The Hand Made V Mass Made

Passing around Texas this week I ended up sitting in the ever-famed Cracker Barrel rocker. Cracker Barrel is a Southwest style restaurant with a sales area selling everything associated with southern living. I first saw these rockers when they were selling for $99 back in the late 80s. They’ve been a consistent seller and though the cost around twice as much today, they still sell well. Here’s the thing though. A rocking chair like this can be made from 95% machine turned components which would take only minutes to make. A machine will turn a single rail in seconds, as fast as five seconds a piece including perfect tenon sizing within a thou’.

I remember someone coming in my shop and thinking to pay me a compliment said of my rocking chair, “I do believe I like this rocker as much as the ones sold in Cracker Barrel!” Mine took me two weeks to make working ten hours a day, six days a week. I thanked her for her gracious comment graciously as she left the workshop. Mine was made from mesquite I’d cut from the wilder climes of the Texas Hill country and air dried for two years. Oh well!

The cost of the CB rockers is still good value for the money. In most countries the cost of the rocker will be the cost of the wood should you make your own. Buying from Cracker Barrel online means a little self assembly and so they cost a little less than at the store itself. The thing about rockers is they are a one size fits all because by scooting your bum forward or backward you alter the centre of gravity to suit what you want and your weight/size etc. It may not be best for posture but you can make them fit. I thought about turning one for online to show how it can be done efficiently. It’s quick, but you can also make them completely without any lathe too, with just a #4 smoothing plane for rounding the dowels and the posts.

Cracker Barrel rockers are made from hardwoods, mostly oak but painted versions, “made from knot-free solid hardwood.”, look like they could be from softer poplar to me. The reality is that their rockers see no hand work as such at all, for the home maker of furniture these rockers could be hand turned in home workshops comfortably in half a day and assembled in about an hour. Sizing everything by eye minimises measuring and so speeds things up of course. With just a few routed mortise and tenons, the parts are jointed by bored holes – very fast. I noticed gaps at the shoulder lines of the tenons so either the tenons were too long or the posts were not dried down enough and so shrank away from the shoulders. You can see that the posts were all abraded to final 150-grit smoothness.


  1. the difference between a chair and a chair… Ceci n’est pas une pipe – when a pipe is a Magritte – when a chair is a Sellers.

  2. Hi Paul, my name is Tom. I have been following your video series for about five years now and have purchased your course and really love the progress I have made with it.

    I am now starting to produce items to sell from my shop and am interested in learning to build a rocking chair. Any chance that a video is coming any time soon?

    I am dedicated to learning more and getting better at it. Keep up the good work and thanks for all you have done so far.

    Tom Dagostino

    1. If you’ve purchased the course, then you should be able to search for the Craftsman-style rocking chair build in the Woodworking Masterclasses video library.

  3. Tom,

    The Craftsman-style rocking chair is already a part of Woodworking Masterclasses. If you joined after that project was completed, you may have to pay a bit more to access it. Good luck in your making endeavours!


  4. This comparison should have been published on 4/1. Titled “I like PS Rocking Chair as Much as CB Rocking Chair.” Too many people these days can no longer make distinctions based on quality.

  5. There is simply no comparison! Your chair looks like a work of art, with a look and feel of grace and comfort that begs you to approach, touch it’s smooth curvy lines and happily sit a spell. Preferably without worry of having to get up and do anything any time soon, but admire whatever view is afforded.

    Theirs, well, theirs just looks like a chair.

  6. So friends of mine, ( very wealthy) once said to me “ people don’t care about furniture”. They had moved around the USA a number of times and every time they did they sold off their furniture rather than pack it up and bring it to their new home.
    That statement kind of shocked and disappointed me because they were people of means but didn’t appreciate what quality handmade furniture really was about.
    What percentage of the general population does? Most things are disposable, when they go out of style they are discarded. That’s why IKEA is so popular, at least here in the states.
    Yes there are people who do appreciate handmade quality furniture. I suspect many of them might be reading what I’m writing right now. But maybe it’s 20% of the population? It takes education, If you have clients you must educate them, I had to educate myself about what quality is. Few people take the time to learn and appreciate what it is that makes a furniture piece valuable.
    But we all may be guilty of this, for example: the Mona Lisa is a famous painting, the value of that painting is priceless and has reached the status of belonging to all humanity. Darned if I know why that is. Yes, I get the historical history, but to me its really is just another crummy painting, I just can’t get excited about it like I can with furniture about which I know a little something.
    I will get very excited about a Sam Maloof chair but not some old paintings.
    Blasphemy to some ….I know, but that’s how I think about it, It’s what moves you.

