A Moving Sculpture: A Sam Maloof Inspired Rocker, A Rocking Chair by Mark DeCou

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 08-14-2006 07:51 PM 83407 views 32 times favorited 48 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This posting is of a Sam Maloof Inspired Rocking Chair that I built, my first one.

This chair in the photos is “gone”, but if you’d like a handmade rocking chair, please email me for more information

email: [email protected]

Click Here to See Rocking Chair #2

Click Here to See Rocking Chair #3

Click Here to See Rocking Chair #4


Note to Fellow Woodworkers:
At this point, I don’t teach a class on how to build these chairs, nor do I sell plans of my chair, nor do I provide the tips and tricks and details you’ll need to figure out to build your own rocking chair. To get the measurements you want, just sit down and have someone measure your body and then match that to your chair dimensions. It’s not tricky really, so you don’t need someone’s plans to make a chair. I also do not know of any Maloof Chair plans that are available. There are a handful of Maloof knock-off builders that sell plans of their rocking chair, just search the internet and you’ll find them.

Maybe someday I will offer those things, but right now there is so much interest in Maloof’s chairs, that I just can’t keep up with the emailed questions of how to help someone else figure out how to build a sculpted rocker with my free advice. I hope you understand why I can’t help everyone that requests assistance.


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Project Story:
Building a Sam Maloof-Inspired Rocking Chair is both challenging and fun. Also, when you are finished with it, you aren’t too scared of other woodworking projects. Second to my father, no other woodworker has inspired and challenged my skills more than Mr. Maloof. And so, I decided that I wanted to try and build a rocking chair inspired by his designs.

There are several professionals who make versions of this chair, and a few even give credit to Mr. Maloof for the inspiration. I want to make sure that I am part of that group. After reading Mr. Maloof’s autobiography book several years ago, I quickly became a fan, and started to collect anything in print from this master artisan.

I used air-dried Kansas Walnut for this rocking chair, and I included some maple veneer striping in the head rest, seat, and the rockers, which all seemed like a good idea at the time. I tried to use a little bit of walnut sap wood in this piece so that the chair has some swings in color as well, giving it more “life.” Something I learned from Mr. Maloof’s book.

The back lumbar slats are faced with burled walnut veneer, giving them a little bit of “pop” that the plain slats didn’t have before. For the finish, I started with a several hour saturation of Danish Oil, followed by sprayed and rubbed out Deft lacquer after a couple of weeks of letting the Oil dry.

The Danish Oil on air-dried Kansas Black Walnut gives a rich reddish-brown luster, giving a hint of what a chair in Rosewood might look like in the right lighting. The seat bottom was carved out with a set of carving gouges and a mallet, followed by an angle grinder, followed by an orbital sander. Unlike Mr. Maloof, my arms were shaped with an angle grinder instead of a bandsaw. I tried that bandsaw method, but just become to fearful of losing a digit.

The back lumbar support slats were first bandsawn to the rough shape and then hand shaped with a Nicholson #49 rasp, and then sanded out. The rockers are laminated strips 1/4” thick, with Maple veneer striping included in between a couple of the walnut layers.

I did not use any screw fasteners, or nails in the chair, as it seemed like too much of a “copy” to do the screws with round ebony plugs like Mr. Maloof does. I’m solely counting on good fitting complicated joinery and PVA glue to hold this piece together.

The photos don’t really do the reddish-brown coloring justice, but hiring a professional to shoot this piece is not obtainable for me right now. So, this is the best set of photos I could get with my cheap little digital camera and a set of white bed sheets hung in the background in the corner of my kitchen. I think professional photos with three point lighting and shadowing would really help the presentation of this piece.

If you want to see more, please check my work at

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If you would like to see my other posted projects please visit here:

To visit my Blog listings, go here:

You can also visit my website

Here is my summary of the time I was able to hear Sam Maloof in person give a lecture about his work

(This text, and photos are protected by copyright by M.A. DeCou 4-28-2008, all rights reserved)

thanks for the inspiration Mr. Maloof,
Mark DeCou

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Want to See More of my Furniture Work?

If you go to my Mark DeCou Website you will find that I have not updated my website in quite some time. I realize that I need to invest in improving my website, but until that is accomplished, here are some more Lumberjocks related links with updated postings of my furniture work, sorted into categories. Thanks for your interest in my work, and your patience with my website.

