Outdoor furniture: usually ugly, cheap plastic (though sometimes not) vs. make your own

After building the pergola, I realized we NEEDED new outdoor furniture. Truthfully, part of the reason we wanted a pergola was motivated by our multi-year desire to hang hammock chairs, which we’ve been obsessed with for some reason. I’d never, actually sat in a hammock chair, but they looked awesome and amazing and we wanted them but had nowhere to hang ’em!

Until now.

But first, we needed to get our outdoor dining area setup. A couple years ago, before we’d even moved out here, one of my first ever building projects was an outdoor dining table. My wife had wanted to throw an outdoor dinner party one summer, but had not been able to find anything that wasn’t gross/ugly/spackled aluminum/pitted glass/biege/moss green so she asked if I could build a table instead. We wanted it to look kind of like a picnic table, but without the benches and a bit fancier. It was also one of my first forays into the DIY rabbit hole of Pinterest (which would serve me well later). I found a design for a table that had been ripped off of a Restoration Hardware table – you know the ones that say, buy for $4000 or build it yourself for 75 bucks! I built it out of cedar, which cost more like 350 bucks, but it turned out really well and we’ve used it extensively since. Instead of the same cheap/ugly/gross chairs you can buy at department stores we picked up some old wood dining chairs from garage sales and painted them in outdoor paint.

Although these lasted awhile they eventually started to break and fall apart. By the time I’d built the pergola we were down to our last three chairs – we weren’t going to be hosting many dinner parties with three chairs. Also, the old garage sale chairs, well… they just didn’t quite cut it anymore with our fancy new pergola over our heads.

I initially contemplated building a couple benches on either side of the table, but the thing with benches though, if you didn’t know, is that they don’t have a back. That’s a serious problem in my opinion. Then basically I’d be back to having a slightly nicer but way more expensive picnic table.

I think I must have been feeling a little cocky from my pergola building success because I decided I would just build some deck chairs. Seriously though, who do I think I am? I’d never built chairs before. However, after building a house, I’ve found, I’m not really intimidated to try to build, well, pretty much anything.

So chairs it would be.

After some extensive filtering of some really cheesy stuff online, I found these chairs from a DIY blogger.


They look alright, I thought. I wasn’t a big fan of the 1×6 boards for the seat and back, though I had a bunch of ripped cedar boards that I had left over from the pergola screen that I thought would look better. But at least, the basic outline of these chairs would be a start.

The plans showed the exact cuts for the chair backs and legs, so I won’t repeat them here.

However, once I got the frame attached to the seat base I quickly realized that there were going to be problems. I actually don’t know how the chairs in the plans above would stay together for more than a few uses. There was a serious amount of give in the joint between the back and the seat. I doubt it could handle a 250 lbs person sitting in them (not that I’m 250, but I know people who are). Also, if you look at the plans, there was no middle cross bracing on the seat. Again, a fat person would crush through that chair seat, and let me tell you, that would totally ruin your dinner party.

The first thing I did was add a cross brace to the seat. Then I added two cross braces to the legs, hoping this might tighten up the wobble. It did a bit, but not enough. I then added an angle brace from the cross brace of the legs to the inside of the seat base, securing this with a couple 2.5″ screws to the the seat back as well. That really tightened it up well. No more wobble. I guarantee a fat person could sit on these now. Lastly, I used the slatted ripped 1x6s for the seat and back to give it a beach chair sort of feel. Personally I think these look at least 10-12x better than the original plans I based them off. Plus these will actually last. (If someone actually wants to replicate these let me know and I can take off the measurements off the modifications I made and repost it).

I got a little assembly line together after the first one and my friend Corey and I were able to crush out the other five in an afternoon. Now we were ready for our dinner party again!



My wife was rather impressed with my handiwork and the next day asked me to replace the lounge chairs we had. These two were some old worn out, but wooden and handmade, garage sale deck chairs we’d bought a few years ago. The paint was peeling and well, now that we had a fancy new pergola and fancy new chairs, they didn’t hit in anymore either.

She’d seen plans for what’s called a “Kentucky Stick Chair” on Pinterest some time ago had asked me to build them then. stickchair-330x250

But I thought they’d be too much work and too tough to build. Now, though, my ego was feeling pretty inflated. Heck ya, I’ll build those!

