neil cummings

Crate Chair

Crate chair drawing I wanted to make a lounge or garden chair for sitting outside. And, I'm interested in simple constructions using readily available materials, handtools and my amateur carpentry skills.

While researching, I found images, construction drawings and a cutting log of the Crate Chair.

The Crate chair was designed by Dutch furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld c1934. Rietveld is well known for being a member of the De Stijl movement, for his still radical Schröder house and red and blue chair - I made a found cardboard version some time ago - less well known was his commitment to the Nieuwe Bouwen group of egalitarian architects and designers interested in simple forms, everyday materials, inexpensive production methods for domestic products, and in Rietveld's case even self assembly furniture.

Early versions of the chair were made during the depression in Europe - when materials were scarce and people had few resources, especially economic resources - from recycled packing crate wood, wood used to protect and transport more conventional furniture and delicate things. Rietveld recalls seeing piles of standard dimension rough-sawn timber crates - in this case 15 x 2cm stock of various lengths - abandoned, waiting to be broken down and burnt.

Using these given dimensions, the chair has no complicated joints to cut so the components are simple to manufacture and the whole thing is assembled with readily available screws.

Crate chair assembly Initially the chair was made by Rietveld and shared with friends and friends of friends, later I see evidence that it was supplied as components by the department store Metz & Co unpainted, delivered as a do-it-yourself kit to be assembled - and painted - by the customer. And soon a desk, low table and an upright chair was added to the developing series for emerging working class households. A brochure exists. What is less clear to me is whether the plans and cutting log that are accessible online were available in the 1930's, so that anyone with simple skills and rudimentary tools could assemble the chair.

Rietveld's crate furniture is similar in ethos to Enzo Mari's autoprogettazione, from which I made a table some time ago.

I managed to cut all the elements for the Crate Chair from a cheap board from a local hardware store made of glued up timber 2m x 60 x 2 cm.

I cut the board into four long planks of 14.6 cm, then cut the planks to the required lengths as specified in the cutting log, mostly 45cm, before ripping three of them down in half to make the battens for the seat, back and arm rests. 

I cut all the components using a handsaw, planed the planks to something like the same widths and cut chamfers on the seat and back battens to make them look less chunky.

Assembly of the four principle components - two sides with legs - these are 'handed' so you need to pay attention, the seat and back was relatively straight forward, everything is a lap joint and they all meet at right angles. I chose to set-back slightly the battens at the front of the seat and top of the backrest so the chair looks somewhat considered, and I used construction glue and screws on all the joints as the chairs are going to live outside.

Crate chair drawing Trickier was joining the four components to one another. I used various ratchet straps and clamps to try the seat and back at various inclinations between the legs until I got something I thought was comfortable. Then I glued and screwed them together, finally fixed the arms on and then varnished the whole chair for some outside protection.

The lounger is low, sturdy and surprisingly comfortable, although it's even better with the addition of two cushions. After all summer and autumn outside, I'm going to paint them.


 The assembly was helped enormously by the annotated drawings and construction tips of Jorn Ake


Related projects include a a low workbench and some market stalls, I tried to grapple with the possibilities offered by jigs and I've have written more generally about things.


43.3936, -4.9458


Submitted by neil on