Arts and Crafts, Mission Style Related Projects:

  1. Arts & Crafts Entry Table; with Carved Oak Leaves
  2. Arts & Crafts Orchid Stand w/ Wine Bottle Storage
  3. Arts & Crafts Style Morris Inspired Chairs
  4. Arts & Crafts Display Top Coffee Table
  5. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired End Table Set
  6. Arts & Crafts Style Inspired Prairie Couch
  7. Table Lamps
  8. Arts & Crafts Carved Entertainment Center
  9. Mission Entertainment Center
Church & Worship-Art Related Projects:
  1. Carved Communion Table
  2. Carved Roll Top Sound Equipment Cabinet
  3. Fancy Church Side Altars
  4. Processional Cross
  5. Fancy Speaker's Lectern
  6. Church Hymn Number Board
  7. Communion Chalice (Cup) and Paten
Art-Furniture Related Projects:
  1. Sam Maloof Inspired Walnut Rocker
  2. Original Art Carved Tilt Front Desk, inspired by Birger Sandzen
  3. Natural Edge; Nakashima Inspired Coffee Table
  4. Decoratively Painted Box End Tables
  5. Birch China Cabinet for Cut Glass Collection
Rustic, Western, Cedar Log, and Cowboy Related Projects:
  1. Naughty (Knotty) Refined Rustic White Oak & Black Walnut China Hutch
  2. A Kansa Indian and Buffalo Accent Art-Chair
  3. Refined Rustic Dining Chairs
  4. Refined Rustic Dining Table
  5. Cowboy-Western Style Suitcase/Luggage Support Racks
  6. Fun With Cedar Logs #1; Sitting Stool
  7. Fun With Cedar Logs #2; Coat/Hat/Spur Rack
  8. Fun With Cedar Logs #3; Western Style Hat/Coat Rack
  9. Fun With Cedar Logs #4; Entryway Stool
Outdoor Furniture Related:
  1. Kennebunkport Style Adirondack Chair
  2. Outdoor Garden Wedding Arbor
  3. Outdoor Project: Cedar Wood Double Settee

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Still Want to See more of my work?

Start with each of these links, and they will take you to other organized lists of my other niche products:

  1. Custom Knives
  2. Custom Walking Canes and Walking Sticks
  3. Artisan Hat Making Tools

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

48 comments so far

View Martin Sojka's profile

Martin Sojka

1893 posts in 5636 days

#1 posted 08-14-2006 08:32 PM


congrats to this wonderful rocking chair. I’m sure Mr. Maloof would be proud of you ;) I especially like the color of wood and those swings in color as you called them.

BTW. this weekend I’ve found very nice Maloof photoset on flickr from the Mingei International Museum which houses the collection of Sam’s work. Worth taking a look.

View doug's profile


17 posts in 5474 days

#2 posted 08-14-2006 11:03 PM

Wow. What beautiful work, and wood grain is fabulous.
I looked at your studio site as well. You are a master no question about it.

-- doug, Hudson Florida, www. [email protected]

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 5491 days

#3 posted 08-15-2006 02:39 AM

Well, I’m both inspired and saddened – you’ve certainly raised the bar for the rest of us.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 5490 days

#4 posted 08-15-2006 04:41 AM

you mentioned that Mr Maloof challenges your skills. I muat say, you are making tremendous progress in meeting that challenge! Excellent work. I am truly humbled.

I just spent an hour in the workshop making my first mortise & tenon joint. it took me an hour and somehow the tenon came out just shy of an 1/8” longer than the mortise is deep…

Here’s to the never ending challenge!

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5569 days

#5 posted 08-17-2006 07:51 PM

Thanks Martin, Doug, Scottb and Darryl:
Your comments are encouraging to me. I worried about whether posting this chair would be overwhelming to people that spend less time doing woodworking than I do.

I had considered not entering the “Summer Contest” as I didn’t want to rub anyone the wrong way. Making someone “saddened” or “humbled” was not my goal, but rather pushing them, encouraging them, leaving them with the idea of, “he could do it, so can I!”

I was hoping it would be encouraging, and motivating to others, giving them the idea of stepping out of their paradigms, trying something “scary” difficult.

I didn’t think I could build a chair like this when I started, but I decided it was worth the challenge. I am glad it is finished, really glad, and I learned a lot in the process about myself, my tools, and my capabilities.

