Rock the Boat

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A Shaker rocking chair from the Union Village in Southeast Ohio.

Whenever I am asked to build a rocking chair, I say: “Sorry, I don’t make them. They are a totally different animal than what I build.”

But if you could centrifuge the polite Southerner out of my response, it might sound more like: “Gawd, I cannot abide rocking chairs.”

I know. It’s a weird hill to die on. But I have honestly never liked rocking chairs. I don’t like their limited functionality. I don’t like sitting in them. And I don’t like the way they look.

Some of you are thinking (while flinging your pizza crusts at the computer screen) that I have perhaps never sat in a good rocking chair. Not true. I have been to the mountain in Rancho Cucamonga. The first time I met Sam Maloof, he took me into his restored childhood home and let me sit in every one of the chairs there, including multiple rockers. The chairs were beautiful in every way. But when I sat in them, I felt the same way when I sit in any rocker – unsteady.

I like a chair that feels sturdy when it embraces you – not roll back on its heels like a tipsy aunt at a wedding. My regular chairs can be used for multiple tasks. You can type at a desk. Eat at a dining table. Play a guitar. Or sit back with a drink. And if you want to “rock,” you can tip back on the chair’s rear legs and balance.

Some people think this is savagery. I think it’s the best thing in the world.

Have you ever tried eating at the dinner table in a rocking chair? Or typing? I have, and it’s not fun.

I know you are thinking: Think of the children! Rocking chairs are designed to lull babies to sleep. That didn’t work with my kids. We had a rocking chair in the nursery and it just seemed to make them spit up more on my shoulder.

To be honest, I think rocking chairs are more symbolic than functional. Here in the South they are on most every porch. The Cracker Barrel restaurants will have 20 of them lined up outside for people waiting for their fried chicken dinner. The rocking chair symbolizes leisure time and relaxation. And maybe I’m just too tightly wound for that.

Or maybe I just get motion sick too easily. Mom says when I was a baby I’d throw up my hot dog lunch all over the car window during even a short trip.

So perhaps I should take two dramamine and shut the heck up.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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40 Responses to Rock the Boat

  1. Bill Morison says:

    NOW I understand your comment to Wade. . .

  2. Jason says:

    I have to agree with Chris entirely on this one. We have a rocking chair in our living room. No one sits in it unless there is NO other option; we dig out folding chairs first. But I cannot get my wife to let go of the thing. I have no idea why she’s so attached to it, but I’d be delighted to have it gone.

    • tsstahl says:

      I’ll be by at 10PM. I’m already wearing a mask, might as well have some fun with it. Warn her over dinner about the Wood Furniture Gang working the area. You can even leave out a glass of milk and some pie for proof I was there. 😉

  3. I have no philosophical objection to rocking chairs. But two things I never cared for is how low they are to the ground, and how they are not conducive to just stretching your legs out.

  4. wadeholloway says:

    Me, I would love to have one with a electric motor that would do all the rocking for me, but then my wife says i am lazy. 🙂

  5. Larry says:

    Ginger is much better than dramamine. Crystalized ginger is like sweet candy and kids love it. Works every time, saved our car on countless trips with the kids.

  6. Larry says:

    I actually like rocking chairs. But now that I have every Lost Art Press book on Welch chairs, I better get busy and build one, maybe I would like it better??

  7. Perry Chappano says:

    For some reason I hear Jimmy Stewart in Shenandoah intoning “Why ever would you think to sit at the dinner table in a rocking chair son?”

    That said I did read that it is something of a custom amongst the Swedes though I can’t say I’ve ever seen it in my visits there. Certainly would make one eat more deliberately.

    • Mattias Hallin says:

      Perry,

      I’m as Swedish as they come, and I have never sat down to eat at a table (or sat down at a table, full stop, for that matter) in a rocking chair, nor have I ever seen or heard of anyone else doing so. Having a cup of coffee, sure. Or a beer. Or eating candy or cake or whatever from a small plate. But not at table.

      We most certainly had a rocking chair in the home where I grew up – the kind with a fixed undercarriage and a sort of pushrod rocking system. It had originally belonged to my paternal grandparents, my mother still has it, and I suspect that when she’s no longer with us, it’ll most likely come to me. As a young’un, I loved that chair for reading in; when I’m visiting my mother, and we’re sitting i the living room, it is the chair I’ll always head for; and at Christmas, it is were tradition had it that I should sit while distributing the Christmas presents (which is something that we Swedes usually do in the afternoon or early evening on Christmas Eve) to everyone in the family.

      But as far as I can remember, no-one ever even thought about using it as a dining chair.

      Mattias

  8. lignumvitay says:

    And this is why I built the Maloof lounge chair….. a Maloof rocker without the rockers

  9. Dave says:

    I don’t know guys, the Lee Valley Winter 2020 wood working catalogue cover shows the 2nd most comfortable rocking chair (crafted by Russ Zietz) I’ve had the pleasure to sit in. The only one I’ve found to be more comfortable, and it is a very small difference, is the 2nd one made by Russ – with minor customization to fit me. They are close to identical twins. Mine has place of honour in front of the masonry heater fireplace in my log cottage, ready and waiting for me after days out on the lake or in my shop! The extra mass of the chair contributes to a smooth rock.

  10. Tom Bittner says:

    I’ve never really thought about it but all the rocking chairs that I ever owned I gave away…..mostly lightly used hand me downs and a couple of inherited gliders. They are fun for a few minutes but nothing you would choose to sit in given other choices. The cat always seemed to like the rocking chair, maybe because no one else would sit in it? Maybe they are just status symbols, like an Adirondack chair.
    Worst design ever for a chair in my opinion. They look comfortable, then you sit in one, then your back hurts and then you can’t get out of the chair….even if you weren’t drinking.
    Now that I think about it I will scratch copying one of Sam Maloofs rocking chairs, even if they are works of art.

    • tsstahl says:

      I feel compelled to comment on the Adirondack chair. It is NOT meant to be sat in on a flat surface. It is named after mountains on purpose. Slap one on a hillside and sit comfortably to enjoy the view below. Feet downhill unless you really want a head rush. 🙂

  11. John says:

    Cracker Barrel rocking chairs; the most uncomfortable example you could’ve mentioned, IMO. I’ve done some things in a rocking chair I couldn’t imagine doing in a straight chair (hours shelling peas and beans on the back porch at my grandparent’s farm, listening to family stories) but that’s just me. To each their own, no disrespect to other opinions.

    • Dan says:

      Cracker Barrel’s rocking chairs are designed to sell sentimentality, not comfort. They are truly an awful design.

      I like rocking chairs but I prefer the porch swing after supper watching the kids run.

      • John says:

        @Dan – agree on the porch swing, a nice way to relax after after supper. Re: the awful design of Cracker Barrel’s rockers – flat backs and a rocker curve that’s also too flat. I suspect lawyers were part of the design review team.

  12. Steve Baisden says:

    Jack Kennedy loved rocking chairs. So do I.
    P.S. We’re from Boston y’all. Rocking is not just a Southern talent.

  13. Jim Littiken says:

    I love rocking chairs. I eat lunch in one almost every day. But the awful looking Welch chairs I can not warm up to. Who is flinging your pizza crusts at the computer screen now.

  14. marcus c davis says:

    I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.

  15. fedster9 says:

    Whatever floats your boat man! your dislike for rockers does not prevent me from enjoying them.

  16. Patrick says:

    love your prose…

  17. jayedcoins says:

    The only rocker I really like the look of is a big comb back in the style of Dave Sawyer (and all the excellent current makers that essentially come from his “tree”). I prefer them with the simpler oval seat, like a sack back, to the more ornate seats, I think it gives better visual balance with the long spindles and carved volutes.

    That said, I couldn’t agree more about the look of pretty much every other rocker. I love a continuous arm, but they just look wrong to me with rockers on them.

    And to actually sit in? I haven’t had the pleasure to sit in a Sawyer-esque rocking chair, but never liked sitting in any other rocker for all the reasons mentioned.

  18. simonwellicome says:

    Never shut the heck up, Mr Schwarz. Just never. OK? 😀

  19. Danny, Roberts says:

    Agree, Schwarz, and nobody’s even mentioned rocking over the baby’s hand, cat’s tail or that slice of pizza you just put down..

  20. mark00thomas says:

    To each there own I guess. As for me, I am counting down the days until my Cio ladder back rocker by Brian Boggs arrives.

  21. Will Myers says:

    Mr. Schwarz, you are genuinely odd.

  22. Matthew Holbrook says:

    Christopher Schwarz,

    Ate you OK with riding on a train ?

    I am comfortable with the cars swaying side side sometimes.

    Maybe if you outfit one of the cars with Welsh Stick chairs, you might enjoy the ride.

    Just a thought.

  23. Klaus N. Skrudland says:

    Chris, this doesn’t compute! Arguing that a rocking chair is lame because you can’t sit at the dinner table in it, is like arguing that a Speedo is lame because it’s not a full pair of pants!

    • John says:

      (Klaus) re: Speedo – Best response ever!

    • Rudy Everts says:

      I think it is more about the versatility. In a rocker you can… mm.. rock. Whereas in a normal chair you can do many more things.
      In that way you are right with your speedo comment, there are just not as many places you can wear the thing!

      Unless you live in Florida, of course.

  24. Eric R says:

    That’s too bad because I suspect you’d make a pretty good one.

  25. Leif Hansen says:

    Someone made a rockiing Welsh stick chair on Instagram few months ago… I looked like a duckbill platypus!

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