Maloof Style Rocker #1: Commissioned to build a rocker

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Blog entry by Dan Welty posted 05-08-2008 12:34 PM 949 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Maloof Style Rocker series no next part

OK…I didn’t do such a good job of documenting my last big project, so we’re going to try again.

I was asked today to build a rocking chair to donate to a fund-raising auction for an organization called ChristianWorks. This is an adoption agency and family counseling center supported by Churches of Christ here in Dallas. Each fall, on an October Saturday evening, they hold an auction at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas. This is a very nice affair every year, and past honorary chairs have included George W. Bush. The auction raises a couple-hundred-thousand-dollars toward the operating budget, plus it’s a fun night.

There are always several trips donated to auction, and other things like signed hockey jerseys, golf clubs, portrait sessions, etc. A few years ago, I decided to build a piece of furniture to donate. (See the project here on Lumberjocks about the Barnes Blanket Chest). Last year, I built a cradle from quartersawn white oak, but this year, it’s a rocking chair.

I’m delighted to make these donations, because it raises a lot of money for a great organization, and someone gets an heirloom-quality piece of furniture (at least better than the mdf monstrosities that pass for furniture in retail stores). I’m a little selfish about these projects, too, because I get something as well—a chance to challenge my woodworking skills, and a chance to acquire several new tools!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand—-when asked to build a rocking chair, the first picture that popped into my mind was the Maloof-style rocker. I just happen to have a set of plans that I’ve been saving for just such an occassion, and I’ve already started the research part of the project. More later..but for now, here’s some info from an Atlantic Monthly article:

“For much of the twentieth century, however, the rocking chair received little attention from the design world. Then, in the early 1970s, Sam Maloof began to experiment. He designed long, elegant skis that curve inward at the back like an antelope’s horns. To make them strong enough he used seven laminated strips of wood for each ski: the result is both visually striking and as hard as iron.

He had sold only a few chairs before he met a potential customer with a lower-back problem, Maloof told me recently. He took a piece of wood, held it against his own back, and curved it to fit, creating what has become his trademark ergonomic spindle. He lowered the seat to relax the angle of the sitter’s legs; raised the arms, which encourages deeper breathing; and completed a design that has found its way into the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the White House, the Vice President’s mansion, and President Jimmy Carter’s office in Atlanta.

“Maloof took the rocker to a new plateau of expression,” says Jonathan Fairbanks, an art consultant who was for many years the curator of American decorative arts at Boston’s MFA. Jeremy Adamson, a curator at the Smithsonian, calls the chair “among the most comfortable ever devised—and a creature of rare beauty.” At eighty-five, Maloof still builds chairs in a workshop next to his house, in the foothills of California’s San Gabriel Mountains. If you have $20,000 to spend and don’t mind waiting years, you can own a new Maloof rocker. This is a steal compared with the early Maloof (nonrocking) chair that went for $120,000 at auction last year.

Maloof’s design has been copied by countless mundane furniture makers, and it has also inspired the work of younger artists. ” (By the way, that article was from 2001. That would make same well over ninety now….)

Another sawdust therapy session later…DAN

—Dan in Dallas

-- Dan in Dallas

5 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3244 days

#1 posted 05-08-2008 12:52 PM


This is the start of a nice blog. I am looking forward to seeing the next installment.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View jcees's profile


1011 posts in 3221 days

#2 posted 05-08-2008 01:43 PM

Sam Maloof didn’t invent the rocking chair but he may very well have perfected it. As stated, you could do worse than joining ‘countless mundane furniture makers,’ that have copied Sam’s design OR you could add your own voice to the chorus and make a chair that is distinctly yours using Sam’s methods of construction.

Just a thought.


-- When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. -- John Muir

View Karson's profile


35032 posts in 3823 days

#3 posted 05-08-2008 02:32 PM

Go, Go, Go!

Good luck on the construction.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3308 days

#4 posted 05-09-2008 12:18 AM

Way to GO!!!!

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Dan Welty's profile

Dan Welty

6 posts in 3410 days

#5 posted 05-14-2008 04:13 AM

An exciting part of every project for me is the time I spend in research, trying to find the best way to build the project and see how others have done it before me. (By the way, artistry and creativity never come until I learned the craftsmanship part of a project. It’s on the second or third itteration that I finally begin adding my own voice to a particular subject…I just have to spend a lot of time with it before the “creative juices” start stirring). Most exciting, though, is the challenge of the unknown. A Maloof-style rocker is certainly out there in the unknown! Instead of trying to make cuts as straight and perfect as possible, this is all about curves and feel and weight and balance—not for the faint of heart woodworker.

I’ve spent the last week “gathering intelligence”. A few research materials.....

What I’ve found is there is Sam’s way and almost everyone else’s way. I have a set of plans from a very nice gentleman from Australia, and the finished product, to the untrained eye, will look a lot like a Maloof rocker. But after poring over (again) my dog-eared copy of “Sam Maloof-Woodworker”, it just makes me want to try it Sam’s way. Not because I’m a copycat, but because Sam does things in a very common-sense way. I’ve read about Sam Maloof in nearly every woodworking magazine published at some point in time. And I’ve read his own writings as well. They all agree that Sam Maloof is a very humble and helpful person, just glad to be able to pursue his life’s passion of working wood. All that didn’t really hit home til I rented the “Sam Maloof” video from Smartflicks and spent an hour watching Sam in his workshop and home. How can you NOT want to emulate a guy like this! His feet are planted firmly on the ground, he has a great love for the work and the material, and he’s largely self-taught! Plus, show ANYONE some of his work, and they like it instantly.

So…tonight was the first night of making patterns—or rather beginning to draw patterns that can later be transferred to 1/4” plywood for templates. Yours truly doing my

More later….thanks for all the comments and encouragement…

-- Dan in Dallas

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