How to Make Templates (Plus, Free Templates)

Templates are the foundation of my design process. While I occasionally make a full-size mock-up of a new design using cheap wood, it’s my templates that guide the process. 

And when I teach a class, I encourage students to trace whatever templates they like onto the huge sheets of butcher paper we keep here. My first chair teacher – Dave Fleming – offered me the same courtesy in 2003, and I still have those templates today (stored in my basement).

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

Other teachers were not as forthcoming. They either said “no” or insisted on selling the information. Woodworking is a tough business, so I can’t blame them. But I’d rather lose a few dollars and see more people make their own chairs.

If you are just getting started, I encourage you to make a set of templates. If you’d like to experiment with one of my sets (drawn by Josh Cook), download the file below and print it out at your local office supply store. The plans are drawn at full-size – 100 percent.

I like to make my templates using 1/8” hardboard. It is inexpensive, doesn’t warp as much as plywood does and its edges stay crisper than those of MDF. I affix the paper drawings to the hardboard with spray adhesive (available anywhere). Then I cut out the templates on the band saw and refine the shapes with hand tools.

Hardboard is simply wood pulp and linseed oil, so it cuts cleanly and doesn’t wreck your tools’ edges unnecessarily. 

I write a lot of information on my finished templates – resultant angles, notes from previous builds and details on angles and joints.

But the most important thing I write on the template is the date that I made it. That helps me figure out if I am moving forward or backward in time with my designs (either direction is OK).

The templates above are from my latest video “Build a Stick Chair,” which is available in our store.

— Christopher Schwarz


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