Chairs that Rock


Today, we set out to make Adirondack chairs. Our instructor gave us plans and a stack of lumber and told us to have at it.

Having seen my carpenter classmate construct an exquisite tiny rocking chair for his young daughter only days ago, I quickly glommed onto him as a teammate. Meanwhile, four  other guys teamed up. Our two squads took the two sets of plans and begin to strategize how to build Adirondack chairs with 2×8’s and 1×6’s.

The plans were not helpful. Basically, they were line drawings of Adirondack chairs 34 inches at the widest point and 16 inches from seat to ground. Beyond that, we had to wing it.

Think about an Adirondack chair for a second. All those slats fanned out, with all those smoothed and beveled edges. The sloping seat, the curved back.

Without a word, my partner fashioned a compass out of scrap wood and a nail and began sketching curves for the rockers. I was mystified, not to mention grateful that I was on his team.

Meanwhile, the other squad was shuffling papers and grousing, as they tried to find any direction from the very scant schematic.

One of their team members, who often serves as the “cut man” at the table and circular saws, was at loose ends, since it was unclear what size parts the chairs required. He didn’t know what to cut.

Meanwhile, my teammate was beginning to do calculations to determine the width of the rocker. The instructor came over to observe, and pretty soon the two of them were throwing around some unacceptable language–words like “cosine.”

The blood ran out of my face.

“Did you say ‘cosine’?” I asked.

“Yes. And SOHCAHTOA,” the instructor said.

Dammit. Only days earlier, while attempting to comfort my son about the looming horrors of high school trigonometry, I had told him that it would all make sense to him, because he is a visual person. Suddenly, I felt like a big fat liar, because I was visualizing this Adirondack rocking chair and could not for the life of me connect it to sine or cosine.

The instructor finally explained what was going on. Our carpenter classmate learned his trade in Egypt, where builders often construct window openings first, then build the windows to fit. And if they build round or arched windows, they have to learn to measure arches efficiently. Meanwhile, in this part of the world, we build the window units first, then build the walls to fit around the windows.

But what a builder may lack in trigonometric fluency, he can make up for with other proficiencies, as I soon saw.

While all this SOHCAHTOA talk was going on, the other team turned to the internet for help. Surely, somewhere out there, someone had assembled a list of parts needed for an Adirondack chair. I mean, you can’t tell me that everyone on Pinterest is fashioning homespun compasses and calculating sine and cosine, right?

Finally, one of the guys held up his phone to display his success:

“15 Plans for DIY Adirondack Chairs,”  he said triumphantly. “Someone’s googled this $#!+ before.”

There was a low cheer from his team, followed by a hopeful question from the cut man:

“Does it come with a cut list?”

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3 thoughts on “Chairs that Rock

  1. Question: are the rockers (the curved part of the rocking chair) cut as shown in the photograph, with the grain crossing them lengthwise? That seems to me to be inherently weaker than if they started out as a straight piece of lumber, say 2″x1″x3′ (or so), then were forced by heat and steam to bend into the proper curve. That latter method would be far more expensive, of course, but wouldn’t it be stronger? and preferable if one were aiming to create an heirloom rocker? (Yeah, I am always the one going for the *better* but more expensive alternative.)

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