Charles Rohlfs Desk Chair #2

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Project by Woodbridge posted 08-12-2012 08:06 PM 5016 views 8 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is the second reproduction of Rohlfs iconic desk chair that I have attempted. Here is the link to version one.

A few months ago on a trip to New York I had the opportunity to view the original Rohlfs chair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After seeing the original and getting some additional details (see my blog) about the chair that I did not have when I attempted the first reproduction I wanted to build a second version more closely resembling the original. I had not planned to start this chair so soon, but a few weeks ago my cousin came by with a great piece of old mahogany baseboard. As soon as saw this piece of mahogany, Rohlfs desk chair called out to me. With some judicious cutting and glue-ups I was able to get almost enough mahogany to make another Rohlfs desk chair. I had some additional pieces of mahogany left over from another project to make the cross braces. I had the pleasure earlier this week of returning the mahogany to my cousin!

Like the original this version is much lighter in structure, the various parts are only 5/8 inches thick. Instead of a straight back, like the original this one is sloped at 5 degrees (my estimate). Although the 5 degree slope of the back feels okay when sitting in the chair (especially compared to the straight back version) the slope looks too great to me. If I build another version I might use a 3 degree slope instead.

As well, to better match the original, the back brace is shaped similar to the original and I have added a gusset between the bottom of the seat and the back.

The biggest challenge with this chair is fitting the cross braces. I have no fancy technique here other than a lot of trial and error (and error and error) using pine mock-ups before cutting the few pieces of mahogany I had. In spite of making the pieces out of pine first, I still managed to goof-up and had to make a repair to one of the mahogany pieces!

I also used a sanding mop for the first time and it worked wonders cleaning up the carving.

I put a light coat of stain on the cross braces to help match the colour with the rest of the chair and then finished the chair with three coats of tung oil and some dark wax. I’ve built a reproduction of Rohlfs Rocking Chair and am finishing up a reproduction of his Tall Back Chair which I hope to post in the next week or so.

-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

5 comments so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


22405 posts in 4919 days

#1 posted 08-12-2012 10:09 PM

I like this one better, Nice work.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

#2 posted 08-13-2012 01:39 AM

Another exellent work !!!


View joseff's profile


44 posts in 4017 days

#3 posted 08-13-2012 06:38 AM

Beautiful chair!! Great work!

View Tom Godfrey's profile

Tom Godfrey

488 posts in 3419 days

#4 posted 08-13-2012 10:30 AM

Great piece of history once again take place. You did a great job.

-- Tom Godfrey Landrum South Carolina ([email protected])

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5649 days

#5 posted 08-14-2012 02:22 PM

It’s gorgeous.
I like all of the subtle differences, the trip to the museum was time well used. I also like the thinner proportions, makes it look more dainty and artistic. I also like the mahogany.

I’ve been reading Cunningham’s book on CR, and it has interesting text, with great photos. After doing some reading, it’s not such a mystery to me anymore how this CR guy came up with what he did, and how he accomplished it. He hired expert carvers, was inspired by the times he lived in with various designs and motifs, and had a wife to financially support his woodworking habit. And, he used his background in engineering training and drafting, and pattern making for cast iron stoves. That would have given him exposure to the crafts, drawings, marketing, functionality, and wife that had connections to the elite buyers. But, it was his love for the unique-and-artistic that made his furniture pieces so different from his contemporaries. Fortunately he kept a journal, which gives the rest of us some insight into his head.

I’m not finished with the book yet, but I’ve sure enjoyed reading it, and realizing that whether today, or a 100 years ago, woodworkers have struggled with the same things. I’m so thankful that his wife could write books, which gave the opportunity to the world for her husband to make unique furniture. Without that infusion of money, and some expert contract carvers, it surely would have been more difficult for him to complete his designs. I had originally felt that CR did his own carving and joinery, which seemed so impossible to grasp without a journeyman’s experience in fine furniture work, but the book helps solve some of that mystery with the names of some expert carvers that were in his employ from time to time, or a short while. This all made the “story” make more sense to me.

This chair you’ve finished, replicates my favorite piece out of the CR legacy, well Done Peter!

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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