Recreating Rohlfs - Tall Back Chair

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Blog entry by Woodbridge posted 07-09-2012 02:11 AM 4601 reads 3 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Now that I am finished with building the Maloof style rocker I am moving on to my next project: reproducing Charles Rohlfs Tall Back Chair. Rohlfs Tall Back Chair is my absolute favorite chair.

This is the third rohlfs chair that I have attempted to reproduce, the first being Rohlfs Rocking Chair and the second his iconic Desk chair.

I have built three other chairs based on Rohlfs 1989 desk chair. I am thrilled that this trio of chairs has been included in the August 2012 edition of Fine Woodworking Magazine - Readers Gallery Page 81.

My main source of information about Rohlfs work is a book, “The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs”. It contain pictures of Rohlfs most notable works.

The book contains the overall dimensions of the chair and a angled front view of the chair.

Before going further I want to thank Dr. Karl Kusserow, Curator of American Art at the Princeton University Art Museum the curator for the information he provided me on Rohlfs Tall Back chair.

I was hoping to get more information about the chair in particular a view from the side, from the back and close up pictures of the carvings on the side.

Also from the pictures I have seen I had a suspicion that the chair sides tapered in from front to back, and that the side cut-out was an oval rather than a simple circle. I also wanted a better idea of the thickness of the wood used to construct the chair (since this is a relatively small number it is hard to accurately scale from a photograph), the height of the seat from the floor and the width of the chair at the back.

So I sent off an email off to the Princeton University Art Museum asking for this information. I must admit that I have sent similar requests for information on Rohlfs chairs to other organizations and never heard back. I was very surprised and thrilled when about a week after sending the email I got a phone call from Dr. Kusserow.

He was calling to let me know that he had recieved my email and was somewhat apologetic that it would take about 1 month to get me all the information I had asked for. He explained that the chair was on display, it had to be removed from display, set up and professional photograghs taken. I was absolutely thrilled and blown away that he would go to such trouble for me. I was astonished, thanked him, and explained that I would have been happy with a couple of pictures taken by a blackberry of cell phone. Sure enough about 4 weeks later I received the information I asked for.

I have search the internet high and low for pictures of Rohlfs chairs and I can tell you the side and back shot are never before seen photographs of Rohlfs tall back chair.

I also recieved pictures of the carvings on the side of the chair.

Instead of satisfying my desire for information about the chair receiving these pictures caused me to want to see Rohlfs chairs first hand and within a week or so of getting the pictures I had booked our trip to New York.

In addition to seeing some of New Yorks major tourist site the trip would allow me to see Rohlfs chairs in the Met and in Princeton. It was about a ninety minute train ride from Penn station in Manhattan out to Princeton New Jersey. It was quite a transformation to go from the crowds, pavement noise and bustle of New York City to the serenity, well-kept lawns and peaceful quite of the Princeton University campus.

I spent about an hour looking at the chair, taking photos and videos of it from as many angles as possible.

As with Rohlfs desk chair I was surprised at how light the chair structure is and how fine and delicate the carving. The thickness of the wood is less than ¾ inch. The carving is quite intricate and delicate looking.

The chair is 17.5 inches wide at the front and tapers to 14 5/8 inches at the back. The seat is 16.125” high. From the side the legs are 18.5 inches wide at the bottom and 16.25 inches at the top

The side view confirmed that the cut-out in the side was not a simple circle but rather an oval.

A close-up of the back also shows that there is depth to the carvings in the back as well as the front.

I was going to purchase some mahogany to make this chair, but I did have a 8/4 by 6 feet X 8 ” wide piece of walnut board and other smaller lengths of walnut left over from my Maloof rocker build and I decided to use the walnut instead. Last weekend I came back with a nice piece of used mahogany baseboard. Not enough for Rohlfs Tall Back chair, but just enough to make another Rohlfs Desk chair. I get in trouble from the “boss” for bringing more wood home. You see, my basement workshop has expanded into the hallway in the basement. So rather than bring new wood home for another project I will use up the remaining walnut.

I have spent the last few days piecing together to various pieces of walnut and making the templates for the chair. I am taking a business related course next week so I will not get anything done next week. I’m looking forward to getting back into the workshop the week after that and getting started on the Rohlfs Tall Back Chair. The biggest challenge for me will be replicating the carving. I’ll let you know how it goes.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

2 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


8872 posts in 3382 days

#1 posted 07-09-2012 03:02 AM

Damned impressive!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Mathew Nedeljko's profile

Mathew Nedeljko

715 posts in 4369 days

#2 posted 07-09-2012 03:55 AM

Congratulations on making it into FWW Peter! What an honor, I’m sure. This is quite an ambitious undertaking, and a very interesting story. I’ll be looking forward to your progress updates. Thanks for posting the pictures of the tall back chair.

-- Aim high. Ride easy. Trust God. Neale Donald Walsch

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