Caning Question For Spanky, Or Anybody Else
Wondering if I am crazy for thinking that I might be able to successfully redo the cane backs of a set of six Wormley 5480 chairs. Two of them have damage to the cane, and I'm refinishing the set so probably will end up doing all new cane to match.
I've about given up trying to find somebody locally who can do the cane work. Three people have turned me down, telling me it's too difficult of a job. I've never done pressed cane work, but it seems rather straightforward and simple. I spoke to a qualified guy in CA and he seems convinced that the job is quite doable on my own (he would also be selling me the materials in this case, of course, but he strikes me as trustworthy).
Having never done it... is it stupid to attempt to teach myself on chairs like this? What sorts of things haven't I considered, or need to be careful about? You just line the sheet up and carefully press and fit it into the groove, right? Trim it, and then glue and insert the spline. Surely it will be more complicated than a flat seat... but impossible?
I'm not even sure if you do caning, spanky. I can't remember. Thanks for any advice, in advance, anyway.
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Wel, yeah...that's theoretically all there is to it.
I don't have a ton of experience sheet caning because frankly I hate doing it--probably because I haven't done it enough times to get to where it's routine. But here's what I can tell you:
You should definitely practice on a flat seat or two first. Getting the old cane out can be hard if it was put in with glue that isn't readily dissolved with water. Lots of cane isn't, though one would hope that original factory cane was installed with the right type of glue; i.e., one that is easily reversed.
It's very, very easy to gouge the chair frame as you clean out the old material from the groove, even with a caning chisel. Also very easy to damage the edge of the wood right at the groove.
You need a caning chisel that matches the width of the groove. It's way easier to remove the cane with a proper chisel than it is with a regular chisel, a screwdriver, an xacto knife or any of the other things people use when they don't have a caning chisel.
Ditto for caning wedges---buy a lot of them if you're going to go ahead with this. Or make some if you have the equipment to do it accurately. They have to be just the right size to hold the sheet of damp cane in place while you work around the perimeter of the back. It's really, really frustrating when you have a few wedges in place and then put the next one in and some of the previous ones pop out.
I would have reservations about this chair back because of the curve. I've upholstered chairs like this and that's tough enough. Sheet cane is less forgiving than fabric. I'd be worried about getting the tension even across the whole back, for one. there can be some slack but it should be evenly slack (the cane tightens up when it dries). It's pretty easy to break one of the little canes against the edge of the groove if there's not enough slack, especially if you haven't soaked the cane long enough or if it's starting to dry out before you're done.
Lining the weave up straight sounds easy enough but keeping it straight as you tap it into the groove is another matter. It does tend to shift. This is hard enough on just a square seat where you can do a couple wedges on the front, then a couple on the back, then the same on the sides, then work your way to the corners---i would imagine it's harder when you've got angled sides in the mix.
I'd probably pass on it (and by probably I mean definitely). But again, I hate doing this type of cane. As for the guy who told you it was probably doable by a beginner--does he do caning himself? And if he does, has it been a long time since he first started out, like so long that maybe he forgot any difficulties he may have had? (was it Franks by any chance? I know he sells this particular weave. Not sure who else does.)
Maybe you are nimble-fingered and methodical enough to pull it off. I just think it's better to go in with a clear idea of what can happen. But even then I'd do some practice work on more conventional chairs first.
Thanks for the info, spanky!
It was Frank's, yeah. The owner was very nice and I think a private lesson from him, even over the phone, might be worth taking advantage of. I'm pretty dexterous and anal, but it really makes me wonder when people who do this for a living say no.
Would it make sense to craft wedges, say, that basically made up the shape and curve of the outline? Like, break it into thirds, or something. That way, I could be pressing in larger sections of the cane each time, leading to potentially less waviness? The wedges I see people use in YouTube videos are basically doorstopper size... I'm talking about a wedge of wood that would be like the entire top arch of the backrest.
I guess I shouldn't really think too much until I order the cane and let the old guy tell me exactly what to do.
Well, from my experiences buy from Franks and talking to the guy himself---there are some gaps there. He's a nice guy but I would not necessarily take his word as gospel on this subject.
