Comparing Gliders & Rocking Chairs

If you’re shopping for accent seating that adds a “little something extra” to the ambiance of your outdoor living room, an outdoor glider or rocking chair might be just the ticket. 

But which style should you choose? That’s a great question, and we’re here to help answer it. We’ve done the research and compiled the necessary information to make sure your new chair checks all your boxes, from preferred range of motion to space considerations and safety features. 

Keep reading to discover the differences between gliders and rocking chairs, so you’ll be prepped to pick the perfect piece for your front porch or patio.

Glider vs. Rocker – What’s the Difference?

Knowing the difference between a rocking chair and a glider is essential to making informed buying decisions. While they serve the same purpose, you’ll want to know the pros and cons of each to choose the chair that best suits your space and needs. 

What is a Rocking Chair?

It’s a chair that’s mounted on two sloped runners. These runners allow you to move back and forth in an arced rocking motion. 

Rocking Chair History

Rocking chairs appeared in England in 1725 and made their way to the USA soon after. These pieces started as garden furniture, but homeowners began bringing them inside as the years passed. They used them to rock babies to sleep in nurseries and read the newspaper by the hearth.

What is a Glider?

A glider is a chair seat that’s attached to a stationary base instead of curved runners. It moves like a porch swing, with the difference being that the seat is attached to a fixed track that sits on the floor.

Glider Chair History

A New Yorker named George F. Hall is the credited patentor of the glider chair—or as he labeled it in his patent, the “Boozing chair.” The original patent was granted in May 1888, and it was only for the glider mechanism, not the chair’s design. Hall assigned the patent to Peter Lowentraut before the chair went into production, and to this day, these chairs are often referred to as Lowentraut gliders. Like rockers, gliding chairs found their way into homes, becoming a preferred nursery seating option for new parents everywhere.

Glider vs. Rocker Highlights

Glider vs. Rocker Benefits Explained

Gliders

1. Works on Any Surface

Thanks to its fixed base, you can situate a glider rocker on just about any floor in your outdoor space. The base is stationary with the moving parts suspended above it. While rocking chairs can’t smoothly sway on sand, grass, brick, pea gravel, and other soft or uneven ground, gliders can move on these surfaces without issue.

2. Safer for Pets and Children

Gliders have fewer accessible pinch points than rocking chairs. Most glider designs feature seats with extended sides that flank the fixed base and its swinging mechanism, and swivel options are typically covered on all sides. This blocks tiny fingers, feet, and tails from the moving parts, reducing the risk of ouchies.

Traditional Garden 48″ Glider in White

3. Swivel Options

Swivel gliders give you the freedom to not only move back and forth but also side to side. Maneuvering is less physically taxing—instead of standing up and pushing or pulling the chair to your preferred position, you can use your feet to gently guide the seat in either direction.

New parents often use swivel gliders as nursery chairs for comfort and convenience. The soothing motion calms newborn babies, and caretakers can easily turn and grab nearby bottles, wipes, and blankets without having to stand up. 

4. Glider Ottomans

Want to kick up your feet on a matching ottoman that moves with you? The addition of an ottoman gives your legs and feet extra support, translating into the ultimate comfort experience for your entire body. 

Classic Adirondack Glider Chair in White

Something to keep in mind: Glider ottomans are typically designed to pair with specific gliding chairs. Their mechanisms, dimensions, and looks will be almost identical to ensure both pieces match and move in tandem. 

5. Needs Less Room to Move

Even though gliders are generally larger than rocking chairs, they don’t need as much space to move freely. The fixed bases only allow the attached seat to move back and forth a few inches. The smaller, less intense range of motion appeals to those who prefer a more subtle sensation.

Rocking Chairs

1. Proven Medical Benefits

Presidential Rocking Chair in Slate Grey

Doctors have recommended rocking chairs to their patients for decades to help soothe stress and ease pain. One of the most famous rocking chair enthusiasts was former U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

After enduring chronic back pain for most of his life and many unsuccessful surgeries, Kennedy turned to Dr. Janet Travell, a Cornell University pharmacologist and internal medicine specialist. She suggested adding a rocking chair to his rehabilitation regimen. It worked so well that Kennedy had rocking chairs added to almost every room of the White House and even used a rocker on Air Force One.

2. Lighter Than Gliders

A rocking chair has a simple design with fewer components—it’s just two parallel sloped runners that connect to the seat’s legs. Stretchers often connect the runners or legs to increase durability. Less material means a lighter, less expensive, and more maneuverable seat.

Gliders, on the other hand, have several interconnected pieces in the base and gliding mechanism. Those extra components make gliders heavier, harder to move, and more expensive.

3. Smaller in Scale

Traditional rocking chairs are smaller than gliders, so you can line multiples on your porch or group more together in the backyard. Various styles like deep seating and Adirondack rockers are larger, but traditional rockers are the most popular options. 

Jefferson Rocking Chair in Green

4. More Available Styles

A quick online search will show you that there’s a rocking chair to meet just about everyone’s needs. This makes sense because rocking chairs appeared over a century before gliders came into the picture. We’ve had more time to play with the design and create new and interesting twists on the original.

5. Greater Range of Motion

Rocking chairs have more freedom to move compared to their gliding counterparts. The curved runners make this possible; the longer they are, the more you can move.

FAQs

What’s the difference between a rocking chair and a glider?

The main difference between a rocker and a glider is movement. Both sway smoothly, but a rocking chair moves in an arc pattern, whereas a glider’s back-and-forth motion is straighter. 

How does a glider rocker move?

The glider’s seat is attached to the fixed base by non-parallel suspension arms positioned between the two pieces. The arms allow the seat to move back and forth like a porch swing but in a straight, gliding motion.

Which is better, a rocker chair or a glider?

Rockers and gliders both have notable features that make them stand out in different situations. Rocking chairs are better for those who want more intense movement, a lighter weight, and a smaller price tag. However, gliders can move on any surface, have a more subtle swaying motion, and come in swivel options. Designed for hours of rest and relaxation, either piece of furniture would make a great addition to your home. The best choice for you is one that suits your comfort level, budget, and sitting area. 

Are rocking chairs or gliders better for nurseries?

New parents often use rockers or nursery gliders because both offer gentle movements that soothe babies. A mother or father may lean toward a glider for their baby’s room because the moving parts are covered—which is safer for little ones—and the available swivel options. With a swivel glider, the transition from chair to crib is quick and seamless once the little one has finally fallen asleep for the night.

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