Many of us spend much of our lives trying to figure out what the whole thing is all about. Perhaps those people who never question things or their part in everything are the happiest. I suspect not. I am always questioning things, trying new things and in general trying to make my life as rich as possible.
When I was younger I thought "rich" meant having lots of money and many of the life decisions I made early on like where I went to business school and which profession I chose were based solely in the belief that the more money I was able to acquire, the happier I would be. After college I raised venture capital for high tech start-ups, then did merger and acquisition work, then published an international magazine on rare and valuable cars. I was able to acquire lots of things, but I wasn't happy. I then spent a period of almost 10 years working as a sea captain; mostly on yachts and charter boats but also on commercial ships in the oil fields. This felt better to me and I was quite happy for awhile because I was very good at this and loved the responsibility and the challenges. There was something still missing, however. I felt like I needed to be creating something. I was in my forties by then and didn't have children and I simply felt like I wanted to produce something that would outlive me, was beautiful and would challenge me. If I could make a living doing it besides, that would be great. I had seen a photograph back in the 80's of a Sam Maloof rocker and decided one morning that I too would make gorgeous chairs. That I had no formal training as a woodworker was just a detail. I've always believed that any of us can do most things simply by making up our minds to do it!
My rocking chairs are constantly evolving and I am always trying to improve them in small ways. My basic chair design has its roots in the sculpted rockers of Sam Maloof and Hal Taylor. Hal resides in Virginia and he was kind enough to let me apprentice with him for a week back in 2001. During that time he shared many skills and techniques of chair making that have almost disappeared. I will always be grateful to him for this and consider it my obligation to do the same and share as much knowledge as I can with other woodworkers before I head on. If you are considering building your own rocking chair Hal has written a great book on the subject and offers this with a number of templates at a very reasonable price which will save you untold hours of frustration. He also offers a really well done multi-hour DVD. Go here for more info.
It still takes me about ten days to build one of my chairs. There are a number of ways that this time could be reduced some through mass production techniques, but the chair would suffer. Each chair I make is a unique work of art that begins with the customer and a discussion around color, size, use, available woods and where the finished chair will reside. Once we have determined the type and color of wood or woods that I need for a chair I set out to find just the right matched boards. Sometimes this is relatively simple and requires a quick phone call to one of my wood dealers in PA or VA. Other times it may involve a trip to California or the Northwest. For really special woods it often requires that I fly out of state to look at wood in person. Some of the woods I use are very rare and expensive and to minimize waste and maximize quality it is often important for me to touch and see the wood. I recently completed three chairs made out of Amboyna Burl. The wood for this chair was custom cut in Laos, then purchased and milled by me in CA, then vacuum kiln dried in PA and finally shipped to my shop before I made my first cut.
Once the wood is acquired I plane it here in my shop in Florida and begin the process of laying out how the various boards will work together to achieve the most dramatic effects possible. Many of the components are mirrors of their opposite (one rear leg to another or a seat from side to side). Getting the lumber, laying out the basic components and planing all the wood to thickness often takes several days. Many components are then rough sawn on the band saw and I begin the laminate process that I use to create the matching rockers and back braces. During this process I will saw a particularly attractive board into dozens of small laminates that I then glue up in forms for the back braces and rockers. This enables me to obtain a perfect match on these components. The seat is then glued up, sometimes two boards, sometimes 4, sometimes 6 or 7 pieces if accent woods are being employed. Then the real work of shaping the legs, sculpting the seat, coopering the head rest pieces and cutting the marvelous rounded, mortise and tenon joints that make these chairs so distinctive, begins. Over the next few days the chair gradually takes shape and expresses its own individual personality. I often name them as they develop. Sometimes a grain pattern will demand lots of flats and chamfers. Another might insist on nothing but rounds. In the end each chair is distinctively unique although based on the same original design.
I then begin the finishing process, hand sanding with 80 grit all the way up to 1,000 grit resulting in a finished product that is simply sensual to the touch and at a level of smoothness seldom seen or felt in our fast paced production world. During this final step all my rocking chairs receive several coats of a hand rubbed Danish oil.
Parker Converse Rocking Chairs 404 Pheasant Way Sarasota, FL 34236 941-232-5434 Email