A Rocking Chair

A friend of mine and his wife are having a baby! They asked if I had a rocking chair design. I hadn’t, but it was something I had been thinking of and working on, off and on, for a long time. I decided to finally complete a design with the hope that my friend would like it and want the chair. Above is a rendering I’ve just completed of my design. Below I’ll write a little about the process of designing the chair.

I knew that one of the biggest hurdles facing me in this project was Sam Maloof. Sam created the definitive craftsman designed and made rocker many years ago. Many, many woodworkers have copied, emulated and been inspired by the Maloof chair and it’s no wonder. Not only is the Maloof chair in many ways beautiful he also published how he made the chair along with drawings with dimensions. The earliest article I’ve found is his “How I Make a Rocker” in the September/October 1983 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine.

Actually I told my friend about the Maloof rocker and he indicated that he had seen versions of it already but he wanted me to re-interpret that rocker in my own way. There were elements of that rocker that didn’t really look right to my eye, that I thought may have been concessions to practicality, to designing a chair that could be sold at a given price point perhaps. This is part and parcel of the design process and I cannot criticize this aspect of the process at all. It is necessary if the design will ever be built. But this did give me an entry point to the design.

I was surprised though that with so many others making versions of this chair no one else had addressed the issues that I saw. So, I decided to use the Maloof chair as my starting point and try and work out those elements that just didn’t sit right with me. In doing that I hoped that I would come up with a design distinctive enough that I could put my name on it.

Kem Weber designed a chair he called the Airline Chair. My sketchbooks have many drawings of variations of this chair and in going back through them to review my past attempts at this summit I decided to pull some of this work out and stare at it for a good long time. You can see an example of Weber’s chair here. And here is one of my sketches that shows the influence of that chair:

After quite a bit of sketching with pencil on paper I moved to my CAD program, Rhinocerous and started “sketching” on the computer. I developed a profile that I found interesting.

The circle and arrow were part of my study of the center of gravity for a person on the rocker.

I also used my “ergo man” to study the profile.

I would return to my ergo man throughout the process to check dimensions and the location of the arms and back spindles. I continued to refine the profile.

I then used the profile drawings to guide me as I built the design up into 3 dimensions. I also used the Flamingo rendering program to apply wood grain and texture to the design. Here is an early rendering I created to see if I was headed in the right direction.

It became apparent to me that I was getting close but still had a lot of work to do. It was right around here that I realized that I did not like the crest rail, that rail at the top that the spindles ended into. It was not only derivative of the Maloof design but it was too heavy for my eye.

Once I changed that rail I was free to change the profile of the back legs as they rose up to meet the crest rail. I was able to then add a curve in a different plane, to bow them slightly. This was getting exciting now.

Here’s an image showing the bow I am talking about.

The above image also shows the changes I made in the front legs. I added material to them and shaped them to reflect the bow of the back legs in the same plane. With the curve of the crest rail I was expressing a cradling of the sitter. I emphasized this cradling by adding curved brackets at the joint of the back legs and the crest rail, up at the top.

I resolved a couple of other issues, particularly the joint of the back legs to the arcs that curve under and support the seat and really felt as if this chair was becoming complete. Here’s another view of the finished design.

Since my friend and I are both surfers, as is my friend’s wife for that matter and their new baby will likely surf as well I did a rendering of the chair in maple with walnut stringers in the seat. A reference to surfboard stringers.

I list the chair on my website here although this is the only place I show the surfer version (so far).

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12 thoughts on “A Rocking Chair

  1. no prob! First time I was tagged by a meme I didn’t do it because it felt like an intrusion into my private life. It was just a book meme and I was only supposed to quote the fifth line on the 127th page of the book nearest to me, but the book was personal. I couldn’t lie and choose a different book to quote because that didn’t feel right. I did the meme this time. – I completely understand and I truely don’t want you to think anything more of it.

  2. Thanks. Yes, my “ergo man” is self created and is constantly being improved. My basic idea on that is to have spheres with associated axes at each joint that articulates. I then select body parts to rotate about the centers of those spheres thus being able to adjust the pose of “ergo man”. It’s kind of “quick and dirty” but provides the information I need for 90% of my design work.

  3. I have an Airline chair inherited from my parents. We had two. Your design needs to capture more of the cantilever form, I believe. I am too heavy now to sit the chair; last time I sat there it developed a hairline fracture at the joint between the upper arm piece and the vertical piece.

  4. David, thank you for commenting. I still want to work towards that direction although I am concerned about the stresses involved in a dynamic system such as a rocking chair.

    I have explored the cantilever form in other pieces using other materials including reinforcing plywood with carbon fibers in epoxy. Initially my thoughts were to use carbon fibers and epoxy along with solid wood in this piece to achieve a cantilever. I wanted to use solid wood so that I could work with more sculpted forms.

    Once I started working out how I was going to create the back I moved away from the cantilever.The seat and back need to integrate as a single structural unit to work in a design similar to the Airline Chair. My first thoughts regarding unifying the seat and back were to go with molded plys, but that didn’t appeal to me so I moved into using the spindles for the back. This necessitated a support under the back of the seat. I may still work on something along the lines of a carved stack laminated seat and back to get to the cantilevered chair.

    Thank you again for your comment.

  5. Todd, I just got around to reading your reply; I notice that none of the photos of Kem Weber’s airline chair ever show its construction. Would it be useful if I posted some photographs of the back of the chair and its naughahide seat & back removed? The chair is remarkable how portable it is, and how easily it breaks down into five pieces.

    David Sox

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