Arts & Crafts Rocker

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This article is from Issue 37 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A classic design with some minor, modern twists

A rts & Crafts furniture has a lot going for it; not only is it handsome, but it’s also relatively easy to build. Though my design borrows from Stickley, Greene and Greene, and other designers of the period, a few changes give it a slightly different feel and look. Unlike many Arts & Crafts rockers that have flat upright backs, this one is canted and curved for comfort. This chair is made of cherry, which imparts a light look, but in quartersawn white oak it would be textbook Arts & Crafts. To add heft and substance reminiscent of Greene and Greene, try it in black walnut.

Building this rocker offers just enough challenges to keep it interesting. Through tenons, like those that join the front legs to the arms, are often daunting to cut, but I’ve refined the process using a template to guarantee a spot-on fit. Using traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery to attach the legs to the curved rockers can prove fussy, so I employed a simple time-tested epoxy and threaded rod joint taught to me by my friend and fellow woodworker, Alan Daigre. The seat upholstery is easy enough to do yourself (See “Upholstering a Slip Seat” on page 43), or affordable enough to hire out.

Despite the fact that this rocker was one of my first commissioned pieces, it remains one of my favorites. Unlike most of my early work, I only wish I had made a second one for myself.

Start with the legs

1 Referring to the Leg Detail, Figure 1, lay out the shape of a rear leg (A) on a piece of 1⁄4"-thick hardboard or MDF. Note that the angle for the back begins above the seat rail (C). Bandsaw close to your layout lines, and then sand or plane as needed to fine-tune the shape.

2 Starting with an 8/4 board wider than the dimensions 

listed in the Cut List, mill stock for the rear legs to 13⁄4" thick. The stock will be planed to final thickness later. Position the template so that the grain follows the shape of the leg as much as possible. Outline the two legs, and then bandsaw both about 1⁄16" outside of the pencil lines.

3 Attach the template to a rear leg (A) with double-faced tape. Using a table-mounted router and pattern bit, shape the leg as shown in Step 1 of Figure 2, Two-Step Template Routing. Taking light cuts, rout the workpiece flush with the template’s edge. Attach the template to the other rear leg and repeat.

4 Flip the stock upside down and install a flush-trim bit, adjusting its height so that the bearing rides on the previously routed edge. Then finish shaping both rear legs as shown in Step 2 of Figure 2.

5 Select the straightest-grained stock for the front legs (B). Joint two adjacent edges and then rip each piece about 1⁄16" oversize. Now plane both the rear and front legs (A, B) to 15⁄8", removing the ripped edge to ensure that the legs are perfectly square.

6 Chuck a 45° chamfer bit into a table-mounted router, and rout 1⁄8" chamfers along all the long edges of the legs (A, B).

Make the rails and stretchers

1 From 4/4 stock, mill enough material to make the rear, front, and side seat rails (C, D, E), stretchers (F, G, H), slats (I), and corbels (J). Mill all the stock to 7⁄8" thick. Select stock for the slats and continue planing that material down to 1⁄2" thick. Put the slat stock aside for now.

2 Cut the rear and front seat rails (C, D) to the sizes shown in the Cut List.

3 On a piece of plywood or MDF, draw a full-sized layout of the Seat Detail (Figure 3), on page 35. Trace (don’t measure) the legs (A, B) and rails (C, D, E) to ensure that the drawing reflects your parts. Now, place a bevel gauge on your drawing to determine the exact bevel angle for the side rails (E) and side stretchers (F). (This should come close to 86.5°, but rely on your drawing. Stock thickness could alter the angle ±1°.)

Transfer the exact miter angle from the drawing to the saw. Make sure that the gauge rests against the blade’s plate, not the teeth.

4 Use the bevel gauge to the set your tablesaw’s blade angle (Photo A), and then cut the ends of the side seat rails (E) and side stretchers (F). Orient the angles so that the stock’s best faces are on the outside of the rocker. To ensure that all four pieces are exactly the same length, outfit your miter gauge with an extension fence and stopblock.

5 Before resetting the bevel angle, crosscut the ends of two 11⁄2 × 6 × 10" long pieces of scrap stock to the same angle. You will use these later when routing mortises in the ends of the side seat rails (E), side stretchers (F), and both cross stretchers (G, H).

6 Referring to the Leg Detail (Figure 1), lay out the mortise locations on the rear and front legs (A, B) for the seat rails (C, D, E), side stretchers (F) and back rails (K, L).

