What started out as a simple repair idea turned in to quite a bit more. Our rocking chair creaked and popped with each sequential movement. First idea was to take apart and re-glue all joints as necessary. Then the realization hit that taking apart a rocking chair is not as simple as I envisioned. Nearly every piece is in tension with each other. With the help of Weston, Alan, and a rubber mallet the chair was apart.

 

Past attempts fell short of bringing new life back to the old rocking chair. The original wicker seat had been replaced several times. Once with what appears to be linoleum flooring. The most recent repair (roughly 50 years ago) was an 1/8″ piece of plywood with holes on top of all past failed repairs. In essence, there were band-aids on band-aids for the most important portion of the chair. To mask these steps, we had been using a cushion on top of all that. Looking back, it is amazing the plywood never snapped.

 

The plan was to restore select pieces and replace the original wicker ‘hole’ with a new wood insert. I decided to sand and refinish all horizontal pieces and leave all vertical pieces with their collective patina and details. The original gap in the chair that housed the wicker seat, would be filled with a solid wood insert. This served double duty of creating a reliable seat and also help to make the chair more sturdy. So after a weekend sanding away, the original red oak made its presence known.

Though the actual age of the chair is unknown, a bit of genealogy points towards the chair arriving in the family with Katie’s Great-Great Grandmother. With this logic and an old German funeral card for date references (thanks Jeanette), my best guess is that it was made before the turn of the century. That puts the chair at roughly 120ish years old. This number ran through my head several times when I had a couple stumbles trying to reassemble the pieces strewn across the floor.

Weston helping to disassemble.
Old repair materials including linoleum flooring.

With all horizontal pieces sanded and repaired, a few needed glued back together, the obligatory knolling shot was taken. This gave a bit of perspective to the amount of pieces that there are within the simple rocking chair design. Nearly twenty separate pieces that now needed to be reassembled and glued back together in almost the exact same orientation that they had resided for 120 years.

 

The new wood insert is a different species of wood from the original chair. This is simply because I was unaware of the type until it was sanded down. It was necessary to create and fit the new wood piece before sanding to make sure all surfaces were smooth and as seamless as possible though. I am happy with the end look as it matches the high contrast aesthetic. The red oak horizontal elements against the dark stained and patina pieces have given the chair a new style. Remnants and stories of past repairs and use can be seen throughout; with plenty of nail posts remaining in the seat, wear marks along back rails, and the teeth marks of past children. I can only hope that the chair has been given new life and some structurally stability to withstand another hundred plus years. May it also carry as many stories along with it. Let the next person to repair it, laugh at my repairs as much as I have laughed at those before me.

 

Several questioned taking the chair apart when I would bring it up. I guess they were nervous about what might happen to the chair, but without a refacing of it, falling into ambiguity was inevitable. When we received the chair over five years ago, no one seemed to care too much about it so I was not afraid to not only give it our own style, but also prepare it for the decades ahead.

 

My takeaway is to not be afraid of projects.

 

There will always be outside forces questioning decisions.

 

Stay the course and take on tasks that I truly enjoy.

 

Whether they require massive amounts of sweat equity or have little return on investment, if the biproduct is joy, just go for it.

All rocking chair pieces.
Refinished chair seat with old nails.

If you liked this article, you might also like a few other design projects I’ve taken a stab at: