The first construction of the rocking chair

One man and his rocking chair

Buying off the peg? That is out of question: Why makes it happy to build your furniture by yourself.

For years, Michael Möllmann had been dreaming of a rocking chair like the one owned by US President John F. Kennedy. Together with joiner Karsten Schillings, this dream was to become a reality. The professional and the layman worked together as a team to complete the project. An indispensable helper for this ambitious undertaking: The DOMINO DF 500 and DF 700 joining machines from Festool.
When asked whether he would take his rocking chair to the White House if he won the presidential election, John F. Kennedy responded: "Whither I goest, it goes." The rest is history. Kennedy owned around a dozen of these chairs. Many photos attest to the US President's love of his rocking chair, which he not only brought with him to the White House, but also took along on Air Force One. In 2013, one of Kennedy's rocking chairs fetched $87,000 at an auction. His favourite chair remains incredibly popular to this day, including with Michael Möllmann: He has always wanted to sit on a Kennedy chair himself. But the chair is too complex to build on your own – and buying one was out of the question. And so the President's rocking chair remained a dream for a long time. That is, until his wife bought him a voucher for a workshop with a professional joiner.

„Building a chair is a challenge in and of itself, but a rocking chair is even more ambitious.“

Karsten Schillings- professional joiner

Imagination meets handiwork

"At first, I didn't quite know how I would design and build such a relatively complex piece of furniture with someone who has no experience in the field," joiner Karsten Schillings remembers the initial phase of the project. "Building a chair is a challenge in and of itself, but a rocking chair is even more ambitious." Nevertheless, the seasoned joiner kept his cool. After all, he has a lot of experience with workshop visitors: He likes to say that they provide the "imagination" to his handiwork. He regularly offers laypersons an insight into the demanding life of a professional joiner at his workshop in Münster.
Working with the Festool joining machine DOMINO

Perfect geometry. Optimal ergonomics.

Karsten Schillings wasted no time in preparing "Operation rocking chair". The first step of the project was the initial design, based on hand-drawn sketches and a CAD drawing. The next step was to build a dummy chair from roofing and multiplex boards, in order to find the ideal geometry for the rocking chair. After all, Kennedy's rocking chairs are also known for their outstanding ergonomics, wide armrests and excellent breathability. Several rounds of seat fitting followed to perfectly balance the proportions. Only then could the duo start building the actual chair. Choosing the right wood was the most important factor: "I decided to use ash wood for the main material. It is hard, but also flexible. That is why it was used for the springs and spokes on carriages," Schillings explains and adds with a satisfied smile: "We were lucky to enough to get hold of a 65 mm thick ash wood plank with vertical growth rings from a timber merchant. The plank was completely made of heartwood, a variety sometimes called olive ash. That gave us a lovely red colour and grain."
Working with the Festool joining machine DOMINO

A rocking chair to last a lifetime

"I decided on a very linear solution and intended the DOMINO routers to have a central role in building the chair," says Schillings and explains: "The two joining machines are ideal for precisely routing the many connecting joints for the dowels. That is particularly important, because the connections have to be very sturdy and stable without any fittings. Using the DF 500, we created nearly all the connections with corresponding dowels of varying sizes. And for the connections between the chair and the rocker, which bear a particularly high load, we used the DF 700 with larger 14 mm dowels." In addition to the DOMINO jointers, the two men also used the OFK 500 Q-Plus R3 edge router to round off the rocker elements, as well as the compact TXS cordless drill. "An ideal tool set-up for this project," according to Schillings: "With this combination, we achieved the best possible results. After all, we don't just want to finish a chair; we want to build something to last a lifetime."
Working with the Festool joining machine DOMINO

A perfect fit

After routing the joints, Schillings and Möllmann connected all the elements of the rocking chair – braces, rockers and armrests – with the appropriate DOMINO dowels. Then they neatly glued everything together. After that, it was just a matter of waiting for the glue to dry. As a finishing touch, the two sanded the surface of the chair with the ETS 125 eccentric sander and oiled it to bring out the beautiful grain of the ash wood. After 50 hours of work, the time finally came: The rocking chair, modelled after Kennedy's original, was ready. After trying it out for the first time, one thing was certain: The chair is a perfect fit, in every sense of the word. John F. Kennedy would have surely also liked to try Möllmann's self-built rocking chair for himself.