Rocker Restoration

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Project by CatUpATree posted 11-28-2021 07:38 PM 562 views 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A colleague asked if I would be willing to try to restore a 70yr old kid’s rocking chair that belonged to his wife and now they want to give it to their grandkid. The rocker was in good shape overall, but one of the spindles was missing, a runner was broken right where it meets the leg, and the finish on the seat was worn.

I’ve done tons of tool restorations as well as junk furniture from goodwill, but this was for someone else and it had deep, person meaning to them. Therefore, some practice runs were in order.

The runner: I first made a template for the new runner using a 1/4” piece of masonite. The shape is based on the intact runner. Once I was satisfied with the template, I did a dry run using a piece of plywood, roughing it out on the band saw, then trimming it flush on the router. I also drilled the holes for the legs using a brace and auger bit. (I use a brace – the original cordless drill! – whenever possible because the holes needed to be carefully drilled and a brace gives me way more control than any power drill.)

Not bad for a first attempt.

One learning for me was that plywood was an okay choice to shape the runner, but a lousy choice for testing the fit onto the legs. The holes for the legs needed to be 5/8” and the width of the runner is 13/16”. This means there isn’t much wood left on either side of the leg when inserted into the runner. The plywood tended to bulge, so I couldn’t get a sense of how well-fitted the legs were.

I used cedar on my second attempt. This worked out much better.

The cedar also allowed me to work out the exact shape of the runner. The top part is curved, left-to-right and the bottom of the old runner was flattening from years of wear. I needed to figure out how to match the wear pattern of the old runner so that the rocker would sit level. This was done with a combination of hand planing and sanding. I also used a contour gauge to the the curve of the top and a bevel gauge to match the angle of the wear on the bottom of the runner.

The original runner was made from beech, so I used European beech to make the final version of the runner. The color isn’t a perfect match, but I would address that with the finish.

The spindle: As with the runner, I did a practice spindle using an old broom handle before doing the real thing. The spindles are not a uniform diameter, but rather they were tapered from 1/2” to 1/4” from bottom to top. In addition, I don’t have a lathe or access to one, so I shaped the spindle completely with rasps, spokeshaves, a hand plane, and sandpaper. (Yes. I was experimenting with these different tools to get the shape.)

This approach was slow, but it didn’t end up being too hard and it worked out. Here is the chair with the practice pieces.

The real spindle was made from a square piece of the same European beech as the runner.

Here’s the dry fit before finishing.

The finish: Again, first was color matching on a test piece of European beech and the original runner.

I’ll note that I did not glue the spindle or runner until AFTER I completed the new finish. Color matching is not my forte, so if I messed up royally, I could easily remake the parts and make another attempt at color matching.

The old finish was completely removed, mostly by hand. (I hate sanding!)

The finish layers were

1) amber-tinted shellac as a sealing layer
2) one coat of golden oak stain (only on the European beech pieces)
3) two coats of Gunstock stain
4) six coats of french polish using the same amber shellac diluted with denatured alcohol
5) Paste wax applied with 0000 steel wool, then excess wiped off with microfiber cloth.

It’s done and ready to send to my colleague’s grandkid to be used for another generation!

9 comments so far

View mtnwild's profile


4723 posts in 4860 days

#1 posted 11-28-2021 09:12 PM

Great save, looks like new…So great to keep these treasures alive…Very cool…

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

9309 posts in 1915 days

#2 posted 11-28-2021 09:21 PM

Very nice restoration! Well done!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View BB1's profile


2813 posts in 2181 days

#3 posted 11-29-2021 03:16 AM

Wow. Great job on restoring. Will be good for a couple more generations!

View CatUpATree's profile


14 posts in 1138 days

#4 posted 11-29-2021 06:13 AM

Thanks! I totally agree with you about keeping these things alive.

Great save, looks like new…So great to keep these treasures alive…Very cool…

- mtnwild

View CatUpATree's profile


14 posts in 1138 days

#5 posted 11-29-2021 06:14 AM

Thank you! I appreciate it!

Very nice restoration! Well done!

- Dave Polaschek

View CatUpATree's profile


14 posts in 1138 days

#6 posted 11-29-2021 06:20 AM

Thanks! The pieces that broke was certainly because of very rough place. Even with that, it’s a well made chair. No creaks or loose joints after 70yrs! Hopefully it does last for a couple more generations.

Wow. Great job on restoring. Will be good for a couple more generations!

- BB1

View swirt's profile


7092 posts in 4305 days

#7 posted 11-30-2021 02:22 AM

Flawless restoration. Nice work.

-- Galootish log blog,

View CatUpATree's profile


14 posts in 1138 days

#8 posted 12-02-2021 04:22 AM


Flawless restoration. Nice work.

- swirt

View Calmudgeon's profile


586 posts in 2760 days

#9 posted 12-02-2021 01:18 PM

Excellent job. Extra props for fashioning that spindle without access to a lathe and for matching the wear on the rockers.

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

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