The plans call for 1.5″ x 1.25″ boards, but these don’t exist. So you have to rip down three strips from a 2×4 board to get the rough correct thickness. I quickly found that this was by far the worst part of the job. I have a pretty good table saw, but ripping down 2x4x8 cedar boards is super annoying. The blade kept getting pinched by the wood, which stalls the table saw. So I’d have to reset it and cut for a few more inches before it would do it again. However, after a long time and many curse words, I got the boards all ripped. Five 2x4x8 boards of cedar are enough to make two of these chairs.

After that I simply followed the instructions and cut the boards to the various lengths. You then need to drill the holes, which unless you have the most steady hands ever, you need to use a drill press. Conveniently, I’d just inherited my grandfather’s old drill press. It’s a beast, weighing about 80 lbs, and makes the most horrible rattling noise when you turn it on, but it drills straight.

Once that was done I used airplane wire to run the pieces together and hammered the wire down with 3/4″ fencing staples. When I unfolded the chair, I was a bit skeptical that it would hold. It had no screws, no nails – just wire and the self-sustaining nature of how the boards lined up – low and behold not only did it hold me, but it was deadly comfortable and looked fantastic.



Completing the look though was the hanging hammock chairs. These I did not make. We ordered them off Amazon. Sitting in these (after our dinner on our new deck chairs), while overlooking the river, is now my favourite part of the long summer evenings.


Building a Pergola

I felt inspired the other Saturday, so I built a pergola.


Truthfully though we’d been trying to figure out how to shade our south-facing deck for quite awhile without overly sacrificing solar gains in the wintertime. This was not an easy thing to decide and we’d belaboured over it – well, since we built the deck last year.

You see, when it’s sunny and hot here, like it has been these past few weeks, it is smoking hot, out on the deck. Too hot. And with my wife home with our baby now, she would like to be able to get out of the house and sit on the deck, but it’s just too damn hot and sunny. The other day when I came home from work, I found her and the baby lounging on the north side of the house back stoop, in the shade, but looking out at… well, the driveway. I sat down with her and we decided, we gotta do something about the deck.

We did pick up a shade sail last year, but hadn’t put it up. This is one of those canvas/mesh shades that you see at California pool sides and in the outback. It’s good for sunny hot places. The nice thing about it is that it can be removed in the winter and packed away. My concern with it too though was: How do we secure it and how do we make sure the wind doesn’t wreck it? (It’s sunny and hot and windy here in the summer in some combination). I could never answer those questions.

A pergola though, combined with a shade sail, might just be the answer though! I have always liked pergolas – the filtered light, vines growing up and over, the little bit of intimacy it gives to be outdoors – but, I was concerned about shading things TOO much. We still need that solar gain in the wintertime. I went back to my trusty Pinterest resources and looking at modern pergolas (not the traditional curvy end ones). The epiphany came when I realized I did not need to run the top slated boards east-west like most pergolas for maximum shading, but instead, could run them north-south. Eureka! With the added shade sail underneath we could have our full shade, but then when we remove it in the fall, the pergola would still allow the sun through (albeit, slightly less so then when it was unobstructed).

I sketched out some plans for it on a notepad and the next day, I went to the lumberyard and picked up the materials. I was taken back to our house building time and, as it was then, that night I dreamt of how I would build it (this is a very useful strategy!). I was up at 6am and ready to get to work.

8am: No Pergola
Getting the posts levelled
Squaring it all up

By 6pm, it was built. Mind you, I didn’t work alone. My neighbour, Ray, came and helped me for most of the day too thankfully. I couldn’t have built this without him (see post-script).


6pm: A Pergola!

I ended up using all treated lumbar. I planned to stain it black (obviously) and treated wood simply made the most sense for longevity and cost. I used five 6×6 rough sawn posts for the base and double 2x6s for the upper frame. The top slating is 2x4s spaced 8” apart (figuring out the spacing was the hardest part). I like the 8″ spacing for a couple reasons – it still allows a reasonable amount of light through for our needed solar gain in the winter and the 8″ correlates nicely with the 2×4″ lumbar (too big or too small looks weird). The long side of the pergola runs 16’ and the short side is just under 10’. I secured the posts to the deck (the deck is 2×6 boards) using a simple Simpson post support with 3” screws and lag screws. The top beams I secured to the posts using my Kreg Jig (best tool you can buy) and did the same to secure the slating to the beams. This was a lot of jigging, but you get excellent stability with the Kreg Jig. The slating overhangs the beams by 8” at the front and is flush at the other three sides.

