Friday, May 13, 2011

chair caning 101

Do you have damaged antique caned chairs that are in need of repair? This post will teach you how to cane an antique chair from scratch. Be forewarned, this is a long post.
The first thing you need to re-cane a chair is, of course, cane. There are plenty of sources for this raw material, ranging from your local woodworking shop to online sources. I use for both the cane and the wooden pegs you will need to hold it in place while you work. It is important to match the original cane width, so make sure to measure the old stuff before you throw it away. There are two types of cane you will need: the 

Once the cane is pliable, take out one strand and identify which end to start from. You can do this by pulling the cane through pinched fingers. In one direction you will feel bumps protruding and in the other direction it will feel smoother. Make sure you are always weaving so you are pulling in the smooth direction, otherwise, the cane may catch and break. Start by inserting the end of the cane in a hole directly next to the back corner hole along either side rail so that a few inches of the cane protrudes from the bottom of the hole, then use a peg to hold in place. Weave so the shinier, curved side of the cane is always up. String the cane to the opposite hole on the other side rail, pulling the cane tight and put another peg in to hold it in place. String the cane up through the adjacent hole towards the middle of the side rail and repeat the process, moving the second peg as you go to hold the cane tight. Once you get to the end of the strand of cane, pull tight and keep the second peg in place.
Use additional strands as necessary until you have the first layer of cane completed. Next, repeat the process along the front and back rails so that the second layer of cane is underneath the first.

The next layer of cane should again go side to side in the same manner as the first layer but underneath both layer 1 and layer 2. The cane for this layer should be set adjacent to layer 1 as seen in the picture, so layer 1 and layer 3 end up side-by-side.

Since a lot of pegs are being used to hold cane in place, now is a good time to tie off the ends and free up some pegs. To do this, flip the chair, rewet the cane ends and loops on the underside of the chair, and then using the tip of the awl, gently lift a loop adjacent to an end and slip the end underneath.

The final layer will go the same direction as layer 2, but will be woven within layers 1 and 3. To do this, starting at the front rail, weave the cane under layer 3 and over layer 1, making sure the cane is side-by-side with layer 2. As you weave, make sure to rewet all of the already-woven cane with a soaked washcloth so that it remains pliable. Once you are finished, tie off the cane ends and using some caning pegs or the shaft of the awl and a hammer, gently tap the cane into place so that it forms a tight, even grid.

The next step are the diagonals, which, require the most forethought. It is easiest to start the diagonals at the opposite back corner holes and weave both diagonals at the same time. One diagonal will go under layers 1 and 3 (side-to-side strands) and over layers 2 and 4 (front to back strands), while the other diagonal will do the opposite. If you are weaving correctly, the diagonal strands should be on opposite layers where they intersect.

Once the diagonals are finished, tie off the ends and breathe a sigh of relief because the hard part is over. The last step will involve both chair cane and binder cane (soak some of both). Cut four pieces of binder into lengths that are long enough to stretch the length of 1 rail plus about 2 inches. Insert one binder strand into a corner hole so that the cane just reaches the bottom of the hole and lay it across the other holes along the rail. Using chair cane, weave up through the hole adjacent to the corner hole and underneath the binder cane, leaving a short tail of cane. Wrap the can around the binder and insert back into the same hole, pulling tight to loop the binder into place. Take the chair cane up through the next hole, repeating the process until you reach the opposite corner hole where you will insert the free end of the binder cane. Repeat this along the other 3 rails.

Tie off any loose ends, and, using scissors, cut the excess cane. Now you have a beautifully-caned chair for a fraction of the cost that a pro would charge.

This post was written by my multi-talented husband, BJ. Not only is he a chemist, handyman, musician, gardener, floor-mopper, glass blower, beer brewer and excellent cook, but he canes antique chairs too!

Linking to:

regular natural seat cane and binding cane, which is thicker and will be used to hide the holes around the perimeter (be sure and measure both). You will also need caning pegs and a caning awl (or a scratch awl), both of which can be found on Rockler. Once you’ve gathered the materials, soak the chair cane in hot water for at least 20 minutes to make it pliable enough to work with.  While it’s soaking, cut the old cane out of the old chair with some strong scissors and needle nose pliers, making sure all holes are clear. If you find yourself needing to re-cane an older chair that cannot accept prewoven cane, it might seem like your only option is to shell out big bucks to have a pro do it.  Chair caning is easier than it looks and you can do 4-6 chairs for the price of one on your own. However, it does take some attention to detail and patience, so plan on spending a few stretches of 3-4 hours to complete your first. With practice, you should be able to complete a chair in 5 hours or less. This tutorial is for the conventional weave of natural cane on a chair with curved side rails, but instructions for other weaves, chair types, and rush weaving can be found in The Caner’s Handbook by Bruck Miller and Jim Widess, which most consider the Caner’s Bible.


  1. Wow is that intense! Beautiful and very well done!

  2. Thanks, ladies! Hubby deserves all the credit for this tutorial. It is a lot of work to cane a chair!

  3. Megan,

    Hubby did a good job reweaving the curved cane chair seat! I have several Chair Caning Tips on my website, including videos, how-to articles and tutorials that he might be interested in seeing. I also have a Seatweaving & Chair Caning Forum and am a founding member of the first chair caning guild in America called, The SeatWeavers' Guild ®. All links can be found on my website, Keep up the good work on the blog and the chair caning!

    The Wicker Woman®--Cathryn Peters

  4. My father-in-law uses golf tees instead of buying the pegs when he canes chairs.