Step 1: Sourcing trees

Ordinary lumber just won’t do for an heirloom piece of furniture like my Colin Rocker. That’s why I take great care in selecting high-quality furniture-grade lumber that meets exacting standards.

It starts with the tree. I use the finest hardwood, harvested from trees like cherry or black walnut, and much of it locally sourced. To ensure the uniformity of the color and grain, I buy boards milled from a single tree. 

I also insist on boards at least 2” thick—more than twice that of standard boards found at most lumber stores—to shape into the 16 parts that make up the Colin Rocker. It’s a challenge to get these huge slabs through the doors into my shop, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth it.

Step 2: Selection

Even with boards cut from the same tree, there are variations in color and patterns that can enhance the finished product when chosen for optimum effect. I’ve created templates for each component of the chair and try them in different positions on the slabs until I’m satisfied I’m making the most of the wood’s natural beauty.

Then I cut out each “blank,” allowing plenty of overage around the template so I can mount it on my CNC carving machine. The chair’s seat typically requires two blanks, which will then be glued together for a precise fit. Because of the important role the seat plays, both visually and structurally, in the finished project, it is essential that both pieces match in color and grain, always striving to create a beautiful book-matched pattern.

Step 3: CNC Machining

STEP 3:
CNC MACHINING

Once the blanks are produced, they’re ready for the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine. This is where the art of Old World craftsmanship is enhanced by the precision of 21st century technology.

First the CNC machine’s computer software is used to display a 3-D rendering of each component that goes into making the chair. Next I combine that with my understanding of machining wood to create paths that will dictate the movement of the cutting tools. The accuracy and repeatability of the CNC machine enables me to convert the oversized blanks into 3-dimensional components with pinpoint precision. 

Finally, I simulate the machining process on-screen to ensure it’s correct before I begin to carve. Each component requires its own, custom-made jig to hold it in place throughout the carving process. 

Step 4: Laminating

The rockers are the foundation of the Colin chair. I laminate them for strength to ensure this heirloom rocking chair will last for generations. 

I start by using a jointer to take the edge off a 1 ½” thick board and create a smooth surface, then use the bandsaw to shave off a strip just under ¼” thick. I set the strip aside and go back to the jointer to clean up the now-rough edge from the bandsaw blade and repeat the process 19 more times—making sure to keep the strips in order to maintain the purity of the grain pattern. Finally, I use the drum sander to smooth all 20 strips to a uniform 1/8” thickness.

Now it’s time to laminate. Using plenty of glue, a large jig and lots of strong clamps, I force eight strips into the final rounded rocker shape. After allowing 24 hours for the glue to dry, I repeat the process using eight more strips for the second rocker.

After adding short sections from the remaining strips to build up the transitional area between the rockers and the chair legs, I have two rockers capable of supporting the chair and an adult sitting in it.

Step 5: Joint Preparation

STEP 5:
JOINT PREPARATION

The feel of the finished Colin Rocker is solid and substantial, thanks in part to the tenacity of every joint. To ensure lifelong strength, each joint is reinforced with up to three 3”-long steel screws. 

I create a joint by first accurately positioning the two parts and drilling a ½” blind hole—one that only goes partially through the outer piece. I follow that with a pilot hole through both parts that’s deep enough for the screw and keeps the wood from splitting. After the screw is installed, I fill the hole with a wooden plug cut from grain similar to the surrounding piece and selected for the best possible match.

In the case of the chair back, each slat is hand-fitted to pockets in the seat and the headrest.

Step 6: Dry Fit

STEP 6:
DRY FIT

Think of this step as a dress rehearsal. Before committing to the final assembly of the chair, I completely assemble it “dry”—i.e., without epoxy. This step is critical to ensure that all the joints are accurate and each piece fits smoothly. Any minor imperfections are found and corrected on the way to our ultimate goal—a perfect Colin Rocker.

Step 7: Assembly

Now I’m ready to take the chair apart again and reassemble it one final time. The slats on the back of the chair are held in place by the seat and headrest pockets, so they only need a small amount of standard glue. However, all structural joints are attached with a two-part epoxy of color-blended industrial resin and a hardener.

This is a painstaking process. I assemble two joints at a time (for example, attaching two front legs to the seat). Then I have to stop and allow the epoxy to cure completely before I can assemble the next two joints. Because the epoxy requires a full day to cure after each step, the final assembly is a weeks-long project. But the result is a rocking chair that will stand the test of time.

Step 8: Shaping

As someone who loves the feel of fine wood furniture, shaping is one of my favorite parts of the process, as well as one of the most critical steps. This is where the organic lines, smooth curves and perfect joint transitions of the Colin Rocker really start to come to life.

Initially I use multiple power tools to shape the parts, transitioning step by step from coarse to medium grit as I carefully smooth the joints. Further shaping is done with hand tools, culminating in hand sanding for the final finish.

Step 9: Sanding

Every inch of your Colin Rocker is carefully hand sanded with two more finer grits to create the satiny finish it’s famous for. 

After each sanding I make a close visual inspection of the chair to seek out any imperfections, no matter how slight. Then I close my eyes and run my hands over the wood, letting my fingertips judge the evenness of the surface. I repeat the process until I’m satisfied that every part of the chair is perfectly smooth. Finally, I remove any loose dust from the sanding process so the finish can be applied.

Step 10: Finishing

The ultimate step in creating a spectacular piece of furniture! 

Unlike some furniture makers, I never try to change the natural color of the wood with stains or cover up the grain. Instead I use a special blend of penetrating oil and varnish that creates a matte finish that truly allows the wood to speak. 

I apply several saturating coats that go deep into the pores of the wood. This solution cures from the inside out, rather than on the surface, to bring out and enhance the intrinsic beauty of the wood. It provides the warm glow I’m seeking, while providing the protection your custom-crafted wood chair needs.

A final rubdown with superfine steel wool is the secret to achieving the irresistible surface texture of the Colin Rocker.

The Colin Rocker

Colin (pictured here) is the happy recipient of the first rocker made by Woodgenuity.