Introduction: Kid's Rocking Chair

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This stylish kid's rocking chair is made with 5 pieces of wood, is held together by just 2 tension bolts, and conveniently collapses flat for shipping or storage. The design template I've provided (PDF below) can be easily scaled to meet any child (or adult) and can be customized in any way you want:  a higher back rest, a personalized cut-out, or a custom rocker sweep. There's no shortage of ways to make this rocker your own.

I based my design off Jeff Miller's child rocking chair design (found free online). I made my rocker as a present for a little girl's birthday and has a smaller profile, it features a heart design cut-out in the back rest and a slightly wider seat to accommodate a few stuffed animals. It's slightly large for her now, but I know she will grow into it in no time and still have many years of enjoyment. This kid's rocking chair design has sides that taper upwards which provide stability, a comfortable angled backrest, and a trailing rocking edge that has a nice taper so you don't do an (un)intentional beckflip after a rigorous rocking.

Ready to make your own?

Tools and materials list for kid's rocking chair:

  • table saw
  • chop saw
  • router
  • ¼" roundover bit
  • ¾ router bit
  • jigsaw
  • printer (plotter/lasercutter/home printer)
  • rotary tool + metal cutting bit
  • 4mm allen key
  • 3x 24x36"x¾" plywood sheets
  • paint
  • clear lacquer
  • scrap cardboard
  • 2x ¼"-20x24" threaded rod
  • 4x ¼"-20 treat cap nuts
  • 1x ¼"-20 threaded hex nut
plywood cuts*:
  • 2x side panels: ¾" x 16" x 26"
  • 1x seat panel ¾" x 12-½" x 18-½"
  • 1x back panel 3/4" x 15-3/8" x 24-1/8"
  • 1x strut ¾" x 2-¼" x 17"

*as specified in Jeff Millers plans

Step 1: Rocker Sides

This is the most complicated part of the build. The rocker sides have 2 angled dadoes to support the seat and back, and another dado for a strut up front. The dadoes for each side need to be fairly accurate for the two sides to join up squarely when the rocker is assembled. Jeff Miller's plans (PDF page 7, as shown) show an elaborate way to measure the exact radius of the rocking curve, the curvy splines for the sides, and the exact location and angle of the seat , backing and strut dadoes. While these measurements are incredibly helpful they are also very labour intensive to scribe onto the plywood (since you have to do it twice, once for each rocker side) as well as scaling a side-panel.

I decided to forgo the calculations shown in the original design. Instead I copied the page showing the calculations for the dado jig and the side panel pattern and combined them making my own template to trace from. Using this method I only need one template for both sides by flipping the template over.

You're welcome to calculate the angles yourself, or you can use the files I've provided to just print your own template. While the outline of the side panel can be scaled from the template I've provided you'll need to ensure to match your dado thickness with the thickness of your plywood. 

After downloading the template or calculating your own, print/scribe your plan. If printing, you can use a plotter, laser cutter, or on your home computer using a tiled printing method like Block Posters (aka Rasterbator). You will only need one rocker side template for the printed method as we can just flip it over to trace the opposite side.

Download the PDF (below) or select picture 2 (above) from this step and "save as" to your computer.

Step 2: Cut Rocker Sides

Once you have the template for the rocker side printed cut out the shape of the rocker. Make sure that the dado groove printed matches the thickness of your wood (my dado groove was 3/4" and the plywood I was using was 3/4" thick). 

Next, I traced the outline of the rocker side onto one sheet of 3/4" plywood. I then stacked another sheet of 3/4" plywood underneath the template traced sheet and clamped them both together, then I cut out the shape using a jigsaw with a blade depth greater than 1.5" to ensure I cut through both sheets. 

