Sanding, Finishing, and Selection

Sanded vs unsanded staves.

All right, now we have to get these staves ready for assembly. There are three main things that need to happen before the actual fun starts: selection, sanding, and finishing (I recommend finishing before assembly, but you can do it after if you want). The last two are pretty self-explanatory, but what do I mean by selection? I mentioned this in the About Barrels page, but different types of staves serve different purposes in the build. Let’s go through that now. Before starting the selection process, lay out the staves roughly in order of width, it’ll make your life easier. And here's a diagram showing roughly what I mean when I say different stave sizes:

  1. Set aside the stave with the bunghole. I always used this in the back of my chairs, but some people use it as the cross in front of the chair. I think that’s a crazy place to use it because it’s actually bearing a real load so having a giant hole taken out of the wood makes it more fragile, and I think it looks worse. If you really want to use it there you can, but from here out I’m going to assume that you’re using it as the center stave for the back of the chair. Usually this stave is huge.
  2. The most important thing is to take the two widest staves (that are approximately the same width) and set them aside to be the arms. These staves should be huge, but depending on the barrel may only be large. You want these to be really wide because Adirondack chairs have wide arms, but also it’ll make it easier to completely cover the front legs where the arms attach to them. It would be quite the disaster if the arms were smaller than the legs.
  3. Pick two well-matched, large staves to be the front legs, and another large stave to be the cross. These are probably the three widest staves you have left.
  4. Pick another two well-matched, medium staves to be the rear legs, and one small stave to be the leg supports. (See below for picture.)
  5. Decide what you want your back to look like. The first part of this is how wide you want your chair to be, which I talk about in Sizing Decisions. You’ll also need to decide whether you want five staves or seven staves. This is mostly an aesthetic choice, but if you’re aiming for a narrower chair it probably won’t be possible to fit seven staves that close together, and if you’re going with a wider seat five staves might have gaps that are unappealingly large. You can give your staves a try, laying them flat on the ground, putting one end together and measuring the bottom, but it’ll change a small amount once you’re actually building the chair. I also tried to pick well-matched pairs of different thicknesses to place on the side of the bunghole, so that the finished chair had a wide center stave then moving outward they got thinner. (See below for picture.) But the pattern you want is up to you. Once you find something you like, set them aside.
  6. Pick three small staves to be the supports for the back.
  7. At this point the only thing left is the seat, but it’s difficult to predict exactly how deep the seat will need to be ahead of time. You’ll either want to sand/finish a selection of sizes of staves, or pick them once the chair is assembled and finish them then. It’s up to you. Usually it's easiest to make these out of small staves, but sometimes throwing a medium or large stave in helps.
Two sets of backs (5 staves) and rear legs/braces (3 staves).


Now that you know what’s going where, sand them all fairly clean with a low-grit sandpaper (I used 80 for my cleaner barrels and 40 for the dirty ones), and if you want them smoother go over them again with a higher grit, but since you only really touch the armrests that’s all I smoothed out. I would gently sand the interior of the staves, with the wine coloring, because it didn’t need too much and I wanted the color as intense as possible. Sometimes barrels would have gunk on the inside (I think it was leftovers of the aforementioned wheat paste, but I’m not totally sure), so make sure you get that off. Also make sure to round the edges and corners of the staves, especially for the cross, armrests, seat slats and chair back. Those are the parts your body will actually touch, so they’re the most important to break. Having your leg rest across a sharp edge is extremely uncomfortable, and we want to end up with a chair you’ll love to use!

Finally, you can, if you want, finish all the parts now according to the instructions of whichever finish you bought. Finishing parts before assembly makes it easier to get all of the wood covered, which helps protect it, and it's usually a lot simpler to apply finish to a single piece of wood that you can hold than to try to get all around a chair. The downside is that when you saw, drill, and screw into finished wood it's a bit harder to clean up, and you'll probably want to touch up a few spots anyway. So it's up to you, do whichever sounds better. If you do choose to finish the pieces ahead of time, though, invest in a box of disposable gloves and wear them, otherwise you'll get finish all over your hands and that's typically a bad idea. If you finish the assembled chair, it's pretty easy to keep your hands clean since there's no small parts to hold while finishing, so it's less necessary to wear gloves then.

All right, at last the real fun is about to begin: assembling the chair.