    1. After you move a couple of times, you start to understand something. Moving is not only a change of location, usually it’s a change of lifestyle too.

      What you’ll do with all this super quality stuff? You throw it away or sell for nothing if you can. Then you have to by something else on the new place, and usually you don’t have much time.

  7. Paul, I’ve always wanted to make various kinds of spindle chairs with my lathe with an eye towards selling them, but have always held off because I fear they are not durable. I’ve come upon so many medium age spindle chairs that are falling apart, usually at the stretchers. I’m left with the impression that it isn’t something I’d want to sell and have to stand behind. To be clear, by spindle chair, I just mean anything with turned tenons in bored mortises.

    I’d very much like to have your thoughts on this and, just as important, on whether it can be done with dry, seasoned wood. Or, must these be made from green wood to get joints to shrink tight?

  8. Paul , you and I are the same age and when you were making furniture in Texas I was still working as a mechanic in Texas and the same holds true with that profession also.
    (Short story) A man pulls in to a garage and asks the mechanic to fix his carburetor. He says ok. When he was done he told the man it would be $5.10.
    The guy says I understand the $.10 but what is the $5.00 for? All you did was hit the carburetor? The 10 cents is for hitting it ,the $5.00 is for knowing where to hit it.
    We have been hitting peoples carburetors (read rocking chairs) for a long time and most people just don’t understand the sheer value of what it takes to (hit) make that rocking chair.

  9. Reading your blog I’m suddenly reminded of the book, “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig. Subtitle, “an inquiry into values”. I wonder if you’re familiar with the book, if not, it may interest you (it’s not about zen, nor (much) about motorcycles).

    It suddenly struck me that I notice so many similarities between the ideas in your blog and those of the book.

    1. I read it and it read like a journalist on holiday to me. Not my preference really.

  10. In defense of Cracker Barrel, they are not a southwestern style restaurant. The original is just about 4 miles from my house (east of Nashville) in middle Tennessee with corporate headquarters another few miles away it. They are reflective of eastern Tennessee and the country general store. Good comfort food.

  11. I started my chair two months ago. The plank of American white ash is harder than expected, but I don’t mind. I’m not in a hurry, I work on it when able, and stop before it gets painful. I’m learning as I go. Learning the grain, as Paul would say. About half way now (I estimate) and enjoying …

  12. I always say this has to do less with how people need to be educated on the value of hand-made products and more with the socio-economic outlook. People can afford less and have to work more hours. The need for mobility of the workforce was advertised as a mean to improve one’s wealth. It turned out it was yet another condition we must fulfill to get to scraps. Same as it were with women entering workforce. You can teach the value of quality to anyone. Except to empoverished nomads.

  13. Paul, that rocker is AMAZING, right down to the upholstery!! Well done!!

    I was thinking indexing if you could answer me a question. I have been dying to know who the composer is of the music being played at the very beginning and end of your latest youtube vid of on the house. I have also heard it in other video’s you ha e done.

    Please and thankyou,

    It is SO peaceful….

  14. Before retiring, I did a lot of work for a number of independent furniture stores. One, in particular, carried a number of lines from China, Viet Nam, Indonesia, etc. It was not cheap to purchase but was cheaply made. It was all icing and not much cake. The designers always described it with their favorite word, “Fun.” Most was French and English antique reproduction. It was poorly made and I predicted that the useful life was 5-7 years before the owners would redecorate with something else “Fun.”

    The same owners opened a second store with “high end” furniture. Once I had to fix a $10K couch where the seat spring straps were held on with roofing nails. Before it even got off the showroom floor, 1/3 of them had fallen out and another 1/3 were loose and the whole thing squeaked when you sat down on it.

  15. I have two of the cracker Barrell rockers on my front porch. No way I would ever consider putting a PS rocker out there. They are about due to be replaced. Would love to see a video series of an outdoor rocker. The joinery of the Master classes rocker would suffer from the exposure. As would the seat.

  16. Paul,

    You were very kind to the Cracker Barrel folks and their mass-made chairs.

    Have you read the words that Peter Ross presented to the 1998 gathering of the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America about hand mentality vs. machine mentality. . . maybe some parallels here. Neither is good or bad, just different choices that create different results, both in terms of the product, but more importantly, as you point out, in the maker.

    Here’s a link to his speech on Vince’s blog:

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