Although rocking chairs don't all look the same, they do have the same basic parts or structures. Knowing the proper terms for each part comes in handy if the chair needs partial repair or replacement, so you can explain the chair's problems to a repair craftsman or to a chair retailer who is offering replacement parts for a specific chair model. Understanding the proper names will also help if you decide to tackle the job of building your own chair.
No matter the design of the rocking chair or its age, the seat is standard. The seat may consist of wood, as is the case with a solid wood rocker, or be woven, such as a cane or wicker rocking chair. Some rockers may have a sling-style fabric or material for the seat, stretched over a seat frame holding the basic structure in place. The seat supports the most weight when the chair is in use, so the rest of the chair design must provide it with adequate support.
The Long and Short on Legs
A rocking chair typically has legs supporting the structure between the curved rockers and the seat. These legs often look much like the legs on any basic wooden chair, but with a rocker assembly on the bottom. Some rocking chairs feature curved supports or decorative railings that morph into the rockers on the chair bottom. On some chairs, the rear legs extend all the way up the chair, forming part of the chair's back. When this is the case, the leg of the chair is measured from the rocker to the seat. The part of the leg that extends beyond that is called a stile.
Riding the Rails
Rails are the structures that hold rocking chairs together. Though they are often decorative and seamlessly integrated into the chair's design, rails are the parts that hold the seat, back and legs of the rocking chair together. The top rail is the uppermost piece along the top of the chair back. The side rails are the two main pieces that travel downward from the top rail to the seat. Between the side rails, the chair back may have spindles or a splat, which is a somewhat flat piece of wood carved into a shape such as a vase. The splat may curve to allow for back comfort. A seat rail, or apron, rests under the set itself and is where the legs and back of the chair attach to the seat.
Rockers, sometimes called rocker rails, are the curved parts along the bottom of the chair that allow the chair to rock back and forth. On many models, the rocker is formed from the same piece of material as the arm. On other chairs, the rockers attach to the bottom of the legs. The rocker rails are the part that differentiates a rocker from a glider, which also provides movement but has a solid, non-moving base. Getting rockers right is crucial to making sure the chair rocks smoothly without going too far.
Arms and Backs
Armrests and a seat back are standard structures on a rocking chair. No firm standards exist for armrests on a rocking chair, just as these pieces vary on other armchairs. Rocking chairs sometimes lack armrests altogether. Sometimes chair arms are separate pieces, while other designs loop the rockers up and around to form arms. The back may be one solid piece, composed of splats or spindles, or a woven structure between two rails.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.