Learn how to repair and refinish an antique chair; includes details on disassembling the chair, making repairs, reassembly, and finishing.

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Cathryn Peters, The Wicker Woman

Ron's neighbor Shawna owned a one hundred-year-old chair that had been sitting in her parents' basement for many years. Time, dampness and neglect had certainly taken their toll, but Ron thought the chair was a perfect candidate for a makeover. They brought the chair back to Ron's workshop for a total overhaul. They entirely disassembled the chair, repaired the damaged pieces, put it back together again, and then gave it a much-needed refinishing and new hand-caning.

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removing the old caning from the antique chair
Step 1

Remove Antique Chair's Seat and Rattan Caning Material

Remove the pressed fiberboard seat and snip out the middle of the hand-caned seat with scissors. Turn the chair upside down to cut the overlapping canes with a utility knife and pull the remnants from the holes.

labeling each joint on the antique chair
Step 2

Label the Joints before Dismantling the Antique Chair

Number the joints before disassembling the antique chair with masking tape labels. Devise a numbering system and label carefully to indicate which spindle fits into a given joint on a given leg or the chair back to ensure proper reassembly.

tapping antique chair joints with a dead-blow mallet
Step 3

Disassemble Screwed and Glued Joints of the Antique Chair

Dismantle joints of the antique chair after removing screws and nails. Use a dead-blow mallet to tap and loosen the glued joints, twisting carefully to separate them. Spread larger joints with a reversed adjustable clamp. Leave strong joints in place.

preparing the scarf joint on the antique chair spindle
Step 4

Repair the Split Spindle with a Scarf Joint

Rebuild the antique chair's split spindle with a scarf joint. Glue components together, positioning them with a small nail until they dry. Trace an intact spindle onto the wooden block, saw off the excess and finish shaping with a wood rasp.

fitting the dowel into the antique chair's broken stretcher
Step 5

Drill Dowel Holes on the Broken Ends of the Stretcher

Repair the antique chair's broken stretcher by invisibly pinning the pieces together with a stub of wooden dowel. First, drill holes into the stretcher's broken ends. Add glue and insert the dowel, butting the broken ends in a perfect fit.

reassembling the back of the antique chair
Step 6

Glue and Reassemble the Antique Chair in Sections

Reassemble the antique chair in sections, adding glue to matching the labeled holes and ends of spindles. Until the glue dries, clamp the glued sections with manufactured clamps or devise your own with rope to securely hold the joints.

removing the old finish from the antique chair
Step 7

Brush on a Heavy Coat of Semi-paste Finish Remover

Apply finish stripper. When the finish blisters, remove the softened finish with a putty knife. Clean the recesses and carvings with steel wool and detail tools such as a soft brass brush and jute twine. Wash with lacquer thinner.

applying wood stain to the antique chair
Step 8

Apply Wood Stain with a Brush

Brush on wood stain and let it soak into antique chair's wood. Wipe off the excess and allow it to dry overnight. Clean with a tack cloth, apply shellac, and buff gently with fine steel wool when dry.

glazing the details of the antique chair
Step 9

Mix and Apply Glazing Medium with a Dark Tint

Apply glazing medium with a dark tint to crevices to bring out carving and simulate the aging of decades. Wipe off excess and let it dry. Coat with clear polyurethane varnish to protect the wood and give the finish depth.

reweaving the antique chair's cane seat
Step 10

Reweave the Antique Chair's Seat with Rattan Cane

Visit a repair shop to obtain caning supplies and weaving tips. Count the number of holes in the antique chair seat to determine centers, marking with caning pegs that also hold the ends of the rattan while you work.

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