Strengthen the Roorkhee Even More

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I’m in Roorkhee chair production mode this weekend. I have two chairs that need to go to a (very patient) customer in December. And I have enough material to eek out a couple more chairs – if I don’t make any mistakes.

(Hey, I might get to keep one of these chairs for myself. Or I can sell it and help pay my daughter’s tuition.)

With this run of chairs, I’m implementing a change to the stretchers that has been in the works for several years. I experimented with it when “Campaign Furniture” first came out, but never put it into production.

The goal is to shore up a weakness in these chairs – the stretchers can split when subject to too many beef brisket sandwiches. Before the book came out, I increased the diameter of the stretchers compared to historical examples and relied on riven or dead-straight material. That helped.

To strengthen them more, I contemplated switching to hickory for this component, which is likely the strongest chairmaking wood. But its color would clash with the mahogany components.

So instead I’ve beefed up the stretchers to 1-7/16” in diameter and have left the center sections octagonal instead of turned round. This does several things:

  1. The stretchers don’t roll around on the floor when assembling and disassembling the Roorkhee.
  2. They are indeed stronger – there’s more material.
  3. You cannot feel the facets when they are wrapped in the 14 oz. latigo leather.

I now make the stretchers before making the legs. The turnings on the stretchers are easy, and that gets me warmed up for the legs, which have sections that transition from round to square. One false move on the leg turnings and you have made pricey firewood.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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19 Responses to Strengthen the Roorkhee Even More

  1. Richard says:

    I too am in Roorkhee chair production (actually just bringing in all the materials), but I am intrigued and grateful for this posting about faceting the stretchers. The one component of chair construction I’ve struggled with is a strong stretcher. Would this cross section increase also allow lengthening of stretcher to accommodate an increased seat area with a wider back?

    • Richard,

      Yes, increasing the diameter will allow you to increase the length. But I don’t have a formula.

      At 1-7/16″ diameter, I feel comfortable increasing the length of these stretchers about 3″, which will allow me 20″ between the legs. I need to see how that feels (and I think it will feel fine) before taking another step forward.

      • Richard says:

        Please post updates with pictures as you progress in the build. For me this is most helpful.

  2. Joseph says:

    Is there such a thing as “too many beef brisket sandwiches?”

  3. ralmcc7yahoo.com says:

    Chris, some of your Welsh stick chairs have stretchers, some not. Same for Queen Anne, same for Windsor, see where I am going. Why?? Does it have to do with the splay, material, usage? Combination of what??
    Your quest for “perfect as possible” continues. Ralph

    • Hi Ralph,

      I’ve written about this a lot. Both in ADB and here on the blog. Short answer: Stretcherless chairs are easier to make and repair. Stretcher chairs are more difficult to make and more difficult to repair – but they are stronger.

      Sometimes the stretchers (or lack) are for stylistic reasons. Sometimes they are to compensate for thin materials. Sometimes they just are.

      These two forms have existed side by side for centuries. Once is not an evolution of the other.

      Hope this helps.

  4. bryanswingle says:

    Chris,
    Maybe off topic, but Im interested in your boots. They look like natural shell cordovan, maybe by crocket and jones? Any information is appreciated.
    Bryan

  5. Bill says:

    Chris:

    Inspired design, given that your customer has been known to eat more than his share of brisket sandwiches. . .

  6. I like this change to Octagonal stretchers, less turning is good. But I may be a little biased.

  7. Chris says:

    Chris, two questions, as I have a couple of the chairs made to the original specs. How much experience have you had with stretchers failing? And, does the change apply just to the stretchers in the front and back, or does it apply as well to the side stretchers. If it does apply to the side stretchers, that will change the look of these chairs. I’d be interested in seeing a photo when you’ve got one assembled. These chairs are so comfortable and interesting-to-look-at, and I just wonder who losing the roundness of the visible front-to-back stretchers would change that.

    • I had stretchers fail in my early prototypes – before publishing plans or specs. That’s why I beefed up the stretchers all around.

      The ones that failed were almost always at the back. So you could beef up that one alone (which doesn’t show) and that would improve things. Or beef up the front and back ones.

      I want to make my chairs so the parts are interchangeable. So I’m making the change to all of the stretchers. Yes, it will change the look a bit, but I have seen them with square stretchers in some old examples….

      If you don’t like the octagons, you could make the stretchers 1-1/2″ and make them round.

  8. wb8nbs says:

    What is the tapering tool in the second photo?

  9. Dave says:

    My first Roorkee was made out of poplar. One stretcher quickly broke from my roommate scooting back in the seat, landing directly on the rear stretcher itself. He was mortified, but I was amused. I laughed while telling him, “If it broke, it’s my fault – I made it.”

    As you’ve written somewhere: having leather belts screwed into the legs really strengthen this design by making sure the stretchers are well seated.

  10. Bill Barr says:

    Paragraph 1, line 2, 4th word from the end, shouldn’t “eek” be “eke”?

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