Thursday, October 02, 2008

Chair repair

Look at my poor, sad rocking chair. We brought it over to the new house so we'd have something to sit in and one day one of the strips of cane popped, then another and another and within a day or two it looked like this. I have had this chair since the Bicentennial, which happened to be the year Emily was born. A friend of my mother gave me her old Boston rocker when Andy was born, so I could rock my baby. It was a medieval torture machine. Every time you rocked back one of the spindles would do it's best to crack little shards off each vertebrae as it rolled up your back. I couldn't stand the thought of rocking another baby in that chair. My mother took pity on me and bought me this bentwood, that I had been yearning for, for Christmas that year. The first time I sat in it I screamed because I thought it was going to go over backward. It doesn't, and you get used to its very generous radius. Very comfortable chair.

This is not the first time I have recaned this chair. If you want to impress your friends with something that looks daunting and difficult, recane a chair seat. It's actually really easy. The hardest part is getting the old cane and spline (the strip of reed that holds the cane in place) and all the old glue cleaned out of the groove around the wooden frame of the seat.

I bought a piece of machine-woven cane and new spline at a woodworking shop. You need to soak the cane in hot water for about 30 minutes to soften it up, then lay it over the opening where the seat goes.

Then you start working the cane down into the groove. I started at the back in the center, then moved to the front center, then to the centers of each side, then worked between those areas. You can buy something called a caning wedge at the same woodworking shop, but half a wooden clothespin works just as well. (I got that great tip from a web site—yeah! for the internet) Tap the wedge gently with a hammer, forcing the cane down into the groove.

When it is all fitted into that groove, take a sharp utility knife and carefully trim the excess cane away.

Here it is all trimmed. I've squirted wood glue into the groove all the way around. The final step is to tap the spline into the groove to cover the cut edges of cane and hold it in place. The glue keeps the spline from working itself out.

All done. I wiped the excess glue that oozed out off with a damp rag. Now it needs to dry well for a day or so before anyone can sit in it. Cane darkens as it ages, so the seat is lighter than the back. Maybe I'll put something on it to darken it a bit. Maybe I'll just leave it and let it age naturally.


  1. I think we had the same chair when I was growing up. We used to LOVE seeing how far back we could rock! I remember my mom re-caning something. I'm not sure if it was the rocker or the bentwood dining chairs though.

  2. Oh, so wonderful and useful - thanks for sharing............

  3. Is there anything you can't do? The chair looks great and makes me sad that I agreed to let my old one be thrown out.

  4. Anonymous6:50 AM

    I have the same chair, except that it is blond wood, that I bought in 1976. Still have it, still love it. It's the most comfortable rocker I've ever sat in.
    -Connie in AL

  5. I hand-caned a chair once (1972). Oh, that was a tedious job. I had to use the holes around the rim and weave each cane over and under. The cane had to be kept damp.
    Never again!
    I still have the chair.

  6. You did a lovely job - and very good to know that re-caning is not so hard. :)

  7. I'm all for aging naturally.


  8. My granny had a bentwood rocker like this and I loved it. Thanks for the memory. You did a good job there with the caning.

  9. I recently redid my 30 year old Bentwood that my mother rocked me in as a child. I thought you might enjoying seeing my take on the project! I was too timid to try caning but yours looks great!

  10. Wow amazing! I can now re-caned my antique rocking chair to turn it to a new one, instead of throwing it.

  11. Any tricks for removing the old stuff?