While the two sheets were still clamped together I used a drum sander to sand the rocking curve even and exact on both sides, and to remove any rough spots left from the jigsaw. After I put the template back on the rocker side and traced out the dado groove for the seat and back on one of the rocker sides. To ensure I lined up the dadoes perfectly, I drilled a small hole at each inside corner of the dado trace through both sheets of plywood, thereby transferring the holes to the sheet underneath which didn't have the dado outline. I then connected the drill holes on the second rocker side to make the dado traces. This method is my alternative to Jeff Miller's calculated design, it may not be as mathmatical but it's accurate enough for this application.

With the dado trace made it's time to use the router to make the dadoes.

Step 3: Router Dadoes

To make straight dadoes grab a straight edge and at least 2 camps, along with your measuring tape and router with your choice of end bit. Measure out the distance from the widest edge of your router blade to the router guard flange. My measurement from blade edge to outer flange edge was 3".

Most routers have a rounded flange with a flat portion, I suggest using any other side than the flat portion as it's more forgiving if you accidentally rotate the router during your line. Measure off your dado trace the same about as the router flange (3" in my case), then clamp down your straight edge parallel to your dado trace. 

The dado for this project is going to be about 3/8"-1/4" deep, since the router removes lots of material I had the best results by making two successively deeper passes. Go slow.

Choosing not the square the dadoes ends with a chisel, I left my router ends rounded.

Step 4: Cut and Angle Seat

The seat can be as wide as you like, I made mine a little wider on my rocking chair to accommodate a few stuffed animals as well as a person. Because the seat tapers from front to back we need to make a few cuts to ensure a good fit.

After cutting out the rough dimensions of the seat (13"x19") I measured 1/4' from each side of the seat back and cut with a chop saw, giving the seat a taper from front to back.

Next, the seat edges need to be tapered to allow the seat to fit snugly in the rocker sides. I used the seat taper cut-offs to angle the table saw, then ran the seat edges through to cut a slight taper into the seat, flipping the seat over to taper the other side. The seat now tapers from front to back and from bottom to top. The taper for the back of the seat that meets the back rest is done later.

The seat back will need to be the same width as the back rest, we'll look at the seat back in the next step.

Step 5: Chair Back

Back rest dimensions:
The chair back should be the same width as the tapered back of your seat. Run the sides of the back rest through the table saw to get to the same dimension as the tapered seat.

I then used the same arc sweep of the rocker bottom to make the top of the back rest have a nice arc. After tracing I cut a nice arc in the top of the back rest. You could taper the sides of the back rest for a perfect fir in the rocker side dadoes, but for such a small cross-section I chose not to.

Back rest design:
The original plans have no design for the back rest, so I decided to embellish mine with a cute heart shaped cut out; perfect for a little girl. To make my shape I found a simple heart shape online, transferred it to a photo editing suite and enlarged it and then printed it out. I cut out the shape giving me an easy stencil, then found the location where I wanted the shape and traced the outline to the back rest.

I used a drill press to make an opening, then used the jigsaw to cut the shape out. Wanting to keep a nice edge I only removed burrs and irregularities to the outline crisp. You can use your artistic licence to make your own shaped cut-out, engraving, or maybe you want to leave it solid and paint an intricate design after. Whatever your choice, plan your design and make the cuts accordingly.

Step 6: Seat Back / Strut / Edges

Back rest dado:
With the dadoes in the rocker sides and the back rest cut to size we're ready to make a dado in the back rest for the seat.

Place the back rest into the rocker side dado, then mark where the seat dado meets the back rest. Since this dado was going straight across the entire width of the back rest I chose to cut this dado with the table saw. You could easily make this dado with a router, same as the rocker sides.

I set the table saw to a height of 3/8" and set the fence distance to line up with the pencil mark. Running the back rest through the table saw will eat away a small strip of wood. Continue making successive passes with the table saw and resetting the fence further away until your dado has been cut.

Seat back taper:
The back part of the seat meets the back rest will also need to be tapered to ensure a solid seating. Angling the table saw slightly the back edge of the seat was passed through and fitted into the rocker, checking to see if a larger angle was needed to make a good fit.

