Introduction: Creating a Children's Rocking Chair From an Old High-chair
Not too long ago I was cleaning out the garage when I came across my daughter's old high-chair. It was just sitting there collecting dust but it seemed a waste to just throw it out... so I decided to re-purpose it! With some sweat-equity I was able to turn it into a rocking chair for her and her siblings to enjoy. It is a simple enough project that you should be able to replicate and bring new use to a discarded piece of furniture.
You will need:
Sand paper/Power sander
Electric drill & spade drills
Wooden dowels (around 0.5" - .75" diameter)
Patience and Time
Step 1: Remove High Chair Hardware
This is pretty straight-forward... remove all the hardware from the high-chair -- including the tray and any track or clips it may have been attached to. You want to strip the chair of anything that is not wood.
Step 2: Clean/sand the Chair
This is where the majority of your time will be spent. The high chair will have had a glossy finish applied and, most likely, will have grime and stains from being used. This all needs to be sanded away if the rocking chair is to be painted and finished later. Large, flat sections like the seat and parts of the back-rest can be sanded using power sanders, but the rest of the chair -- depending on its design -- may require hand sanding.
If you have a belt sander, then you can use one of the sanding belts for sanding the legs/rounded features of the chair. The belts tend to be more flexible and durable than typical sand papers so you wont have to trade them out quite as often. Tear off strips from the sanding belt and use them by pulling them back and forth around the leg contours (think something like a "flossing" motion).
Get comfy... you'll be in this step for awhile...
Step 3: Cutting the Legs and Preparing to Add the Rockers
Whew! You made it through the sanding. It's pretty smooth sailing from here on out...
The high-chair will need to be shortened to make a usable rocker. Using a saws-all, cut through the legs. I made the cuts roughly 6 inches from the seat bottom but you may need to use a different length based on the overall look you are going for or the design of the high-chair you're up-cycling. Make the cuts as perpendicular to the leg cross-section as you can. Go back afterwards to sand it flat if needed.
Now...attaching the rockers-- how I decided to do this was to create a blind hole in the legs I just cut as well as in the rockers. I would then used a dowel to fill the hole (along with gorilla glue).
To pull this off I got my dowel and a spade drill of matching diameter. I then marked with duct tape how deep I wanted to drill on the spade. This meant that I just had to drill until the tape touched the wood and then I could stop and know all the holes were pretty close to same depth. This trick made cutting appropriately sized dowels simpler as I'd only need twice the length measured on the spade (half drilled in the chair leg, half in the rocker).
Try to keep the drill straight as you drill all the holes in the center of the legs but if you make any mistakes that will be accounted for in the rocker.
Step 4: Forming the Rockers
The rocker shape is more of an art than a science.
You want to create a shape that works with the design of the high-chair body. For instance:
1) The thickness of the rocker should be at least the diameter of the chair legs
2) The shape of the rocker should be curved (obviously) but it should be a gradual arc. If the angle of the seat's back rest is more vertical the rocker curvature can be more flat,otherwise you may need more of a curve
3) The rocker shape should be "back-heavy" -- meaning that it is curved so that more of the rocker extends back behind the back legs than what extends beyond the front legs. This gives stability against tipping back when rocking.
4) How you cut the legs in the previous step will have some control on the shape of the rocker, you want the rocker to come up to meet the legs smoothly.
You may need to iterate through a few sketches on the wood you've selected for the rocker before you get this right.
Once you have a shape that you like, use a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut the shape out of the piece of wood. Don't try to re-create the sketch on another piece as you will have a hard time drawing it the same. I suggest drawing it once, cutting it out, sanding it to clean up the cut marks, and then using that piece of wood as a template to trace the shape of the other rocker.
Once you have both rockers cut, there will still be differences between them. You want to make them as close to identical as possible to make the rocking motion as smooth as you can. To do this, line both pieces of wood up and clamp then together. Now, working on them both simultaneously, sand the contour to get a smooth, consistent profile in each rocker.
Next you need to attach the rockers...
Step 5: Attaching the Rockers
With the holes for the connecting dowels already drilled in the legs, now matching holes need to be drilled in the rockers.
Put the pre-cut dowels into each of the holes in the legs and mark where the opposing hole in the rocker needs to be. This can be done by:
1) Putting a dab of glue on the end of the exposed dowel face and then bringing the rocker into place until it touches and leaves a mark that you can then mark as the center of the hole to be drilled.
2) You can hold the rocker, offset from the legs, so it is in position but not in contact with the dowels (just to the side of them). Trace along the dowel edges to give an outline on the outer face of the rocker where the dowel will be. Find the middle point of the lines just traced and then mark the corresponding spot in the middle of the rocker thickness.
With the position of holes marked on the rockers, drill the two front holes with the same spade drill used to make the holes in the legs.
The two remaining holes need to be drilled using a larger spade drill. This is for two reasons:
1) This accounts for any error from drilling the holes in the legs or rockers
2) The legs are most likely intersecting the rocker top face at a sight angle. This could make it hard to push the rocker into the dowels in the legs.
Make sure to mark the depth on the new drill to match what was used in the previous one.
Drill the holes in back of the rockers
Finally, liberally apply gorilla glue into the holes in the rockers and legs, insert the dowels, and bring the rockers on to the legs-- being sure to clamp them securely.
Clean any excess glue
Step 6: Painting and Finishing
With all the pieces assembled you need only to give the rocking chair a finishing sand and then paint and seal it.
As this will be children's rocking chair, it would be a good idea to use a gloss finish in the paint you select (gloss and semi gloss tend to be easier to clean)
Finish the job with a couple layers of polyurethane to seal and protect the paint.
Congrats! You've been able to breathe new life into an old relic and allow your kids to make new memories with a fun new toy.
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Trash to Treasure