7 Outfit a plunge router with an edge guide and a 5⁄16" downcut spiral bit. Rout the 23⁄8" mortises 7⁄8" deep in the legs (A, B) for the rear and front seat rails (C, D). Plunge the router to the full depth at both ends of each mortise; then rout out the remaining waste in 1⁄4" increments (Photo B).

8 On the inside faces of the rear legs (A), rout the 21⁄2" mortises 7⁄8" deep for the back rail (K) and 11⁄2" mortises 7⁄8" deep for the lower back rail (L). On the back faces of the front legs (B), rout the 11⁄4" mortises 7⁄8" deep for the side stretchers (F).

9 Mark out the 23⁄8"-long mortises on the ends of the rear and front rails (C, D). Secure the rails upright in your bench vise; then clamp a short, thick scrap board flush with the end to help guide the fence and provide better stability for the router. Rout the mortises 3⁄4" deep.

10 To rout mortises in the beveled ends of the side rails (E) and side stretchers (F) use the angled scrap stock that you cut in Step 5 as a guide block. Clamp the scrap to the stock with their ends flush and then rout the mortises as you did for the front and rear seat rails (Photo C).

11 Mill stock to 5⁄16" to make the loose tenons. Rip the material to width, and then round the edges with a 3⁄16"-radius round-over bit. Cut the tenons to length and dry-assemble each joint.

12 Set the tablesaw blade to 20° and rip a 1"-wide × 1⁄4"-deep bevel along the top outer edge of each rail (C, D, E) as shown in the Rocker Exploded View (Figure 3). Use a fairing stick to lay out the arch on the lower edges of the front and side seat rails (D, E), and then bandsaw to the line.

A plunge router and spiral bit make quick work of the mortises. Keep the edge guide against your stock.

Clamp an angled piece of scrap to the side seat rails to provide better bearing for the router.

Cut the curved back rails

1 Plane 8/4 stock to 17⁄8" thick to make two blanks for the the upper and lower back rails (K, L). Because the milling settings are the same, prepare extra stock for the rockers (M), and then set it aside. Cut the back rail blanks to the widths and lengths given in the Cut List.

2 Lay out the tenons on the ends of both back rails (K, L), as shown in Back Rail Detail (Figure 3) and Patterns. Make a full-sized pattern of the rail’s curve, and then trace it onto the edges of both rails.

3 Bandsaw a small scallop out of each rail as seen in Photo D and Back Rail Detail to determine the best orientation for the rails. Label the rails’ top edges so that you don’t accidentally cut slat mortises on the wrong edge.

4 Use a tablesaw and miter gauge to cut the shoulders on both rails. Be careful not to cut inside of your layout lines.

5 Saw the cheeks with a tenoning jig, as shown in Photo E. Leave the tenons a little fat and shave them down with a shoulder plane until they fit snugly. Then use a backsaw and chisel to remove the waste at the bottom and top edges.

6 Dry-fit the back assembly—the rear legs (A), both back rails (K, L), and the rear seat rail (C)—and check for square (Photo F). Once assembled, measure the diagonals between back rails. If the lengths aren’t equal, the assembly isn’t square. Use a shoulder plane to shave material off the tenon shoulders as needed.

7 Bandsaw the curves on the faces of both back rails (K, L), as shown in Photo G.

8 Clamp the back rails (K, L) edge to edge and use a portable belt sander and spokeshave to remove the bulk of the saw marks. To continue fairing the rails, use a flexible sanding block made by gluing 80-grit sandpaper to a strip of 1⁄4"-thick plywood using spray adhesive.

Bandsaw a small scallop in the back rail to preview the grain. Orient the board so that the grain arches up.

Cut the rails’ tenons before the curves. Set the blade so the teeth touch the shoulder's kerf.

Dry-fit the back to make sure all the joints close up and the assembly fits squarely together.

Cut both faces of the back rails at the bandsaw. Save the offcuts; they’ll help cradle the curved stock when sanding, sawing, or drilling.

Make and assemble the back

1 Lay out the mortises on the upper and lower back rails (K, L) where shown in Back Rail Detail (Figure 3). Chuck a 3⁄16" brad-point bit into your drill press, and remove the bulk of the waste from the slat mortises (Photo H). To finish them, chop out the ends with a 3⁄16" chisel, and then pare down the faces with a 1" chisel.

2 Make a full-sized pattern of the upper rail’s top arch; then trace it onto the stock. Bandsaw the rail as shown in Photo I.

3 Dry-fit the back and measure the distance between the back rails. Adjusting the length to fit your chair, make the slat template from plywood or MDF, using the Slat Detail shown in Figure 3. (Make the template long to ensure that the flush-trim bit does not cut into the tenons.) Using the template as a guide, cut the slat blanks to width and length.

4 Lay out the tenons on the slats and then cut them on the tablesaw. Fine-tune them with a shoulder plane to fit their mortises. Label the slats to match each with its respective mortise. Next, dry-fit them into the upper and lower back rails (K, L). Adjust the tenon widths so that the slats are evenly spaced along the length of the rail.

5 Using the Slat Template as a guide, trace the curves onto the slats and then bandsaw just shy of the line. Rout the slats to final shape as shown in Photo J.

6 Glue the slats (I) between the back rails (K, L) (Photo K). Give the assembly time to dry before attaching the rear legs (A) to the slat assembly and rear seat rail (C), as shown in (Photo L). Again, apply clamps and allow plenty of time for the glue to dry.

Use a drill press to remove the bulk of the waste in the back rail mortises.

Tape the outside offcut to the upper rail to support the stock while bandsawing the top arch.

With the extra long template held in place with double-faced tape, rout the slats to final shape.

Check for square and the slat spacing as you clamp the rails.

Apply clamping pressure to draw the rails tight to the legs. The preassembled back simplifies an otherwise complex glue-up.

Assemble the legs to the rails

1 Referring to Leg Detail (Figure 1), lay out and cut the 11⁄16 × 11⁄16 × 11⁄4" tenon on the top of each front leg (B). Measure up 11⁄16" from the tenon shoulder and draw a line across one of the tenon’s faces.

2 Adjust the tablesaw’s blade angle to 20°. Set a stop on your miter gauge to start the bevel cut at the line you just made. Cut, then continue rotating and cutting the top end, to create a faceted top.

3 Glue the front legs (B) to the front seat rail (D) to make the front leg assembly and check for square.

4 Dry-fit the front and back assemblies with the side seat rails (E) and side stretchers (F) in place. Fit the cross stretchers (G, H) where shown in the Rocker Exploded View (Figure 3). Clamp the long pieces against the underside of the side stretchers, mark out the angles and lengths of the cross stretchers, and then cut to length. Note: The angle on the ends of the cross stretchers should match the side seat rails (E).

5 Lay out the mortises on the inside faces of the side stretchers (F) and ends of both cross stretchers (G, H). Using a plunge router and 5⁄16" downcut spiral bit, rout the 11⁄4" long × 3⁄8"-deep mortises in the side stretchers. To rout the mortises in the ends of the cross stretchers, use an edge guide and support block just as you did for the side seat rails (E).

6 Cut loose tenons to fit; then glue and clamp the side stretchers (F) to the cross stretchers (G, H). Now join the rear assembly to the side rails (E), stretcher assembly, and front leg assembly as shown in Photos M and N.

Lay the rocker on its back to attach the front leg assembly to the side rails and stretcher assembly.

After applying glue, stand the chair on a flat surface to keep the legs aligned as you tighten the clamps.

Make and attach the arms

1 To make the Arm Template, as shown in Figure 4, work from the inside out. First, rip the middle strip to match the tenon’s width on the front leg (B). Crosscut a small, short piece to fit on the front part of the template. Cut the outer strips oversized, and glue up the pieces. Make sure that the template fits snugly on the front leg’s tenon.

2 Set a 1"-thick strip on a front leg’s shoulder, and clamp the other end to the rear leg (A), so that the strip is parallel with the side seat rail (E). Mark the location of the strip’s top and bottom faces on the leg’s front face. Next, measure the distance between the top line on the back leg to the rearmost face of the front leg’s tenon. Use this measurement to lay out the notch on the Arm Template. Note: Use a bevel gauge to record the angle between the strip and the rear leg. You’ll need this angle later to fit the arm (N). Lay out the arm’s curves around the mortise and notch, bandsaw to the line, and sand it smooth to complete the template.

3 Plane the arm stock (N) to 1" thick. Using the template, trace the arm shape onto each blank. Bandsaw each to rough shape, staying 1⁄16" away from your lines. Attach an arm workpiece to the template with double-faced tape, and rout the edges to final shape with a flush-trim bit.

4 Without removing the template, drill out the mortise with a Forstner bit, then use a flush-trim bit to clean up the mortise (Photo O). Using the template as a chisel guide, chop out the mortise corners; then remove the template. Repeat the process with the other arm.

5 With the blade of the bevel gauge spanning the inside edge of the arm at the end of the notch, strike a line parallel to the rear leg; then saw or pare to the line. (The cut must not affect the length of the arm’s top face.) Adjust the bevel until the front of the arm rests on the tenon and the back edge meets the lines you made on the rear leg.

