It can be intimidating for some, but building a rocking chair gives a great sense of accomplishment- plus, you now have something handmade to show off and pass down through your family. Sound good? Well, here’s how to build a rocking chair from scratch!
Why Build a Rocking Chair?
Building someone you care about a rocking chair is a great way to show that you appreciate them. What better way to say “I love you” than spending an extended period making them a thoughtful gift?
If you are not making it as a gift, rocking chairs can also offer a lot of learning experience. There is no better way to test your woodworking abilities than tackling the curved designs of these chairs!
You will need to spend a lot of time working out all the small details so that the chair does not fall over when someone sits on it. Just ask Mel Gibson…
What You Need
You will need a lot of supplies to build your rocking chair. You are also going to want to measure and cut everything carefully so that your chair has a nice balance to it and is not going to tip over when someone sits on it!
Here is a list of what you will need:
● Jigsaw or bandsaw
● Drill press
● Straight and curved draw shaves
● 320 and 220-grit sandpaper
● Hand scraper
● Block plane
● Wood glue
● Flush cut saw
● ¼ in dowels
*Always use protective eye wear when working with power tools.
Supply Shopping List
Wood You’ll Need
You are going to need a lot of wood of varying lengths. Here’s what you’ll need:
● 8 wood strips, size 48 × 1 × 1″
● 2 wood strips, size 30 × 2 × 2″
● 2 wood pieces, size 36 × 4 × 5⁄8″
● 3 wood pieces, size 23 × 5 × 3″
● 1 piece of wood, size 20 × 21 × 1 7⁄8″
Once you have everything gathered, you can move on to building the seat!
Making the Seat
Cut Out Your Chair
The seat is vital to spend time on, and you want it to be as symmetrical as possible. For this piece use the 1 wood plank sized at 20 × 21 × 1 7⁄8″. First, you are going to draw your “u” shape on the board, with the curved part being the back of the chair.
A good idea would be to cut your chair shape into a piece of cardboard or paper and trace that on your wood plank.
Next, you are going to cut the chair out using your jigsaw or band saw. Be sure to slowly and steadily cut the shape out, so you do not chop it in half and have to restart.
A good rule of thumb would be to cut along the outside of your pencil marks. This way, you can be sure that you do not accidentally remove too much material.
(A handsaw works just as well, although the process takes much longer.)
Drill Holes for Spindles
Next, mark dots along the back of the chair 2 ¼ inches apart. These marks are where you will be drilling holes for spindles- do not put any in the middle of the chair, as this would press on the spine of whoever sits in the chair.
10 dots across the entire back of your chair is ideal.
Drill ⅝” holes through each mark, be sure that the drill makes it through the entirety of your chair. You also want to be sure that each hole is angled slightly through the back of your chair. You can use a drill press or hand drill for this step.
Drill Holes for the Legs
Make your leg holes 1 inch deep, with 2 for the front legs and 2 for the back legs. Again, you will want to mark everything on the chair before drilling.
Put the rear legs 5 inches away from the center and the front legs 4 inches from the front of the chair. This will give you stability.
You will also want to angle each hole:
● Front left leg: angled left, towards the front
● Back left leg: angled left towards the back
Once you’ve done that, reverse these instructions for the right side.
Shape the Chair
You are going to hollow out the seat with a curved draw shave. Place the blade at the back and pull it forward to dig out the chair. This makes it a lot more comfortable to sit in. Work slowly and carefully until the chair feels how you want it.
Bevel the Edges
Beveling the edges of your chair will give it a more finished look. You are going to want to do this either with a bandsaw or a straight-edge shave. Take care to remove splinters and smooth out the sides.
Sand the piece with 320-grit sandpaper
Go over the chair with your 320-grit sandpaper and take care to sand it all down and remove any rough patches or imperfections.
Making the Spindles and Legs
Building Your Legs
Take your 2 in x 2 in piece of wood and cut leg shapes from them. You want your back legs to be 13 inches long and the front legs to be a little longer at 16 inches.
Shaping in the Lathe
Now, you want to shape the legs in a lathe. Shape the spinning piece of wood into a cylinder, while periodically checking the thickness. You want it to be 1 ¾ in thick in the end. Repeat this step for all 4 legs.
Finish with the lathe by tapering the ends of your legs. They should start at 1 ¾” thick and end at 1 ¼” thick. This makes the final chair look a lot cleaner and adds dimension. The thinner ends will fit into the leg holes that you drilled earlier.