There were many times I thought about quitting, setting it aside, or hiding the unfinished chair up in the shop attic. As I mentioned in the description, this was a 6 year process.

Thanks for taking the time to comment,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 5491 days

#6 posted 08-18-2006 02:58 AM

I’m glad you decided to share this one, and I’m especially glad you didn’t opt to bow out of the contest. I’d rather come in at the bottom against the varsity team (bringing their A game), than dominate JV.

This, as well as the natural edged table, are different from the oak pieces you’ve posted. I like seeing how well you handle different woods and styles, i find that variety refreshing. This chair in particular shows your skill in so many different aspects of woodworking.

Pardon the self-depricating humor, sometimes words dont suffice…. I was just trying to say Niiiiiiiice. It’s hard to imagine being at that level yet, but, all in due time. I know you’ve been at this considerably longer than I, and don’t expect my freshman attempts to match up with the “veterans” here. We’re all just apples and oranges in here, and that’s ok.

Sooner or later I’ll be able to show the next wave a thing or two. I’ve done quite well in my graphic design career – talent wise – so I’m eager to see how I can apply myself in a new medium. Until then I’m proud to stand up and be judged against our peers here. We can encourage without pulling punches, and we’ll all end up better for it.

Thanks for the encouragement and insights!

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View darryl's profile


1795 posts in 5490 days

#7 posted 08-18-2006 06:13 PM

Like Scott, I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I know you’ve been at this longer than I have and also work fulltime doing this. Your work is amazing and someday I to hope to get there, and realize that it does take some time.

As for the summer contest, your work speaks for itself. Be proud if you win, because Martin set this thing up for us to vote on each others work. It’s not a bunch of outsiders coming in and saying who’s best. It’s us saying “Dang that’s some beautiful work you’ve got there!”

I would also like to point out that it was after viewing your two latest entries that I went to the shop to continue working on my dresser, so you are encouraging to at least me.

I look forward to seeing the next project you post.

View Philip Edwards's profile

Philip Edwards

245 posts in 5603 days

#8 posted 08-18-2006 07:39 PM

Marvelous work, Mark!
You’ve certainly captured Sam’s chair and it looks fantastic. Is it comfortable to sit in?
Don’t feel bad about making great pieces-we all need inspiration and you certainly are providing it.
Best regards

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5463 days

#9 posted 08-19-2006 12:07 AM

A great piece of work.
I think you’re right up there with Sam Maloof.
Regards, Dick Cain

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5569 days

#10 posted 08-19-2006 04:08 PM

Philip: Does the chair sit comfortably? Yes, anyone that has tried it out really likes it. Your question reminded me that all though the Maloof chair is a beautiful form to look at, there are many engineering advantages of this design that can be missed when just looking at photos of it. So, I thought I would list some of engineering design points in case someone would like to build their own example of this chair:

1. The rocker runners of the chair have been so perfectly aligned that the chair will sit and rock with out walking, or creeping on the floor. Try that with a furniture store factory-made rocker! This is a combination of the Maloof curve on the bottom of the rockers, and the hard work to keep the rockers perfect while cutting the legs to sit on them, and doing the joinery carefully to keep it all aligned perfectly. Also, to keep the two runners as close to perfectly the same as possible, the laminated glue up is done on 4” wide boards. After the glue has set, the runner blank is cut in two on the bandsaw, so that they match. Very careful handling of the bottom of the runners happens after this point, so that no sanding will change the smooth curve and match to the other runner. For instance, when sanding the bottom, the runners are clamped side by side, and a hand sanding block is used, orbital sanding could damage the matching quickly.

2. The balance of the chair is such that when at rest, without anyone sitting in it, the chair balances on the rockers at a point on the runner curve that is 1.25” in front of the back legs. When an average sized adult sits in the chair, it also sits in the same position. This is done by sitting in the chair, and cutting a little more off of the front, or back legs to tilt and set the chair on the rockers. This process alone was an entire day of work. The advantage is subtle but important. When rocking, the center of gravity of the chair/person is on the point 1.25” in front of the back legs, making the ease of rocking just almost a twitch of the ankles. No pushing of the chair is needed, and so it seems that a person doesn’t get tired of rocking, as in other rocking chairs where the person has to push up their weight each time.

