Full Chisel Blog

September 24, 2008

Walnut Rocking Cradle

Filed under: Furniture,Historical Material,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 6:54 am

This is an interesting cradle that I had the opportunity to examine and photograph.  It is made of Walnut with a Pine bottom.  Judging from the hardware I think it was made before 1840.

Walnut Cradle

The folding netting trellis is an indication that this piece might have been made in the South.


And I don’t know what to make of the splotchy shellac job in that it looks like it might have been added later.  It doesn’t look like it was ever refinished.

Netting holder

The netting trellis is nicely made and folds back out of the way on a wooden hinge.  A few of the dovetails have kerfs that go beyond the base line.  More on the inside than the outside.

Side Buttons

The brass knobs on the side of this cabinet were used for cordage to tie the child into the cradle.  This and the netting trellis make this type of cradle not pass modern safety standards.  Modern safety standards do not allow for any projections that can catch clothing if the child falls from the cradle.

Inside Bottom

Intentional drainage/ventilation holes plus one extra loose knot in the pine bottom.  Note that there isn’t any finish on the inside bottom.  This piece may have never had a finish?


The underside of the cradle clearly shows that it was used.  The nails are square cut iron securing the bottom to the sides.  The rockers are held to the cradle with Screws.

Captive wedge

The tusk tenon on the end of the stretcher that secures and squares the rockers is held with a captive wedge.  The rockers are attached to the bottom after they are secured with wedges.

And of course if the rockers are made of walnut it will not creep or walk as it is being rocked.




  1. Boy, I hope one day to be able to make something half as nice as this cradle.

    Given what you wrote earlier about the walnut = black pine issue, do you think that walnut was chosen for this cradle because it was cheap and available? If so, why use a different wood for the bottom?

    Comment by Wilbur Pan — September 24, 2008 @ 6:59 am

  2. Simple but beautiful! But why would the rockers being made of walnut prevent creeping or walking?

    Comment by Bob Rozaieski — September 24, 2008 @ 7:17 am

  3. Wilbur,

    The walnut/black pine issue is from the 1820’s, regional and not always held in disdain. Walnut was used because of how cheap it was or because the people who made it had the stuff on hand. This is black walnut, so when it is fresh it is very dark, walnut being one of the few woods that lighten with age.

    The pine was used for the bottom for a couple of reasons. It is a knotty pine board and they don’t tend to split as straight clear grain would e.g. knotty elm for wagon bodies. And the second reason is that walnut has a high tannic acid content which will react with urine. The pine with its knots and pitch resists rot better than walnut.


    No one knows why walnut rockers don’t walk or creep when in use. Now this of course means that the rockers need to be parallel to one another. It is the same for rocking chairs. I thought this was folklore when I first heard of it, but have seen other references. It just might be one of those mysteries or just the nature of the wood.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 24, 2008 @ 7:58 am

  4. I think the real issue concerning Walnut may be it is simply a more forgiving wood–it bends in use, compresses etc. I cannot imagine a hard wood rocker on a softwood floor. Then again, it really might just be oft repeated folklore.

    There are plenty of rockers made from say Maple that do not creep either. However, have you ever really sat and listened to a rocker made from a hard dense wood versus one with at least Walnut rockers on wood floor? There is a difference. But maybe that is all in my mind. Maybe if I repeat that enough, it’ll be folklore …

    Take care, Mike

    Comment by Mike — September 24, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  5. Mike,

    Speaking of hardwood rockers on softwood floors, out here in Utah a lot of if not most of the floors in the old houses were made of softwood, mostly pine, but some fir. I have painted and grained about a half a dozen floors on historic houses here in Salt Lake. I painted them to look like quarter sawn oak, but they were still pine. However the initial linseed oil treatment on the stripped floors with the oil paint base coat and the varnish graining coat and a coat of varnish has lasted for quite some time. I have seen a few old original floors, mostly protected by carpet that were in good condition for being about 160 years old.

    The pressure from a rocking chair or the legs of a chair don’t seem to do all that much damage, stiletto heels on ladies shoes however do leave marks. Some old rocking chairs from out here have fir rockers which seem to wear better than pine.

    I am going to have to start listening to the sound of rockers.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 24, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

  6. It looks very solidly made, especially the dovetails and the mortise/tenons for the netting trellis.
    Regarding drainage holes and tying a child in a crib–our ancestors were more clever than some people give them credit….

    Comment by The Village Carpenter — September 24, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  7. VC,

    Yes this cradle was very well made, joints fit up tight. Ten cut nails and 12 blunt screws were used in the construction, the nails on the bottom, the rockers are attached with screws as is the netting trellis. Most older cradles have accommodations for ventilation/drainage and a fair number have those lashing knobs. The ones on here appear to be small brass drawer pulls with threaded iron shanks. I have seen many examples with turned knobs. Nice feature, but currently not allowed.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — September 25, 2008 @ 5:47 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress