Restore seats and surfaces with ready-made stPBBt& j has Wasser
Out with the old\ in with the new.
The author installs a fresh sheet of cane to bring an old chair back to life.
As a woodworker, you've probably come across one or cwo caned chairs in need of repair, but you thought that fixing old cane was better left to professionals. The good news: Restoring old, broken cane is a lot easier than it looks, and it won't cost you a big investment in materials or tools.
Both rustic and elegant, cane is a great choice for chairs. This tough, enduring material, made from the outer bark of the rattan palm, has been used for centuries. Before the 20th century, all cane was woven by hand, strand by strand, through holes drilled in the frames of the chair. Today, the same durable material is available as machine woven, or pre-woven cane, and comes in rcady-to-install sheets or rolls. Modern chair frames have narrow grooves, and you simply insert the new cane sheet and some spline material into the groove to hold everything in place.
If you're restoring an older chair and you want to match the new cane with the old, take heart. There's an easy way to make new cane look old—almost instantly. (See sidebar, page 59.) Let's begin by talking about some of the materials you'll need.
Ready for rescue. Broken and badly worn cane is easy to restore to like-new condition.
Cane choices. Cane comes in many styles and colors, including traditional open weave (right) and darker, unbleached cane (far right). Radio-net cane (left) is more delicate and is best used for modern chair backs.
You can buy pre-wovcn canc by rhc sheer or by the roll. (See Sources.) Canc comes in many weave patterns, sizes, and colors (see lower right photo, above); the most common arc open weave and radio net.
On most chairs I use V^-in. open weave, shown on the chair in this article. The size refers to the opening between the vertical and horizontal strands. 1 recommend l/j-in. weave for your first caning project. With its diagonal strands, open weave has great strength, making it suitable for seats and areas of hard wear. Keep in mind that as the pattern size gets smaller, the canc is generally thinner, more delicate, and prone to breaking. I reserve anything smaller than V^j-in. weave for chair backs.
Net, or radio net, gets its name from the cane netting found on early radios. Its purely horizontal and vertical pattern is less rustic and more appropriate on modern chair backs, but in my opinion it's too fragile to be used for seating.
Spline, made from the core of the rattan palm, is sold in 10-ft. or 1,000-ft. lengths (see Sources) and is shaped like a wedge to press and hold the cane securely into the groove in the chair. The top of the spline is rounded, or crowned, to provide a finished appearance. Spline comes in a range of widths from ^/yi in. (#6*/j) up to in. (#12). It's best to use the old spline from the chair to determine the size of the new spline. If the original spline is missing, measure the chair's groove. The spline should be V32 *n-smaller than the width of the groove.
Caning wedges, available from most canc suppliers (see Sources), are perfect for holding the new cane into the chair's groove during installation. For a typical chair, you'll need about 20 wedges. You can make your own wedges if you prefer from a hardwood such as maple or birch.
The first step in removing old cane is to remove the spline. I once lost a prospective employee by demonstrating spline removal as one of the easy tasks in my shop. But the truth is, getting old spline out is not as fearsome as it looks if you have the right tools.
An important tool is a hooked spline chisel. (Sec Sources.) The hook at the end of the chisel provides great leverage for prying up old spline. I have two chisels: a l/g in. and in. To make spline removal easier, I modify each chisel by grinding about in. off the width of rhc tip. If you prefer, you can substitute a narrow mortising chisel for this work.
Its important to secure the chair firmly to a work surface when caning. I use two homemade L-brackets that hold the chair in place, as shown in the lead photo. Position some wooden blocks under the chair so the frame has firm
Ready for rest. The new cane on the author's chair matches the look and feel of the original.
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