On the west side, which is where our prevailing windows are from, I put up a slated wall using 1x6s that I ripped down to just under 1 ¾” wide each (which allows for 3 equal slats per 1×6 board) and spaced them roughly 1” apart (the depth of each 1×6 – just use a scrap piece to line the next one up). This slating is a repeated theme around the exterior of the house with the outdoor shower and base of the outdoor countertop (and when the front stoop stops sinking I want to do the same at the front door).


Although the build went relatively quickly, the staining part took my upwards of three days the next weekend. Ug. I forgot how much work it was to stain all this wood. My shoulders were so sore from all of the overhead work. I used the same Auson black pine tar with linseed oil (50/50) mix on the pergola, which gives it the same matte black sheen as the exterior of the house.

Now to hang the hammock under it and rest for a little while (but maybe I should build some new deck chairs first)…


Post Script:

This was the last project I did with my neighbour, Ray. The following weekend we received the shocking news that he’d passed away suddenly and without any warning. It didn’t seem real. We were totally devastated. Ray was more than just my neighbour. He was my dear friend. He was my father figure out here. We were so naive when we’d moved out to the country and he’d taken us under his wing and been there whenever we needed him – which was a lot. I’ve written about him on his blog before and all of the help he’d given us in the building the house. He spent countless hours helping us with the house. He walked over here everyday during construction to check on the progress and to make sure the contractors were working. He’d allowed us to share his garden for two years and helped me establish our own. He’d come and cut our grass when I was too busy in the house. We had dozens of dinners at his home when we’d been working all day and night the first couple of years. He’d bring us pies or cinnamon buns just because he had some extra. He cut a path to our house along the river so we could be connected. The gratitude I have for this man could never have been repaid. He was one of those very rare people who would drop everything for you whenever you needed them. He was patient, humble, honest and sincere.

He taught me so much and has made me feel competent out here. He showed us how to truly appreciate living in this beautiful place. It will be difficult for us without him. I will miss him terribly.

Rest in peace my friend.


That’s a big deck!

January to March had been fairly relaxing. The previous year and a half had been incredibly busy/hectic/stressful with planning and building the house and we thoroughly enjoyed our hibernation time in the new house over the winter. But now that Spring has sprung itself we were looking forward to getting outside and crossing a few things off of our to-do list.

I have to continually remind myself to: “Beware of the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

Although we are going to be getting more projects done, we’re also trying to take things easy and be a little gentler on ourselves. There is really no rush or pressure to do anything at any specific time.

Still, the Spring/Summer To-Do list includes (but not limited to): backfill, grade, deck, plant grass seed, build garden fence, prep garden, plant garden, concrete patio, retaining wall, walkway, driveway, irrigation, dog run, general yard clean up, plant trees… I’m sure there’s more.

One of the first priorities was to get the deck built (it would make all of those other projects so much better by being about to recover on the deck after a hard days work). We elected to have our framing contractors come back to do it as soon as the snow and land was dry enough to start. The weekend before we had to backfill around the house as it had settled a lot over the winter. The wooden stairs we’d been using dropped at least 12″. And as the snow melted we had a mini waterfall along the side of the house.

It was gruelling and dirty work backfilling, shovelling, grading and tamping. We were fortunate enough to have our neighbour (best neighbour ever) offer to bring his payloader tractor over to help us out. We must have moved 20 yards of dirt that day.


We’d designed a BIG deck to take up most of the south side of the house with a size of 16’x40′ (about half the size of the house!).

I’d really wanted to have the deck clad in cedar, but the cost was absurd – exactly double the cost of treated lumber. I’m not a huge fan of treated lumber, but for 50% the cost, I can learn to live with it. Besides we would not be staining the cedar had we done it, so in 5-10 years treated and cedar look nearly the same – a light grayish colour.

The Monday after completing the backfilling the builders were able to come out. And by Tuesday evening, Darcie and I were having dinner on the new deck.


As we sat there on an unusually warm April evening, eating our dinner with our legs dangling off of the side of the new deck, drinking wine and looking out over the river, a bald eagle soared over our heads and into the distance. Both of us stopped and looked at each other, “Could this moment get any better?”