Roorkhee chairs are tough and lightweight – they have to be in order go to war or on safari.
To make your chairs as durable and lightweight as possible, here are some details to consider as you build your own. (What’s a Roorkhee chair? Read about them in the October 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine and watch me assemble one here.)
Keep the straps tight, but not too tight
The chair’s wooden frame is held together with leather or canvas straps, plus the seat and the back. When you assemble your chair, make sure that all of these cloth or leather components are snug. You want the seating material to pull the stretchers’ tenons into the legs and keep them seated.
If the straps are too loose, the conical tenons can slip slightly out of the mortises in the legs. Then, when someone sits down on the chair, their weight bears on the skinniest part of the tenon. The tenon can snap in some instances. We had this happen to one of my chairs at Woodworking in America in Pasadena, Calif.
But you can get things too tight, and that will also cause problems. While it would be difficult to make the seat strap or the legs strap too tight, it is possible to make the back too tight or make the arms too tight.
If you make the back or arms too tight, you’ll apply leveraging force to the tenons. If you then put your whole weight on a too-tight back or arms, you can cause that leveraging force to snap the tenon.
Use straight-grained wood
In chairmaking, it goes without saying that you should use legs and stretchers with dead-straight grain. That is why many chairmakers rive the material instead of sawing it. For a Roorkhee chair, you don’t really need dead-straight grain for the legs. They are thick and robust. For the 1” stretchers, however, it’s a different story.
Because these stretchers have to bear your entire weight, I think you need to use material that is as straight as possible. You don’t have to rive it, however. But when you buy the 1” dowels for the project, simply reject any that have any grain run-out. I’ve found that only about 10 percent of the dowels I encounter at the home center or hardwood store are straight enough for this chair. Dowels that have significant grain run-out can snap in some situations.
All-in-all however, if you break a dowel it’s not game over for the chair. All the components are replaceable and easily made. As I was experimenting with making these chairs, I made a few extra stretchers in case I ran into a problem. Adding a few extra dowels to the project doesn’t add much time at all.
— Christopher Schwarz