Bending Rocking Chair Rockers

I would like to know how to bend the rockers for a rocking chair. How do I get started?

Carol Reed: This is a job that requires bent lamination. Rip thin strips. Glue them together, and clamp them against a curved caul to get the shape needed. Even Sam Maloof does it this way!

John Brock: While others may use laminated or sawn rockers, I prefer to steam bend. A single-piece, steam-bent rocker is something to take pride in. I have built several Arts & Crafts chairs using white oak, which bends well, for the rockers.

The stock needs to be chosen carefully to avoid any grain runout. My rockers are one inch thick and an inch and three quarters wide. Cut your rocker stock with six inches of extra clamping length on both ends, and plan on bending extra rockers as insurance against breakage. Match up the best pair, as each will bend a bit differently.

You will need a steam box and a clamping form. The steam box can be made from plywood or ABS pipe. The rule of thumb is to allow one hour of steaming per inch of wood thickness. I built a stacked plywood clamping form with a little tighter bend than I wanted to allow for springback. Design your curved form so it is easy to clamp. You will need a good supply of strong clamps. I use six or eight clamps per rocker.

Use thick gloves to handle the hot wood, and keep your clamps handy. Leave lots of elbowroom to move quickly. Plan out your movements in advance. Quickly remove the hot rocker blanks from the steam box, and immediately clamp them onto the form. If you take too long, the blank will stiffen up, or break. A full minute is pushing it. If you can get the hot blank out, clamped, and bent in twenty or thirty seconds, you will be in good shape. I leave them on the form for a week after steaming to reduce moisture.

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