BENT ON COMFORT
It took three years for this Bentwood Rocker to evolve.
SHOP OWNER: Bruce Brown
LOCATION: Knoxville, TN
Made from ash and yellow pine, the concept for this rocker came from my father's insignia. My father said he came up with the insignia in the 1950's to reduce his time in signing environmental and waste permits at the company where he worked.
To create an original Bentwood rocker design, I made minor changes to the insignia to create the sides that function as the chair frame and rockers. The sides are made in two sections using fourteen 1/16" thick strips that are 7 feet long and 1-1/2" wide. I used slow-setting outdoor carpenter's glue with a little water added to bond the laminates. After each of the sections dried, I scraped the glue off, shaped and sanded them, and 'spliced' and glued them together to create each side.
The choice of woods for this chair was the result of working with them during the developmental process. The ash is strong, durable, very pliable, forgiving, and relatively inexpensive. The yellow pine is very inexpensive, strong, durable, and easy to shape. Both have growth ring patterns that are visually interesting when care is taken to select wood pieces for each part that enhances or accentuates the chair and its form.
It took several 'trial-and-error' attempts to develop bending molds to create a prototype that rocked well, didn't cause 'whip lash' to a person over 6' tall when they started to rock, and also make it comfortable for people shorter than 5' 4" tall. The heaviest person who sat in the prototype weighed around 280 lbs.
For the joinery, I looked to the "Thonet Brother's" Bentwood rockers and parlor chairs for 'mental comfort' in having to use screws and simple joinery techniques. I would like to have used a modified "Maloof" joint where the seat and sides join. However, since the sides are curved at the junction with the seat, and with variations in each side as a result of shrinkage as the wood and glue dries, machined repeatability is impractical, making a sculpted joint even more time consuming since each joint will have to be individually hand cut and carved to fit. So I settled on a lap joint (no pun intended) that is screwed together with deck screws. Although I used deck screws to secure the wood pieces on this one, adding regular mortise-and-tenons and/or mortises with floating tenons can be done to make this a 'purer' wooden rocker.
It took approximately three years to create and work the major 'bugs' out of this design. During that time I made a set of eight dinning chairs and various other things as I worked 'off-and-on' with the rocker. I used Helmsman Spar Satin Polyurethane for the finish.
I hope to make more Bentwood rocking chairs using ash, red oak, white oak, maple, or mahogany for all parts. One of the next Bentwood rockers I make will be made with soft maple and ash and another will be made completely of ash.. . . Bruce Brown
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