To me some of the more interesting – and antique looking – chairs are those that have caned seats. The chair pictured is one we found many years ago. It was in pretty sad shape and we ended up refinishing it as well as re-caning it. We’ve been enjoying it ever since.
In addition to a variety of chair styles, you’ll also likely to find vanity benches, couches, and chaise lounges with caning . . . although in the latter two cases it is typically only the back or sides that are caned.
If you have caned chairs in your home you already know that while they have a certain charm, the seats don’t have the life of traditional chairs and can develop holes, tears or breaks to the cane itself. How much use the item gets and how severe the damage to the cane will determine whether or not to re-cane the seat, as I know of no way to ‘spot’ repair damaged cane.
When looking to repair such a chair, you first need to determine the type of caning that has been used. For our purposes today, we’ll talk about the two most common methods of caning:
First method uses cane webbing or pressed cane held in place with a spline
Second method has the cane hand woven – no spline
This method uses a pre-woven sheet of cane that has the appearance of the finished hand woven cane. It is held in place by pushing the cane material into a groove which is cut around the frame of the chair. This in turn is held down by tapping a spline into the groove. The use of a good all-purpose glue holds the spline in place. This is by far the easiest and quickest way to replace cane.
Hand Weaving Cane
This method is for the purists out there. It requires the actual weaving of the cane using the holes that have been drilled around the seat opening. If you have a chair that has the spline groove and you want to hand cane it, or if you have a new chair you would like to hand cane, then you will need to drill holes around the perimeter of the seat frame. These holes should be 3/16 of an inch in diameter; spaced 5/8 inch apart.
Depending on the size of the overall project or the number of items to be caned, this can be a tedious and time consuming project. And should you decide to have it done, it can also be quite expensive. The cost to replace cane webbing is not too bad, but if you need to have an item hand-caned, you’ll find those that provide this service charge by the hole and by the size of cane used. This can get pricey fast. That’s probably why people are inclined to try caning. For those out there that have a cane project, we’ve placed some of our favorite tips below. You’ll see that some of them use unusual ‘tools’ found around the house.
- If the piece needs refinishing, consider having it refinished before you begin the caning project. Having a chair or piece of furniture re-finished after re-caning may cause damage to the cane.
- If you’re not doing the work yourself, get 2-3 cost estimates to have the work done and ask for references or to speak to previous customers.
For those doing their own caning:
- Use a good glue when working with cane and the spline … something like Elmer’s White or Wood Glue is a good choice.
- Use a single edge razor blade to carefully cut away as much of the old cane as possible before removing the spline and cleaning out the holes.
- Use hot water and vinegar to loosen old glue that may be holding the spline in the groove – or old bits of cane in the holes.
- Use a very narrow flat blade screwdriver to clean out the groove being careful not to gouge the wood.
- A nut pick works wonders for cleaning glue and bits of old cane out of the drilled holes. The pick has a sharp end, is thin so it easily fits the hole and is strong so as not to break or bend.
- Flat nosed pliers can help pull cane through the holes. As you progress, you’ll find when there are 2-3 cane strips in one hole – pulling the cane through can become a challenge. Note: Sometimes pushing the cane through with the nut pick helps out – just be careful not to puncture any of it.
- Use golf tees to help hold cane in place when hand caning.
- Keep a small tub of water and a sponge or small towel handy to keep the cane damp and pliable while working with it.
- If you must leave a project for a day or so, place a damp towel on the cane to keep it from drying out. But, try to avoid having the damp towel touch the wood frame any more than necessary.
Each process – web caning and hand weaving – both require different supplies and follow different processes. For those that would like to read more about how to cane or are looking for instructions, visit this link for books. And, if you are looking for caning supplies, please visit this link.