Building Your Spindles
You are going to be spending a good bit of time making spindles- they make up a majority of your chair! Use your wood piece that is 1 inch wide by 1 inch thick to start.
You are going to need at least 16 spindles to complete your chair, this is because they offer support for the armrests and the backing of the chair.
● Cut 2 10″ spindles for the center arm area
● Cut 2 12″ spindles for the back arm area
● Cut 10 29″ spindles for the long back portion of the chair
● Cut 2 9″ spindles for the longer arm area
After you have all of your pieces made, round them out into ⅝ in cylinders. Do not use a lathe for spindles! They break easily while spinning due to their size.
Installing the Spindles
Squeeze your wood glue inside the holes on the back of your chair and fit the spindles into them. Doing them one at a time can help them dry before you move on- keeping the spindles from falling out covered in wet glue.
Gently bunting them in with a hammer or mallet can help if the spindles are being stubborn.
Be sure to allow the wood glue to set for at least 24 hours. While you are waiting, you can move on to other steps.
Attaching the Arms
Cut your arms with your bandsaw and follow with cutting out the back crest. You want the arms to be 20 in long by 3 in wide and 1 in thick.
If you are having trouble thinking up a back crest, you can find patterns online.
However, it does need to match the “u” curve along the back of your seat, so that the spindles can align into it.
Next, drill ⅝” holes along the bottom of the back crest to align with your spindles. You want these holes to be straight into the wood, so clamping the back crest down in a vise helps keep everything steady.
Insert the arm sections into the arm spindles, then fill the back crest holes with wood glue and push in the spindles. Be careful and make sure everything is lining up smoothly.
The spindles may bend a little, but if done correctly, they should not break.
After 24 hours of drying, you can remove any extra portions of the spindles sticking out. Use your 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges.
Attaching the Legs
Put a generous amount of wood glue in the leg holes. Tap the ends of the legs with a mallet or hammer to further push them in the holes. This helps make the chair studier.
Some glue may ooze out, so be sure to quickly wipe that away with a cloth.
Cut out your rockers. They should be 36 in long by 4 in tall (at the highest point) and ⅝ in thick. Cut them out with a bandsaw and be sure that the back of the rocker is longer than the front end- this is how the chair does not tip over.
Clue the rockers in the leg slots and use a clamp to keep them held together. Inserting dowels through the center of this connection adds more support and holds the chair together better than wood glue alone.
Ta-da! You just built a chair!
Before starting this project, you may be wondering what types of wood to use to get the highest quality finished product possible. Here is what you can use.
Cherry wood is sturdy, yet easy to shape for the seat base and backing. This wood starts lighter in color but will gradually darken into a lovely, deep reddish-brown after a year or so.
The finished product is beautiful, making it a popular choice for rocking chairs that are meant to last a long time.
If this is your first chair or cherry wood is not in your budget, you can try making your rocking chair from plywood. This material is easily cut and formed in shapes. You can also paint it or stain it however you like, without feeling guilty about altering the wood.
You can also mix different types of woods for a different effect. It all depends on how you want the chair to look at the end of the day.
Obtaining materials for your project is easy; you can order them online or go to a store to check out their selections of wood.
Going in person also gives you the benefit of being able to ask those experienced in working with wood any questions that you have. They can provide you with insight into your project, tips, or just the make the whole process a little easier.
Are You Feeling Overwhelmed?
If this is your first time making a rocking chair, it can seem very overwhelming. Use the internet to watch videos or do other research into woodworking- soon you will be feeling like a pro!
A lot of people learn from watching others, so reiterating the steps with a video will help solidify what you need to do in your mind. YouTube is free to use.
The internet also offers plenty of patterns and guidelines for building rocking chairs. If you feel stumped with the design of your chair, a quick search in your favorite search engine can have you feeling inspired again in no time!
Many woodworkers feel that building a chair is complicated- so you are not alone in that.
Wrapping it Up
You are going to need a lot of wood and materials for building your rocking chair. Be sure that you have them all gathered before starting; that way, and you do not interrupt your process to hunt down more materials.
You are going to make all the parts from scratch- the seat, spindles, arms, legs, and the rockers! This project will keep you busy for a while, but ultimately you will have something you can be proud of.
Rocking chairs stand the test of time and be passed down through your family for generations. So you are going to want to spend time making it look awesome!
And that is how to build a rocking chair from scratch! May the woodwork be with you, readers.