I don't think that fabricating a few very wide wedges will work. Maybe you don't even need a lot of regular size (1/2" to 3/4" wide) wedges--I was just hunting for a photo of them and saw directions on how to install a seat that said to just push the cane into the groove with a wedge, nothing about leaving the wedge in place as you work. The cane DOES kinda stay put if it is soft enough. Maybe I just suck at doing this!
I know that a big part of my frustration with it was getting the old spline and cane out of the groove without damaging the chair (and that had a lot to do with the glue not dissolving readily at all). With luck your chairs have water soluble glue and then you'll be spared that challenge.
I don't think there's any harm in attempting a chair if you are like to do new stuff. Maybe do two, because there's always a learning curve and you need to get over it before you can make an informed decision on whether to do the rest of them.
I see that other places sell the weave that's in your chairs---"radio net" and it comes in several sizes.
Be sure to get a chisel when you place your order. I'm also seeing on HHPerkins.com a product called De-Glue Goo soften & remove the glue from the groove. I've never used it.
I know that when I bought some cane webbing a few years ago I ordered a small container of water-soluble glue for the new seat but I can't find it now. It was clear and very sticky and fairly runny (which you want, so that it spreads evenly in the groove and seeps under the cane). I guess hide glue will work, though.
Watch this guy's video on how to do a cane webbing seat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDbkIZo6uBM
He has a good tip for how to get the can into curved sections (strip out certain strands so that the sheet has more give to it).
This is the business end of a caning chisel, made to get under the whole mess and pry it up as it cuts. It's pretty good. A standard wood chisel that is well sharpened will go a long way to cleaning off the sides.
I don't think I had any sharp regular chisels when I last did web caning. That plus the guy who made the chairs in the first place was a hobbyist who liked to make replicas (sort of) of antique chairs and I think he thought that the stronger and more permanent glue, the better. Actually the glue joint isn't stressed all that much, not like a leg joint. It's far more important that it be easily reversed because the seat material doesn't last forever and the next caner shouldn't have to worry excessively about damaging the frame trying to get the old cane off. It's like furniture designers who seem to think that the fabric on their chair will wear forever so they don't need to worry about whether it can be redone practically.
I should say that out of the handful of things i've done over the years that had web caning, a few of them were reasonably easy to undo. The pain-in-the-ass ones are the ones that stick in memory!
That's the video I watched that made me think it didn't look too difficult, spanky.
Vinegar and hot water was suggested to soften the glue. I also have heard different opinions as to stripping the backs before or after removing the cane. My assumption would be that the stripper and solvents would soften the glue, but some lady told me that it could actually make the glue worse? Not sure if I believe that, but we'll see.
Dunbar, in my experience, didn't seem to give too much thought to people doing repair. I guess I'll just have to play around and see what works... probably I'll steam the hell out of the spline and go from there. I saw a lady who used a grout steamer thing, modified with a narrow copper tip, and it appeared to work pretty well. But she also like, drilled holes in the spline to blast the steam into.
But I also watched a guy use a router to clean out the groove. Might be too extreme.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, tktoo. Now I pretty much have to do it.
I don't think vinegar and hot water do much to waterproof glue but I'm not positive about that. I don't deal with a lot of glue removal in most of what I do.
I have drilled holes in spline to get water or solvent under it to dissolve really stubborn glue. I also used one of the smaller sized glue syringes to get water under the spline and through splits here and there to get around the high surface tension of water.
the thought of using a router is making me break out into a cold sweat! But i also have no router skills, so.
oops, forgot to include the photo of the chisel end in my previous post--
mgee, I've always warned my kids not to do anything I wouldn't ...which pretty much leaves the door wide open.
OTOH, trying something once doesn't necessarily mean I'd try it again. I re-caned a pair of canoe seats many years ago. When it came time to repair them a second time, I bought new ones with polypropylene webbing. Some of us learn the hard way.
Well I ordered the cane. It still isn't here yet, but that's OK because gluing these chair backs back together was a nightmare and I'm probably going to do another round of epoxy on them.
I made up a spline chisel with a steel allen wrench, ground to a sharp end. Stuck it in a file handle and it worked pretty well. The dry removal of the cane on the first couple chairs was a damned mess... the last few I did got washed in stripper and solvent and then I soaked them with steamed vinegar and everything cleaned out fairly easy at that point.
It also helped that the chair backs got taken down into four pieces... gah.