Chair Caning

We have over 40 years experience in chair caning. Come to the store, call or email for specific information. Classes are offered on Tuesday evenings from October thru April at the Johnstown Senior Center, Johnstown, NY. Materials are available at the store and at the class.

Chair caning began in China around 5000 BC. Strips of bamboo were originally used to cover the chair seats. Over the years, numerous methods and materials have been developed, some uniquely American. All chairs should be in fine repair and have their final finish before beginning the caning. The 5 methods commonly taught are:

7 Step hand woven: This is the oldest documented caning method, originating in China. Thin strips of bamboo are woven through holes in the chair seat. Chairs that require this type of seat are characterized by holes drilled (somewhat) uniformly around the perimeter of the seat. Check the sides of the seat: there should not be any breaks or missing wood. Square or rectangular seats are easiest for the beginner. Avoid caning an oval or round seat as your first project.

Pre-woven cane: With the advent of the machine age, pre-woven cane became prevalent. A groove around the edge of the seat contains the edges of the cane, held in place by glue and a reed spline. The hardest part of this type of caning is removing the old seat.

Flat Reed: The American Indian first used ash splint to weave baskets. The ash splint then was used for chair seats, and became an authentic American folk craft. There are still folk artists who weave both baskets and chair seats with ash they have harvested and cut themselves. Due to the time consuming difficulty of harvesting , the price for commercially produced ash is extremely high. Flat reed, again a product of the Far East, is commonly used for these seats. Look for chairs that have rungs at the seat instead of flat wood. These chairs can be woven with flat reed, rush, or Shaker tape.

Rush: Rush is a misnomer - it is one of the slowest forms of caning, second only to the hand woven cane methods. Plan on using a lot of muscle if you want a rush seat. There is a lot of pulling and tugging involved. The original rush materials were the leaves of cattails. They were harvested in the fall, dried, rolled, and woven into durable seats. The modern, most available material is paper rush. Made of kraft paper, it comes in 2 lb. rolls, usually enough to do one seat.

Shaker Tape: This type of seat originated with the Shakers. The cloth tape comes in a variety of colors. Shaker tape is easy to weave, but is the most expensive of the methods. A one inch foam pad the size of the seat and a needle and matching thread are needed in addition to the tape.

The most frequently asked questions about chair caning:

1. I have a chair with a hand-woven seat, can it be done in pressed cane?
NO! The type of seat dictates the type of cane required. I know, I know - someone out there had a great-uncle Jehosephat who would cut a groove in a drilled seat and put in pressed cane. In the antiques world, there is a term for this kind of chair - FIREWOOD. Sorry, it won't last and it will weaken the chair.

2. Can painted cane be stripped?
Yes and no. You could use stripper to remove paint or varnish from the cane, but you won't have much life left in the cane. Stripper is very drying and the cane will weaken considerably. Bite the bullet, rip out the cane, and re-do the seat.

3. Should I put varnish or polyurethane on a new seat?

Oh, my heart! Putting a finish on a seat will seal the top, making it as brittle, and as sharp, as glass. If you must put something on, use lemon oil. Just be aware that in humid weather the lemon oil will soften and you might have a cane "pattern" on your clothing after sitting in the chair. It really is best to just let the seat be.

4. How long does it take to cane a chair?
HOURS. A hand-woven seat can take 8 to 10 hours or more. Pre-woven can takes less time to install, but can take more time to remove the old cane. Flat reed and Shaker tape will take several hours.

5. Should the chair be refinished before or after the caning is done?
The chair should be refinished and re-glued before putting in a new seat.

6. The side of my chair is split, can it be caned?
99 out of 100 times I won't even consider it. Weakened sides should be replaced, and be sure that the "carpenter" knows what he or she is doing. We do it often at the store, and it is a pain, so you won't find it to be cheap.

7. Can I teach myself how to cane a chair?
Sure, I did! Find a real good book, with plenty of illustrations and have fun. Figure on spending 15 to 20 hours on your first chair. It would be better, though, if you could find a class. There are all sorts of tricks that aren't covered in the books. Or bring it to the store and I will do it for you!

8. What does it cost to cane a chair?

There is no way to give an estimate without having the measurements or seeing the chair. Email me and I will do my best to give you a guesstimate.

9. (My favorite question) Do you need to have the chair to cane it?
(Sigh) Yes!