Chris Schwarz's Blog

Roorkhee Chair: First Look

I like Morris chairs  – Lord knows I’ve built enough of them to change my middle name to “Morrie.” But this evening I finished up work on a chair that is lighter in weight (less than 10 lbs.), just as masculine (leather!) and is (gasp) even more comfortable.

It’s called a Roorkhee Chair, and it was one of the staples of the British army between the Boer War and World War II. It weighs almost nothing, packs down into a small canvas bag and its lines influenced generations of modern chair designers.

There are many versions of the Roorkhee Chair out there, I selected this one to recreate for an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine because it requires few tools, scant wood and the leather work can be done by a complete newbie. (I should know because I did all the leather on the chair and needed to buy only two cheap tools to do it.)

Heck, you don’t even have to own a lathe to build this chair. With just a little creativity and a strong will you can make the legs with a spokeshave and a couple rasps.

No matter how you go about building this chair, the result is worth it. The back tilts to accept your shoulder blades. As you lean back, the seat’s back presses and supports your back. No matter where you put the chair, it settles into a stable and comfortable stance because there is no fixed joinery – everything adjusts itself to accommodate the terrain and the sitter.

And it took me less than a week to build it.

So if you haven’t renewed your subscription to the magazine perhaps it’s time. Your back will thank you and there are several upcoming articles from me on Campaign-style furniture.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. The chair also will make cats desire to make out with you.

23 thoughts on “Roorkhee Chair: First Look

  1. hobomonk

    I love my Kaare Klint Roorkhee chairs, circa 1950′s. I passed them to a daughter that needed furniture for her apartment. They have canvas seats and backs, and the buckled straps. The loose round mortise and tenon design serves two purposes: easy assembly/breakdown and it allows the chair to adjust on uneven ground.

    We currently use our Kenya-style folding safari chairs, which owe their lineage to the original Roorkhee chair. Very British, these too. I miss Africa.

    I’m looking forward to your article. It’s time to make some new chairs for future campaigns, be they proper safari’s or Kentucky camping treks. Besides, I’ve got some real Roorkhee’s to compare with your design.

    Press on regardless.

    1. forgotmylogininfo

      I would love to see those Kenya style folding chairs. I didn’t have much luck finding them on the internet. They have to be better than todays store bought junk.

  2. bsrlee

    The buckled straps seem to be a ‘modern’ invention, either because the manufacturer hasn’t got the point or is trying to save a buck.

    The original chairs in several books had canvas/webbing seats made of a single piece that looped around the opposing rails and were tightened with laces a bit like a corset, and there were TWO of them, one running front to back and the other side to side, which ment that when you sat in one the seat(s) pulled the rails together & held the whole thing together. Even the back was a loop of canvas with two slots for the pivots and lacing to adjust the tension.

    The brass studs used to adjust the arms are the same shape as the adjustment studs on a Sam Browne belt – also invented in the Indian Army. If you look at original photos you will see that these are ‘slouching’ chairs, for sitting in at ease like an Anirondack chair not a dining chair (they had campaign versions of those too).

    No buckles which could easily ‘get out of order’ on the march, everything could be repaired or replaced out of the ordinary gear carried with a military column on campaign.

  3. d_lamb@shaw.ca

    Great job Chris! I’m looking forward to the article(s). I can’t quite make out the joint on the cross-bracing to see how it can be both folding AND supporting (and not fold up on you when you sit!) Also, as a frugal man of Scottish descent, I could see making the seat and back out of a canvas rather than leather – it costs less, weighs less, and weather’s better outdoors…

  4. Palouse

    I have been looking for *comfortable* camping furniture for a long time, and I refuse to pay high prices for Cordura, aluminum tubing and spectra cord. I need five of these, and I am subscribed to the magazine. Will there be detailed instructions in the magazine, or will the article be an overview? If so, will detailed plans be available online for purchase? I am still new enough at woodworking where I’m not completely comfortable with winging it.

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      Palouse, the article will include everything you need to build the Roorkhee chair (or five if them!) — step by step instructions, drawings etc, and patterns for the leather (or canvas). It’s slated for the Ocotber issue. (And it’s a remarkably simple build.)

        1. Megan Fitzpatrick

          Eventually, we _may_ offer that one article in our store (ShopWoodworking.com), but not until it’s been printed in the magazine (you’ll find it in the upcoming October issue), and after that issue has been off the newsstand for a while.

          1. Kippy

            I’m waiting with bated breath then for your October issue. It’ll be better than Christmas! I’ve been looking EVERYWHERE to learn how to make Roorkhee chairs.

  5. Bill Lattanzio

    As much as I like the chair, I also like the bookshelf/table in the background. To my untrained eye it looks like an arts & crafts piece. But a pair would work great in my bedroom. Are there plans for that available?

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick

      Bill,
      That is “Gustav’s Stickley’s No. 72 Magazine Cabinet.” Chris built that piece many moons ago – it’s on the cover of the PWM April 2003 issue, and it’s in Bob Lang’s book “More Shop Drawings of Craftsman Furniture” (and will be included in a new book Bob has coming out in a month or so). You can get the article as a single PDF download if you like:
      http://www.shopwoodworking.com/gustav-stickleys-no-72-magazine-cabinet

  6. andrae

    lolcat

    Are those brass rivets along the leather panels? I can’t quite tell from the photos.

    I’ve noticed some versions have brass “belt buckles” at the front legs that pivot over the rounded tops to help secure the leather arms. Unnecessary? Seems like they would always be where you’d want to rest your hands.

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