Mark ( on February 16th, 2009

I have always admired the work of Sam Maloof.  Not only has he developed a style that is very distinctive and unique in its own right, I think that he has also done a tremendous amount for the craft of woodworking in America.

I especially admire Maloof’s rocking chairs. These are the pieces that he is arguably most well known for. The flowing hard and soft lines of his design work together in a truly elegant form to create a work of art in wood. For many years I have wanted to make the time to create a chair patterned after the Sam Maloof designs.

There are several current rocking chair makers that have patterned their work after Maloof.  One, in particular, seems to taken his queues from Sam but also added some unique design and functional elements as well. Hal Taylor was originally inspired by Sam Maloof and has developed a chair design that goes beyond Maloof in both aeastetics and function. Hal has been building his chairs in Virginia and refining his design for many years.  He has also taught many people to build his chairs in classes at his shop. While I don’t have the ability to do a class with Hal right now, I contacted him and I will be building a chair based (at least initially) on plans of his design.

This chair calls for about 35 board feet of 8/4 stock. I will be making mine from Walnut and I purchased about 45 board feet to cover any waste generated during the build process. Most all of the chair components need to be milled close to a full 2 inches thick before any joinery is done on them.

The first step in this effort was to create hardboard templates for most of the chair components. Once I had the templates cut out and their curves smoothed, I took some time to read the stock and to identify where each of the chair parts would come from.  The most important parts here were the layout of the rear legs and the seat. I was lucky enough to have obtained some fairly wide stock so I could get the rear legs and seat components from the same board. This allowed for consistent color and grain characteristics for these parts.

rear-leg-layoutrough-cut-partsAt this stage I just marked the parts on the rough planed stock and cut to rough dimensions.  I wanted to be sure that I had enough stock for all of the components before starting to cut to critical dimension. In the first picture, you can see the rear legs marked and their orientation for best grain match. The next picture shows all of the major pieces rough cut and ready for further work.

cross-cutting-the-seat-boardschair-seat-glueupI cross-cut the seat on the table saw using my shop-made cross-cut sled. My stock was wide enough for me to make a symmetrical 2-board layout for the 21 1/2 inch wide seat.  However a three, four or even five board seat would also be attractive with the proper layout for grain. You can see the glue-up of the two seat boards in the next picture – the orientation of these boards is with the growth rings arching upward when viewed from the front of the seat. This will yield the most lines of grain to be cut through when sculpting the seat out at a later stage which should produce a very attractive seat.

band-sawing-the-rear-leg-1band-sawing-the-rear-leg-relief-cuts-1band-sawing-the-rear-leg-relief-cuts-2Satisfied that my layout of the remaining parts would work, I set out to cut the back legs next.  I traced the outline onto the Walnut following the template using a white pencil and went to work at the band saw. I used a 3/8″, 3TPI blade for this task. It could handle most of the curves, but to avoid any binding I chose to make relief cuts into a few of the curved areas before following my lines to free the pieces. I stayed about 1/16″ away from my lines for the most part.  The result was two legs that are very close in shape.

Next up: The coopered headrest and cutting thin strips for the rockers and back-slats

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7 Responses to “Sculpted Rocking Chair: Stock Prep, Layout and Rear Legs”

  1. Mark,

    You are living the dream with this project! I think every woodworker has looked at one of Sam Maloof’s chairs or the multitude of Sam inspired chairs and thought, “I would love to make one of those”. This is one of those woodworkers. Good for you for taking the first step in living that dream. Can’t wait to see how this comes together and hear your thoughts. I’ve found that I really like working with thick chunky stock and it looks like you will have plenty of that with this project.


  2. Shannon,

    This is definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It should be a fun and rewarding project.

    Yes, there is a bunch of thick Walnut in the shop right now. It’s nice to work with. However, with the thick stuff you need to be very mindful of your joints…it’s not as easy to manipulate with clamps when you are gluing things up and thinner stock is. Well-mating glue surfaces are important.

    Please let me know what you think as this moves along!


  3. Hello Mark,

    I reside in the land down under Perth Western Australia. First of all, thank you Mark for harnessing your skills in the pursuit of communicating the poetry of Rocker chair making to the dreamers who would like to challenge themselves to one of life’s great satisfactions. For any person to attempt the task of communicating this task I take my hat off to them as I do for you Mark, you have my respect.
    From first coming across same Sam Maloof back in the late 70’s early 80′ via the Fine woodworking magazine I’ve had a yearning to make one. Now that I have time and space to have a go at making one I just want to say your efforts have contributed to the realization of that dream.

    Thanks John

  4. John,

    Thank you for your nice comments and for visiting the blog.

    I’m glad that my work has somehow inspired you to pursue a rocker of your own.

    Please continue to follow along and ask questions and comment as you see fit. My progress on the rocker has been stalled a but, but I should be back at it with more force shortly.


  5. Hi guys,
    My wife is pregnant and i need to know of a good place to find a template for a nice rocking chair. I would like to surprize her with a nice handmand rocking chair for her and the baby . i would like to fabricate it myself in my wood shop. so if anybody out there knows where i can find that template please drop me a line.

    Thanks for your time

    Matt B.

  6. Matt,

    Thanks for visiting the site. I am using plans available from Hal Taylor for this chair. See



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