3. Because of this balancing act, if the chair is sitting on a wood floor, and you give it a push, it will sit and rock on it’s own for about 5 minutes before it finally completely stops, and it will still be sitting in exactly the same spot on the floor. This week when I delivered the chair to it’s new owners, we were talking and standing there looking at the chair, and the wife said, “look how long it rocks”. After that, I started to tell them about all of the engineering points of the chair (listed here), and they gained a much greater respect for the design, than just it’s purely cosmetic and sculptural appeal to the human eye.

4. The seat bottom is as pretty as it is ergonomic. The rear end of a person has two points where the bone in each bottom cheek pushes down. A bony bottom has less padding than a bigger bottom, but the bone still pushes down and can cause an uncomfortable sitting position on a hard chair seat. To relieve this pressure, in the wood seat bottom, there is a relief carved out that gives this bone more room, relieving the pressure some. This seemed like it was insignificant at first, but it does make a difference, especially if a person wants to sit and rock for a long time.

5. The raised center portion of a Maloof style seat is beautiful, but it serves an engineering purpose as well. Combined with the balancing of the chair and the human body, this raised center area works against any pressure that gravity causes to stop the person from sliding out of the perfect sitting position. This means that you never have to work at staying seated in one spot.

6. The concave section of the seat that is under the leg is also shaped to give relief of any pressure points of the leg bones. For this reason, it is not just flat, but is shaped to match the curve of the ham string muscle.

7. The inward curve of the front edge of the seat is also beautiful, but it relieves the pressure point under the leg, just behind the knee. I never realized that straight front chairs were uncomfortable, until I sat in this rocker, and realized that the inward curve relieves pressure. If you take your hand and push up on the bottom or your leg behind your knee while sitting, you will quickly feel something hard just under the skin. I don’t know what it is, maybe a tendon, but if you push it, it will be uncomfortable. Taking the inward curve of the seat, cuts the chair edge back farther, and gives pressure relief to this point on the leg.

8. The back slats on a Maloof-Style chair are really sculptural works of modern art. But, in addition the beauty, they provide a very important ergonomic benefit by providing a strong lumbar support to the back. A customer I am working for now had me build some dining chairs for them. They sat in my unfinished Maloof-Inspired rocking chair in the shop nearly every time they came to visit my work progress. When we got ready to do the chairs, they decided they wanted some of the ergonomic considerations on their dining chairs, and that they wanted thick solid-wood seats. The rocking chair had that much of an impact. I finished up the dining chairs this week, but haven’t taken photos of them yet.

9. Important to comfort is the arms of the chair. The shaping has been done so that forearm bone sits up on the flat part of the arm, and the muscle on the inside of the arm that drops down, lays on the lower section of the arm. Relieving the wood below the dropping part of the arm muscle helps with comfort, as well as giving a sculptural component.

After I finished this rocking chair, I have noticed that everything else I sit in, or on, is uncomfortable. Mr. Maloof is as much of an ergonomic engineer as he is a chair buider and and sculptor.

Thanks for asking Phil,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5569 days

#11 posted 08-19-2006 04:12 PM

Thanks Mr. Cain. I am a fan of guitar makers, so I have enjoyed seeing your work as well. I have in my future a run at an arched top electric blues style guitar that I have been itching to start on. A guy told me that he would buy the first guitar I made, if I would sell it to him. We have both waited about 5 years now, so since this rocking chair is finally behind me, my hobby time can head that direction now.

Thanks for your comments,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5569 days

#12 posted 08-19-2006 04:13 PM

Hey Darryl: motivating you to work on your project is a great compliment to me, thanks for sharing that with me,


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View mikeH's profile


98 posts in 5455 days

#13 posted 08-30-2006 09:25 PM

this is one beautifull chair. looks like you spent hours sanding, the finish looks silky smooth. if you spent as much time on the joinery as you did on the finish, i am sure no refinisher will need to rework the joints. it really looks like you know what you are doing. it ia also nice to hear you give credit to Sam Maloof for the insperation

-- mjhaines

View pat sherman's profile

pat sherman

625 posts in 5536 days

#14 posted 09-04-2006 05:54 AM

mark, i love the chair. very very nice.

-- pat,ohio...

View Duane Kohles's profile

Duane Kohles

40 posts in 5464 days

#15 posted 09-14-2006 04:41 PM

I am impressed with the photos, your workmanship is excellent. I have never seen a Maloof chair in person, and was not aware of the engineering issues involved. I am now even more impressed.

-- Duane Kohles

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