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Elia Bizzarri and the ancient art of rocking chairs

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It takes Elia Bizzarri 30 hours of work spread across a month for drying time to split a 1,500-pound white oak log, shave the boards, fashion the spindles, bend the legs, groove the pine seat and assemble a traditional rocking chair.

He uses a 2,000-year-old process. Even his tools are handmade. Save for a band saw and a lathe, nothing uses a battery in Bizzarri's woodshop, which sits in the front yard of his Pittsboro family home. He air-dries some pieces and kiln-dries others, creating strong joints as they shrink and expand. No two parts are interchangeable.

"This way of working is ancient. It goes way back because it's so efficient," he says as he uses a flat-wedged frow to split the oak. "It requires a lot of physical effort. I'm not walking to a machine and letting it do everything. It gives you an immense amount of control."

The process also allows the 25-year-old Bizzarri to pay attention to individual logs, carving around growth rings to build a stronger, but lighter chair.

"Oh, it's so comfortable," folks will tell him as soon as their hind end hits the hardwood.

"Gee, well thanks," he'll respond sheepishly.

"When you're testing chairs, you have to sit in it for at least 10 minutes," Bizzarri says, wood shavings at his feet in the Woodwright's School, where he teaches rocking chair making. "Everything is comfortable for a short period of time."

No, there's far more to a rocking chair than instant gratification. Hours, days, years pass by. Familiar faces gently grow old together on Southern front porches as sweet tea turns to melted ice.

"For the most part, it's a chair that's about sitting back and having a conversation with friends," says Brian Boggs, who runs a chair-making school in Asheville.

Boggs takes the same traditional process and blends it with modern design. He has fine-tuned his craft for years, always searching for the ultimate end product.

"I've been focused on getting that magical comfort level, and I'm still learning things about it after 27 years," he says. "My chairs keep getting more comfortable, and as I try to make the ultimate chair, they keep getting more expensive."

Boggs's chairs start at $1,500. Bizzarri charges $850 for his basic piece.

Bizzarri suggests bringing a book when you shop for a rocking chair and sitting in several positions, slouched, legs crossed and so on.

A proper rocker should stop itself before it hits the bottom of your legs. It's better to be shorter than too tall, where your circulation could be cut off. While the chair is upright, your head should be balanced against your body. Avoid turkey-neck-inducing furniture. Keep in mind that chairs with spindles far back from the seat will make it difficult to stand up.

It's more challenging to determine the strength of the joints, though.

"You basically have to look at me and decide you like me and that I've worked on that joint real hard," Bizzarri says.

Trust us. He works hard for your rocking bliss.

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