Roorkhee No. 2: Strapless

My second version of a Roorkhee chair features details found on other traditional early 20th-century chairs – the most notable difference being that this chair does not have leather straps running left and right below the seat.

This strapless setup seems to be far more common in the historical photos I’ve examined of Roorkhee chairs at war and on safari.

The good news is that this chair sits just the same as the earlier version I built.

The even better news (for me) is that I have lots more variations to explore in the upcoming months because I have orders for several more of these chairs and will be teaching a class in making them next summer at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

The Roorkhee chair – sometimes called the Indian chair – was in production for much longer than my earlier sources suggested. I’ve found manufactured versions that look like they are from the 1970s. So there’s lots of territory for me and other woodworkers to trek through – different leg turnings, wood, hardware, leather strapping and so forth.

There’s even a version I’ve found that’s covered in fur. It will be great for your next winter adventure – or wife-swapping party I suppose.

My next variations will focus on the leather – I have some dyed leather sides coming that are waterproof and others that are dyed different colors on either side.

I still need to find a source for sewing some canvas seat covers, however. Otherwise I’m going to get a bad reputation in the bovine community.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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21 Responses to Roorkhee No. 2: Strapless

  1. Michael says:

    I have a cousin in NC that will do custom sewing – from leather, canvas and vinyl – if interested contact me.

  2. Shannon McGee says:

    I like the looks of this one even better than the first. Is that a continuous strap side-to-side under the seat, or attached flaps? Can’t tell from the pic. I think I’m going to have to make one of these…

  3. Erik says:

    I know some traditional sailmakers (hand and machine sewn) that might be interested. Let me know if you think that would meet your needs. Meanwhile, I’ll point them to this post…

    • Erik says:

      Man, if you didn’t need them right away (i.e. could wait for years on end) this would be a really cool project for a washed up sailor living in the desert, like myself…

      Nah, I better leave this one to the pros…

  4. handmadeinwood says:


    That’s an interesting comment about the late production up to the 70s. It’s a ubiquitous design.

    Here in the UK in recent years, several companies have marketed what are termed ‘camping chairs’.
    These things are made from tubular steel and canvas or plastic seats in the far east – though they are nowhere near as artistic as yours…..
    They fold up into a case or a tube.
    Here’s a typical example taken at random from Google

    All best

    Howard in Wales

    • Steve Barnhart says:

      Does anyone know if the etymology of the word ‘camping’ has anything to do with a campaign?

      • ckm says:

        From the OED entry for “camp”:
        – ORIGIN early 16th cent.: from French camp, champ, from Italian campo, from Latin campus ‘level ground’, specifically applied to the Campus Martius in Rome, used for games, athletic practice, and military drill.

        I guess that’s a yes.

    • Michael says:

      I love this look – Actually the design reminds me of the director’s chairs of Hollywood. In the one that I saw, I do not recall any straps under the seat (which were made of canvas) and was very rickety when not occupied. I assume so that it could stand on uneven ground. I know it was used extensively by the British Army from the turn of the century to the beginning of World War II.

      The Roorkhee undoubtedly lead to the ubiquitous lawn furniture that Howard is referencing.

      Even today one can buy a modern Wassily Chair by the 1925 designer Marcel Breuer for $3300

  5. Greg Miller says:

    With its taperered motise and tenon joints, the campaign chairs commonly had the small straps below the front and back rails essenitally to hold the chairs together. Once assembled, the back of the chair is held together essenitally by the backrest. However the front of the original versions of this chair can fall apart (ie. the rail tenons will drop out of the leg mortises) if the front small straps are not there underneath the front rail to hold the legs in position.

    With the addition of the side-to-side wide leather understrap between the side rails (just behind the front legs), the need for that front lower small strap is also negated. The wide understrap under the seat is not an original feature, as I understand it, of the historical chair – though I would be interested to know if you have found a similar feature in some old versions of the chair. When I was making these chairs commercially decades ago, we added the wide understrap to increase the comfort of the chair. It did this by decreasing the pressure point under the sitter’s legs produced by the front rail, and by reducing the amount of sliding forward the sitter’s rear end tended to do as the sitter leans back in the chair.
    Remove the wide understrap from the strapless chair, and you may find there is a danger that the front rail may pop out of a front leg. Not a good look for an unsuspecting sitter, and it can snap the front rail at the taper on the opposite end!

    The chairs are looking good, Chris. Aren’t they are a wonderful thing…

    • lostartpress says:

      Hey Greg,

      The two Roorkhees in Nicolas Brawer’s book both have side-to-side understraps. One of the chairs is — I believe — from Maple & Co. Both chairs lack the straps on the legs.

      I agree — you gotta have one or the other!

      • Greg Miller says:

        Hey, that’s interesting about the chairs in Brawer’s book… love to see that book one day. Shame I can’t afford to buy it – though things might have been different. Brawer emailed me when he was writing that book, as he’d heard I was making the chairs. As I recall, the email arrived on Christmas Eve. I got excited about it – and then it got lost in the festivities. A few days later my computer crashed and the email was gone. The rest is history.
        The original chair I copied over 20 years ago was canvas, with no wide understrap. The narrow straps were absolutely essential on those chairs! The lack of narrow straps does simplify the look of the your chair Mk II. I never tried it, but it is a very nice touch. Good one!

  6. joecrafted says:

    These look like a fun, small scale turning project. I can see bringing a couple to a British car or motorcycle show and kicking back with some Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics. Or maybe some Twinings, since they usually don’t allow alcohol.

  7. smbarnha says:

    The stitching detail on the back is a nice touch. Is there a function to the stitch path or is it for visual appeal?

    • lostartpress says:

      The pattern (of rivets, actually) reflects the shape of the wooden parts of the back – they taper from the center to the ends. The shape was unexpected, but good to my eye.

  8. Marty Backe says:

    Certainly you meant to write “from the 1870s”.

    • lostartpress says:

      Nope. The Roorkhee didn’t appear in catalogs until about 1898. I have found this same design from European makers until the 1970s. It surprised me as well. I’ll be going into this in great detail in the book.

  9. Erik says:

    Chris, what kind of canvas are you using? Linen, cotton, hemp? What weight? Have you seen self (canvas) reinforcing in original examples? Most of what I’ve seen online is leather reinforcing.

  10. Ben Hawbaker says:

    Chris, Coming from a family of furniture upholsterers, I can say fairly confidently that a quick scan of your yellow pages (the old-school paper version may be the best bet for this) will turn up several local craftsmen who will be more than capable of both ordering the fabric (they also probably have swatch books to examine your material first) and sewing up your seat covers. My father and grandfather both did plenty of boat & outdoor canvas work in addition to re-upholstering furniture – it’s all the same tools and skills. You might also create a useful relationship for future projects.

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