Larry Roofner has been a lifelong woodworker, known for his hand-carved rocking chairs
WINDERMERE Larry Roofner’s lifelong passion for woodworking almost came to an end in 2009.
He was riding his bike to the YMCA when he was hit by a car. He suffered eight spinal fractures and wasn’t expected to survive. But after five months in the hospital and another several months of being bed-ridden at home, he finally returned to his wood shop 16 months after the accident.
He used to make ornate doors, but the doors were too heavy to work with because of his injuries, and he needed to find something easier to create. That’s when he turned his attention to rocking chairs, although he knew it wouldn’t be an easy process.
“Chairs are hard to build and hard to make comfortable,” Roofner said.
But he was inspired by famous woodworker and rocking chair maker Sam Maloof.
“I copied his style of rocking chair, but I think I improved on it,” Roofner said.
He knows he’s made a good chair when people sigh with delight as they sit down.
“They go ahh as soon as they sit down, and that’s a wonderful reaction,” Roofner said.
Roofner’s love of woodworking dates back to high school.
“Everybody had to take some kind of arts class, so I took wood shop,” said Roofner, who lives in Windermere. “I always was good with my hands.”
After that first class, he was hooked.
“I always did it as a hobby, then I realized I could make money doing it,” Roofner said.
Each rocking chair takes about 80 hours over the course of two months to complete. The entire chair starts out as two-inch planks. At the start of a project, Roofner lays all the pieces on the ground to decide which pieces should become the back, seat, arms and legs of the chair. The key, he said, is looking at the movement in the wood to determine where each piece will go.
Once each piece is cut to its appropriate shape, Roofner begins the long process of sanding.
“It’s a lot of grinding and sanding and sanding and sanding some more,” he said. “I get it so it blends together.”
Roofner works solely with hardwoods, which requires shopping at specialty wood stores.
Once, he managed to acquire a supply of Kauri wood, which is a 50,000-year-old wood harvested from peat bogs in New Zealand. Roofner’s Kauri rocking chair is now his favorite.
“It was really a pleasure to work with the Kauri wood,” he said.
His work was most recently recognized at a recent exhibition at SoBo Gallery in Winter Garden. There, one of his rocking chairs was awarded the Top Choice Award for the 3D art category.
Roofner used to spend eight hours a day out in his wood shop attached to his garage. Now, he’s limited his time in the shop to between two and three hours a day. But he’ll probably never give up his passion.
“I don’t know what I would do without my woodwork,” Roofner said. “My life would be boring without woodworking.”
In addition to his rocking chairs, he also creates lamps, side tables and barstools. But no matter what project he’s working on, it’s the creative process that he loves best, he said.
“To take a rough piece of wood and work with it and shape it, when it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing,” he said.
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].