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How to Recane a Chair

Chairs with machine-woven cane are easy to repair. Look at the seat. Does a band of wood on all four sides frame the cane? And is there a “ribbon” between the cane and the wood? If so, you can fix the seat. That ribbon, called a spline, conceals the raw edges of cane.

Look in the Yellow Pages under “caning supplies” to find a fabric or do-it-yourself supply store selling what you need. Measure the width and length of the old cane seat. Then measure the width and length of the groove.

Cane sheets and spline are sold by the running inch or foot in various widths. (The sheets are from 12 to 24 inches wide.) Both are pressed into a groove carved on all four inner edges of the wood frame.

Also purchase caning wedges. Ask the sales clerk how many you’ll need. And have a screwdriver, hammer, utility knife, carpenter’s glue, fine sandpaper, and spray lacquer handy. Now here’s what you have to do to replace the cane seat:

  1. Precut the new cane sheet so that it extends about 1 inch beyond the groove on all four sides of the chair.

    When you go to the store to purchase sheets of cane, you’ll also have to purchase spline, the ribbon-like finishing piece. Spline comes in different widths, so you want to get exactly the right width and length that you need for the project.

  2. Soak the cane sheets in warm water for an hour.

    Soaking makes the caning material pliant and easy to work with.

  3. Cut around both edges of the old spline on the chair with a utility knife.

    Break the bond of the old glue so you can easily lift the spline out of the groove.

  4. Use a screwdriver to lift up the edges of the old spline.

  5. Pull out the old spline and caning and set them aside.

    Prior to the Industrial Revolution and machine manufacturing, skilled craftsmen made cane chairs by threading individual strands of cane into holes located around the frame of the chair. They then wove the cane strands together. Unless you’re willing to learn the trade, you probably won’t be able to fix these handmade chairs by yourself.

  6. Place the softened sheet of cane on top of the chair.

    Overlap the groove by about an inch on all sides.

  7. Keeping the pattern square on all edges, stretch the caning slightly and hammer a caning wedge into the groove on each side.

    When you put the new sheet down, be sure the woven pattern runs straight across and up and down the seat of the chair, not diagonal. Recheck the pattern as you push the first four caning wedges into the groove.

  8. Hammer a few more wedges into each side and push the cane into the groove.

    Be sure to maintain the stretch and pattern so that it doesn’t loosen or slip off square.

  9. Soak the spline in warm water for 15 minutes.

    Keeping your splining soft makes your job so much easier.

  10. Take out the wedges one at a time as you squeeze carpenter’s glue into the groove and press in the soft spline, working your way around the chair.

    To push it down more firmly, use one of the wedges and a hammer to tap the spline into place.

  11. Using a utility knife, trim off the excess cane and sand the cane seat with a fine-grained sandpaper.

  12. Spray the cane with lacquer.

    Let it set for a few days before sitting on the chair.

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