It's satisfying to refurbish a worn-out piece of furniture. If you enjoy weaving and working with your hands, learn the art of chair caning.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Sharp, Minnesota State University
Radio interview source: Jim Widess, Owner, The Caning Shop
Chair caning, rush seat weaving, and splint seats are terms used for the process of weaving the seat of a chair.
Jim Widess owns a caning shop in California. He says there are two ways to cane a chair – by hand, or with sheet caning that's been woven on a loom.
"Sheet cane, or the pre-woven cane, is set into a groove that is routed around the edge of the seat," he says. "It's trimmed, glue is put in, and then a reed spline is wedged into the groove. The second kind of caning is the original where there are holes drilled through the wood, and individual strands of cane are woven through the holes."
The spacing of the drilled holes in the chair determines the size of cane that is used, which then gives you a variation in pattern. Supplies for the project can be found in craft stores and online.
Widess says rush weaving was originally done with bull rushes, or cattails, but not so much anymore.
"It's generally replaced with a fiber rush, or a paper fiber rush, which is already twisted," says Widess. "It's much quicker to use because you don't have to go through the material gathering, and drying, and sorting. And I think a fiber rush seat will last longer than a natural rush seat."
Widess says what many people don't know is that a caned seat needs care to extend its life. Keep the chair out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat. Apply furniture oil such as lemon oil to the bottom of the seat a few times a year to prevent it from drying out and breaking.
If the seat sags, Widess recommends wetting the underside of the cane with hot water until it's sopping wet. Allow the chair to dry slowly over a day-or-two, and as it dries, the caning will shrink and become tight again.
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