2″ longer and cut the tenon to fit. If there is a slight gap at this location, it will be covered when the arm is attached to the top rail.

Assemble Back Rest Frame

Remember to make the stiles 1/2″ wider so that the long tenon will go into the rear legs. I used biscuits, but other joints could be have been used. Dado out about 1/2″ wide and 1/4″ deep (plus the thickness of the fabric or leather around the inside of the frame) to accept 1/4″ plywood back of the cushion. Trim pieces will cover the edge and hold the cushion in place. To avoid damage during construction, the cushion will be added after finishing. Cut the upper back support. You can assemble the upper back with the rest of the chair before staining. Any additions, such as a scroll sawn pattern (or decorative applique), or painting, can be done after final assembly. This is the final dry fit for the main part of the frame. At this point, mark where the through mortises need to be trimmed off. The mortise length is a matter of preference, but 1/4″ – 1/2″ is standard. Disassemble all parts and sand to the final finished level. Sanding at this point is important because, after assembly, it is difficult to get to all areas. Chamfer the ends of the through mortises for a softer look.

Chamfer Tenons

A slight chamfer on the leg bottoms stops them from splintering when the chair is moved. Mitre the tops of the rear legs at 15º. to form a pyramid shaped top. On all pieces, soften the edges by hand sanding.


Do glue-up in stages to ensure all clamping is squared. Make two side assemblies, using the side frame with spindles, arm rail, and front and back legs.

After glue is set, countersink and pin the through tenons with #8 screws. Plug and sand off flush. Put the two side assemblies together using upper backrest, cushioned backrest, and front and back rails.

Upper Back Rest Options

The accent piece for the upper backrest is the final touch. You have a number of options here:

• Leave the back natural wood.

• Leave the scroll sawn pattern (or decorative appliqué) natural and let the dark stain show from behind.

• Paint it a matching colour to the cushioned backrest, or stain it the same colour as the rest of the chair.

• Accent the pattern with some colours that blend with the chair. With scroll sawn accent (or decorative appliqué), be sure to varnish it before attaching. Centre and brad nail on.

Attach Arms

Use an arm length slightly longer than the finished size. Begin where the arm notches into the rear leg. Take one arm and mark the notch at the rear leg to ensure that you have a minimum 2″ overhang at the front leg. Cut the notch carefully to get the correct angle (approx. 5º), and fit.

Next trim the front and rear of the arms to the right length. Cut the notch in the centre of each arm for the cue rest using a 7/8″ inch Forstner bit. Cut the corbels for the arm supports using the profile.

Attach Corbels

The front leg corbels are attached flush with the top of the leg centred on the leg.

The back corbels are attached at approx. 5º to adapt to the angled back legs. They should be test fitted with the arm temporally on so the correct location on the leg is such that it is flush with the bottom of the arm. These can be glued and brad nailed on. Attach arms using glue and countersunk and plugged #8 screws into the arm rail and corbels.

Attach Foot Rest

Cut and fit the footrest so that it is snug between the front legs and attach again using countersunk screws and plugs.

Attach Seat Cleats

Attach seat cleats to the inside of the frame, approximately 1″ below the top of frame rails. After cleaning up any glue squeeze out, sand where necessary, and finish with an appropriate stain. I used Minwax dark walnut. Because this is a tricky project to finish with a brush, I sprayed three coats of a water based semi-transparent polyurethane. Sand with 220 grit paper before the final coat.

The seat is constructed with 1/2″ plywood as the base. The final size should leave about 1/8″ all around for leather (or seat fabric) to wrap around the base. Cut out notches where it meets the four corners of the legs. Measure the leather/fabric to cover a 2″ thick dense foam and overlap the bottom of the base. Attach the seat from the bottom using screws into the cleats. The back cushion is done the same way as the seat, except using 1/4″ ply. It should fit into the dadoed out part of the frame. Be sure to leave a little room for the leather/fabric. Attach to the dadoed back frame and add trim.

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