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Chair Caning service

©2021 by Charles A. Plesums, Austin, Texas, USA

A few years ago I was asked to repair some cane chair seats. One was totally destroyed, so I agreed to try, and used it to learn the process.

There are two distinct ways that chairs are caned. A chair seat with holes around the frame has a hand-woven rattan seat. I have not learned that process. A groove in the seat frame uses a pre-woven rattan, sometimes called pressed cane, that is wedged into the groove, glued, and sealed with a cane strip called a spline. This is the process that I learned, and therefore the service I offer.

My primary business and interest is building custom furniture, not replacing cane. I have worked with another person whose skills far passed me, but his day job took him far out of town. I hope to find another local person who I can recommend so I can return to building furniture.

The process

The first step is to remove the old cane spline and rattan webbing. Hopefully a water soluble glue was used initially, so after the cane spline is removed, the water can be left in the groove for up to several hours to soften the glue. You are welcome to clean the groove before bringing me the chairs, but be careful not to change the size of the groove, especially anything that would make it uneven. This is roughly half the cost of the repair.

There will be an extra charge, based on time required, for removal of the old cane if the chair was improperly repaired, such as use of water resistant glue, or gluing the cane to the frame rather than just in the groove.

If you aren't sure how much you want to invest (you were planning on selling the chairs anyway), I would be glad to stop as soon as I find a problem cleaning the groove, and limit your cost to $25 (but I will have destroyed the existing cane in the process).

The pre-woven rattan, sometimes called pressed cane, is soaked in warm water for 20-30 minutes before use, so it can flex as it is pounded into the groove. After it is trimmed, a small amount of water soluble white glue is put in the slot, before the cane spline is pressed in place.

I do not keep a variety of materials in stock. My local source no longer carries the materials, so mail-order to the rescue. Therefore I will special order the material for you, which may delay your project slightly.

The top of the rattan has a hard skin, and does not absorb stain or finish well. After examining several sets of furniture, it appears that most colored rattan was sprayed with the color of the furniture when the furniture was initially finished in the factory. Some experts suggest coating the top with shellac, but that experiment was not satisfactory. The bottom of the seat, which is the inside of the reed, is normally left unfinished. Therefore unless I can spray the entire set of chairs, the rattan needs to be left natural, such as these pictures.

The chair must be firm and without wobble before the cane and rattan can be installed - there is substantial pulling and pounding during the process. Chair repairs, if needed, must be done before the seat is replaced. Successful repairs often require disassembly and removal of the old glue, and perhaps replacement of the tenons or dowels, before the chair can be reassembled and successfully glued. This is especially time consuming if makeshift repairs have been attempted. Charges will be done on a time and material basis, with a minimum charge of $10 per failing joint.

Here are three of the six chairs in the dining room set.

This set of chairs (2 of 8) had curves at the top and bottom of the backs, that took much longer to clean out, which is why the higher cost for curved grooves.

One customer wanted me to spray the entire chair, but not make an effort to hide dings and get a perfect finish. Looking closely, it is not as perfect as I would like, but from a distance it looks pretty good, and the customer was thrilled. Minimum cost for a spray primer/sealer and tinted finish coats is $75, for one chair, plus any time required in preparation of the furniture - such as sanding and wiping with mineral spirits to remove wax.

At one point I had two bent wood rockers in the shop, including the one sprayed as above. Both had a new seat but the old back; you can see the difference in color on the one at the right, but the difference was hidden in the one on the left with overall spraying. The spray looks uneven, largely because of the floor, rocker, and wall that shows through the weave.

Typical cost per chair seat or back, $15-$17 per inch of the longest dimension
(not including repairs or spraying the seat or chair)

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