6 Glue the arms (N) to the rear and front legs (A, B). When applying clamps, make sure that the arms sit squarely on their tenons. Once the glue has dried, drill a 3⁄8" countersunk hole into the arms at the back leg and sink a 2" screw for strength (Photo P). Use a chisel to make the hole square; then insert a 3⁄8" faceted plug.

7 Cut a template for the corbels (J) as shown in the Rocker Exploded View (Figure 3) and template-rout them after rough-bandsawing them to shape. Attach the corbels to the front leg with glue. Because this joint is long grain to long grain, no additional fasteners are needed.

The template and flush-trim bit tackle most of the mortising. Finish up the corners with a chisel.

Make and attach the rockers

1 Make a simple router trammel like the one shown in Figure 5. After outfitting your router with a 1⁄4" upcut spiral bit, attach it to the trammel. Plunge the bit through the trammel to determine the bit’s location, and then mark two points centered across the width of the trammel, locating one 361⁄4" from the bit and one 341⁄2" from the bit. Using a nail or screw as a pivot, attach the trammel near the edge of a 36 × 40" piece of 1⁄2"-thick plywood. Referring to the figure, plunge-cut two arcs as shown. Cut the Rocker Template free from the plywood and trim it to final length.

2 Position the Rocker Template on the rocker (M) stock you milled earlier. Trace, saw, and then template-rout the rockers to shape.

3 Set the chair on a level surface and place a level across the side seat rails (E). Trim the legs so that they’re even and the seat sits level.

Reinforce the back end of the arm with a counterbored screw. Plug the hole with a faceted plug.

4 Set the chair on its side, find the centerpoint on the bottom of each leg (A, B), and drill a 9⁄16" hole 11⁄2" deep into the bottom of each leg. (This method allows for a little error, but try to drill the hole parallel to the faces of the leg.)

5 Hold the rocker (M) in position against the sides of the legs (A, B), and mark out the curve on the bottom of the legs. Use a backsaw and refine the curve with a rasp to achieve a tight, gap-free fit (Photo Q).

6 Draw centerlines on the outside faces of the legs, extending them a few inches up the side of the chair. Set the chair on top of the rockers and extend the lines onto the rockers, as shown in Photo R.

7 Clamp up the rocker (M) so that the pencil line is perpendicular to your benchtop. Drill a pilot hole followed by a 9⁄16"-diameter hole, about 7⁄8" deep into the rocker’s top edge. Align the drill by sighting along the square set on your benchtop, as shown in Photo S.

8 Measure the final depth of the holes in the legs (A, B) and the holes in the rockers (M), and cut four threaded rods to fit.

9 Place the rocker upside down on your bench, and then coat the leg holes with epoxy. Set the threaded rod into the holes, and clean up any overflow using lacquer thinner.

10 Slightly underfill the holes in the rockers (M) with epoxy and position them on top of the legs, as shown in Photo T. (Don’t be surprised when epoxy squeeze-out is abundant—it’s just a sign that the mortises are full and the threaded rod is fully coated.)

11 Span the rockers with a framing square, aligning it with each leg in turn to make sure the two rockers are precisely parallel. (The oversized holes allow you just enough wiggle room to tweak things into alignment.) Gravity should be enough to secure the rocker onto the leg, but if you feel the need to use clamps, be careful not to shift the wood.

Shape the bottoms of the legs to mate against the rockers. Use pencil lines to gauge your progress.

Position the chair in place and extend the legs’ centerlines onto the outside faces of the rockers.

Use a square to site the bit as you bore into the rocker. A painter’s tape flag prevents over-drilling.

Fill the holes with epoxy and place the rocker on the threaded rods. Have a can of lacquer thinner handy to clean up the squeeze-out. 

Ready, set, rock

1 Make the corner blocks (O, P) as shown in the Seat Detail, Figure 3. Adjust the angles to fit your seat, then notch the corners to fit around the legs. Bandsaw the blocks to shape and drill screw clearance holes where shown.

2 Position the corner blocks 11⁄4" down from the top edge of the seat rails (C, D, E) and attach them using 2"-long screws.

3 Finish-sand all surfaces to 220 grit (I sanded the arms and upper back rail to 400 grit), and then apply the finish of your choice. I treated my rocker to three coats of Waterlox. For extra luster and protection, I applied two extra coats to the arms and upper back rail.

4 Make the seat, set it onto the corner blocks (O, P), and put the rocker to the test.

About Our Author

Matthew Teague writes and builds furniture in Nashville, Tennessee. When not at his workbench, Teague spends his time wrangling his daughter, Ava Jean, and his son, Locke.


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