A decorative strut was made from a scrap piece of plywood. With the rocking chair assembled the distance between the strut dados were measured and a piece was cut to size.
Mine was roughly 2-¼" x 17"

You can now router your edges.
  • I chose a roundover bit for my router, I routered the following:
  • front edge of seat
  • top of back rest
  • top 1/2 of each side of back rest (only the exposed portions)
  • top and front of each rocker side
  • both long edges of strut
All done the woodworking part, next it's onto the tension rods that will hold this all together!

Step 7: Tension Rods

Tension rod placement:
The original plans had the two tension rods placed lower down on the chair, leaving them exposed when looking at the chair from the front. I deviated from the plans and decided to hide my tensions rods, the back one is hidden under where the underside of the seat meets the back rest dado and the other hidden directly behind the front strut, also under the seat.  These locations keep the design even cleaner and has no exposed tension rods making it very kid-friendly.

Tension rod openings:
With the rocker sides clamped together again, I made a small pilot hole in the locations I wanted the tensions rods placed and then drilled through both rocker side panels with a 1/4" bit to create the opening. Since the chair tapers from front to back the tension rod openings will need to be angled in order to slide through when the chair is assembled. The original plans have a complicated method to measure the exact angle of the tension rods through each side panel. Since the tension rod caps have a wide flange which will cover any imperfections I decided to just eyeball the angle. 

Tension rod length:
Once the openings are made place one end cap on each of the threaded rods, then feed them through one side panel from the outside inwards so the tension rod cap fits snug on the outside. With the chair on its side, assemble the chair and place the other side panel on. With a marker scribe where the tension rods meet the outside of the rocker side panel. Since the rocking chair tapers the tension rods will be two different lengths.

Cut tension rods:
Disassemble the chair and remove both threaded rods.
Before cutting thread on a ¼"-20 threaded hex nut. After cutting you can unscrew the nut over the portion you just cut and it will repair/realign the threads you may mangle while cutting.
Cut each threaded rod about a ¼" shorter than where you marked, this will seat the threaded rod inside the rocking chair side panel and keep the threaded rod end caps from poking out. 

Step 8: Fill Gauges/holes and Sand

Maybe you have a few holes in your wood, now is the time to use wood putty and fill them in. I also covered the small pilot holes I made for the dado guides in the rocker sides. Small daps of wood putty can be easily pushed by fingers into the hopes in the plywood edge and any other holes in the wood that you want to be repaired. Because I used such a small amount of putty in each area I was able to sand the putty smooth after a minutes.

Wait about 30 minutes for the putty to fully dry before applying paint.

Step 9: Paint

This chair was for a child's playroom and is destined to see loads to wear and tear. Along with a durable finish I also wanted bright colours, so I chose a high-gloss yellow (alternatively, if you used a high end type of wood this chair would look nice with a few coats of varnish). I opted not to use a primer as my paint boasted "ultra cover", and I knew I was putting on a few coats for added durability.

Before painting lay out all your wood on a protected surface, then shake the can, open and paint away.
Follow the direction on your paint can and allow paint to dry between coats. Apply as many coats as required to get the coverage you are looking for.

For the heart-shaped cutout I decided for a nice bright red colour. Masking off the rest of the chair I blasted the inside of the heart with a few coats of high-gloss bright red paint. 

Step 10: Assemble + Deliver

The beauty of this design is the chair can be shipped flat, so getting it to fit in the back seat of a regular car was no problem.

Once I arrived the chair was unpacked and assembled. I found the easiest way to assemble this rocking chair is to start by treading the tension rods in on one side, then assemble the rest of chair on its side. Screw on the end caps and hand tighten, then use the 4mm Allen key to make sure the chair is tight and secure.

Step 11: Rock the Night Away!

I included a nice, bright coloured blanket to go with my rocking chair. It's been about 2 weeks since I delivered the chair and I get regular reports from my friends that the chair is still a big hit, even other kids have taken a shine to it!

Looks like someone has a new reading chair for years to come!

I want to see your creations!

Did you make your own rocking chair based on this project? Share a picture of your own version of this project below.

Happy making :)

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