How to Make Cane Furniture

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A chair with a caned seat can be a beautiful addition to almost any home decor. Cane furniture has a simple elegance that seems to fit well almost anywhere. If you're interested in weaving your own cane seats and chair backs, you can save money by restoring inexpensive antiques. While there are different styles and types of cane seats to weave, these directions are for a herringbone pattern. This is a relatively basic pattern that's easy to follow but produces beautiful and durable furniture.

Things You'll Need

  • A wooden chair in need of caning, easy to find at garage sales, flea markets, etc. Look for a straight-back design with a sturdy frame that can support your weaving.
  • Pliers
  • Sandpaper and stain (optional)
  • Bucket
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Butter knife you won't mind abusing
  • Sponge
  • Stapler
  • 2-inch spring clamp
  • Box of #4 tacks
  • Bundle of rattan cane. Wide, narrow and medium binder cane can be used, as can 3/16- or 1/4-inch flat oval reed. You may need more for large chairs or rockers.

The Warp

  • Remove any remaining cane from your chair using scissors and pliers. Re-glue any loose joints and make sure the chair is in top condition. If you wish to sand and re-stain the chair, do so before you start the weaving process.

  • Find a comfortable place to work such as a garage or spare room. Fill your bucket with water. Sort out the longest strands of cane from your bundle and soak five or six in the water for 30 minutes to an hour.

  • Tack a long strand of cane to the back rail, near the left rear post, making sure the rough side of the cane faces away from the rail. Guide the strand along to the rail on the right. Pull it over the rail and across the top of the chair so that the strand is parallel to the back rail, as close to the rear posts as possible.

  • Take the strand around the rail and back under the chair. Then, pull the strand under the chair and back to the right rail. Make sure there is no exposed rail and wrap the cane over the top of the rail again. The rows you make on the top should be parallel to the back rail and to each other.

    Don't make the warps too tight. Keep enough slack in the strands for them to give way when you press on them with the flat of your palm. Check the tension often, and make sure each subsequent warp has the same amount of slack as the rest.

    Continue to wrap the cane until you reach the last inch and need to join two strands.

  • Use the clamp to hold your warps in place, overlap a new strand with the end of the old one and staple them together twice. Always do this on the bottom of the chair to hide the joint. When you take a strand from the soaking bucket, replace it with another so you have a constant supply of moistened cane. Sponge your warps with water occasionally to make sure they remain flexible while you're working.

  • Finish this first step of herringbone weaving by keeping up the same pattern, adding more cane as needed. Make sure the row closest to the front rail is parallel with it, and use two more tacks to secure the end to the front rail on the underside of the chair.

The Weft

  • Start by using your ruler to measure the front and back rails of your chair. You'll notice that the front rail is longer than the back. Take the difference between the two lengths, divide it in half and measure that far from each rail end on the front and make a mark. For example, if your front rail is 5 inches longer than the back, you would make a mark 2.5 inches from the left and right rail on the front. Weaving is first done in a square pattern, with the corners taken care of in a different step.

  • Line up the cane just inside the mark you made on the right side. Go over the first three warps, then under the next three, then over the next three and so on until you get to the back rail. When you get to the back, don't worry if you end up going over or under less than three rails. Simply continue the pattern.

  • Pull about 4 feet of the strand through, and then turn the chair over to work on the underside. With the shorter end, the one coming from the rear of the chair, weave over three, under three and so on until you run out of material. Leave the end hanging loose with a 4-inch tail---you'll come back to it later.

  • Look at the pattern created by the first strand, the one that trails off on the under side. You need the second row to be in the same pattern but off by one wrap. This means that at the back rail, the second strand should go under the last warp but under the next three, then over the next three, etc. Count the warps and measure backward so you'll know how to start the second strand. Take the longer end of the strand that comes off the front of the chair and weave. You should have one complete row on the top of the chair and one complete row and one partial row on the bottom.

  • Start the second row using the same weaving technique as before, but make sure to continue the pattern correctly by counting. As you proceed from right to left, the pattern should go over three, over two, over one, under three, under two, under one, over three, over two, etc. So if your first row ends by going under two, the next row should go under one. While this might be confusing at first, as you continue the pattern, it will make sense.

  • Flip the chair over and repeat the process for the underside, again making sure to start your pattern correctly. When you finish any row of weaving, hold the chair rail with one hand and use the other to pull on the cane, making it tight enough to stay in place. After that, flip the chair over and continue on the opposite side.

  • Add new strands to the weft by making sure the old strip will stop on the bottom of the chair near the center and doubling the old and new strips and weaving them through at least four warps.

The Corners

  • Use a new soaked strand and start on the underside, at the corner that has the tail you left when you began the weft. Join this strand by the method described above and weave along the bottom until you get to the front of the chair. Then flip the chair over and weave along the top. Make sure these corner weaves match up with the rest of the pattern.

  • Push the corner weft when you reach the front rail through the weaving and down to the bottom of the chair, using the butter knife to assist you. If this proves impossible, you can crease the strand and fold it under the warp and back into the rest of the weaving, again using the butter knife to help push the corner weft in place.

  • Continue weaving the pattern on the bottom, going from the back to the front rail and then continuing to the top. Use the rest of the strand if you've managed to push it through or use a new strand.

  • Hide the remaining weft strands on the underside of the chair as you would any other ending strand. This is how you finish the strand from the main weave in the center. After the left corner, attend to the right, working from the weaving toward the rail and incorporating shorter strands of weft as necessary.

  • Finish by letting your chair rest and tighten and staining the cane if so desired.

Tips & Warnings

  • Weaving seat backs and even complex oval rockers follows this same pattern. You can restore a huge variety of furniture pieces and add a signature look to your home. The herringbone is only one pattern you can use. Try experimenting by weaving over and under four or five.

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References

  • Chair Seat Weaving for Antique Chairs; Mariun Burr Sober; 1997
  • Photo Credit Flickr.com
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