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How do I Cane a Chair?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many wooden chairs are made with woven or caned seats. Furniture making students often learn how to cane a chair as a project, and it is not terribly difficult to cane a chair.

In order to cane a chair, the first step is to determine what type of cane is needed. Some chairs, especially those made after the 1860s, were designed to be caned with “sheet cane,” which is cane that has been machine woven and is sold in sheets. Chairs designed for sheet caning have a groove around the seat for the edge of the sheet cane to be tucked into. Other chairs integrate woven cane, which means that there are small holes around the seat of the chair for the cane to be woven in and out of. It is not advisable to attempt to convert a sheet caned chair to a woven cane chair, or vice versa, as doing so may damage the chair's soundness and value as an antique.

Strand cane is the material most commonly used to cane a chair, and it is derived from rattan. Other materials used to cane a chair include rushes, some types of wood, paper rush, seagrass, leather, and pretty much any other strong and flexible material. Strand cane comes in varying sizes: common, medium, fine, fine-fine, and superfine.

To cane a chair with sheet cane, the steps are very simple. In addition to the sheet cane itself, you will require a spline to fix it in place, which should be approximately 1/32 of an inch (80 millimeters) smaller than the groove around the seat of the chair. You will also need a utility knife, spline chisel, and strong wood glue. If you intend to cane a chair that is old, make sure that all the old cane material is removed from the groove. Because sheet cane is glued into place, it may be necessary to use a chisel to pry out all of the old material.

Cut the sheet cane so that it is a few inches larger than the seat of the chair and soak it in warm water for several hours. Using small pieces of spline, push the sheet cane down into the groove and hold it in place in the middle of all the sides of the chair, beginning with the front. Once the sheet cane is fixed in place, use a chisel to force it into the groove of the chair, making sure that the cane stays taut at all times. When this is finished, trim the sheet cane to size using a sharp knife so that it will not poke up from the groove. Fill the groove with wood glue and tap the spline into place, wiping up excess glue as your proceed so that it does not harden.

To cane a chair by weaving, first decide which weaving style you intend to use. Some weaving techniques are extremely complex, and it is advisable to apprentice with someone to learn how to perform them properly. Traditional hand caning, however, is fairly simple and produces the classic eight-sided cane pattern that many antique chairs have. When hand caning, lengths of cane are cut to stretch from hole to hole with some excess and set one at a time, held with pegs until the chair is done.

When you intend to cane a chair by hand, make sure that the cane is placed shiny side up, with the small, naturally occurring barbs in the rattan all flowing in one direction so that no pieces will snag. Begin by installing the cane from the center hole in the front, holding it with a peg, and stretch it to the center hole in the back. Loop the cane's tail to the next hole over and hold it in place with a peg. Repeat this process until the seat of the chair is fully caned from side to side. Then cane the chair the other way, so that you end up with a grid pattern.

Repeat this process, weaving the cane in and out of the grid, so that you have doubled the grid pattern. Tuck the loose ends of cane under the neighboring loops as you go, keeping the pegs in for stability. To achieve the eight sided look and additional strength, you will need to weave on the diagonal as well, starting in the right rear corner and working your way to the front. Repeat the process from the left, keeping the overall look of the pattern in mind as you weave the cane in and out of the seat. When you are finished, install a strip of binder cane around the edge of the chair seat by looping regular cane through the holes and over the binder cane to stitch it down.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon356335 — On Nov 24, 2013

The Vermont South Neighbourhood House in Melbourne offers classes in weaving cane seats. The course is referred to as basket weaving, but you can just tackle chair seats.

I tried repairing my chairs by watching videos, and got nowhere, but I succeeded at the course. I recommend it.

By anon149997 — On Feb 06, 2011

Can cane become too old to use? I have had the cane for about 30 years and wonder if I need to buy new cane.

By anon107447 — On Aug 30, 2010

What is the approximate cost per hole in a caned chair?

By anon101860 — On Aug 05, 2010

I paid someone to recane my rocking chair and when I sit down, it has little pieces sticking me. How can I fix this without redoing it over again?

By anon94217 — On Jul 07, 2010

How would you finish the seat? I've read oil, lacquer, wax, poly, and plain (no finish). Your recommendation?

By anon76293 — On Apr 09, 2010

Re: Question #3: Just as there is a "right side" and a "wrong side" to the cane, i.e.. a shiny top and a duller bottom, there is also a correct direction and an incorrect direction to cane in or rather to have the particular piece of cane facing in, especially when it comes to Step 4 onward.

If your cane is shredding, it is an extremely good bet your cane is facing in the wrong direction, almost a guarantee, in fact. As soon as it's shredding, stop what you're doing, and investigate.

Are the eyes on the particular piece of cane you're working with facing into or away from the work you're doing? If you run your fingernail down the cane, you'll find that one way you're able to keep going w/out snagging.

In the the other direction, your fingernail will keep catching. Rip out the piece your working with to the beginning, if it hasn't broken on you already. Turn it around, spray it with water very well, and begin again.

The only two other reasons (or three) it could be misbehaving are these: 1) You're tense or in a hurry and you're working way too tight. 2) You're tense or in a hurry, or an efficiency engineer, and trying to do too many holes at a time. Caning tightens up as each step is accomplished, and you have to adjust both your speed and how many holes you try to cane at once as you go. It's all about finding a rhythm and a "touch" that works. Type A maniacs and those who refuse to listen do not tend to do well with caning -- one reason caning is often called "a dying art" as our culture collectively approaches warp speed. 3) Your cane is very old. This is doubtful, because usually when it's too old, it just breads on you without shredding.

Master caners always go back and clean off that fuzz, some of which is inevitable, as a step before they call their chairs done. It's just part of the process when one works with a natural material.

By anon33692 — On Jun 10, 2009

Where do you buy the cane (in Melbourne) to recane old kitchen chairs? The chairs have been hand caned originally. Thanks.

By anon13237 — On May 22, 2008

What causes the fuzz when you do caning?

By anon11827 — On Apr 23, 2008

you should never use wood glue, especially not strong wood glue- these seats are intended to be replaced. A liquid hide glue is the intended glue.

By anon9748 — On Mar 12, 2008

you should never use strong wood glue. Only a water soluble glue is acceptable. A wood glue will ruin the chair the next time you need to replace the cane

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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