Restoring an Antique Children's Rocking Chair

7 Materials
3 Days

This summer, a friend of mine gave me an antique children's rocking chair! She said it belonged to one of her former roommates who left it when she moved out. She has had it for many, many years and didn't want to just get rid of it so she gave it to me to restore and use.
It had water damage and based on the condition of the wood, had probably been left out in the weather at some point. Most of the protective finish was gone and the back piece of the chair was broken.
The chair was screwed together with a dozen screws. I planned to take it apart to make it easier to sand all the pieces. The screws were rusty so I wasn't certain my plan would work. To my delight, the screws came out without getting stuck or breaking! 
Once I had the chair disassembled, the first step I took was to glue the back of the chair. When I looked closely at the crack, I could see that it had come apart where there was a knot in the wood. I applied Elmers Wood glue to both pieces of the crack and then clamped them together & set it on a zip lock bag to prevent it sticking to the concrete. To help the glue seal, I placed an 8 lb weight on the wood.
I also applied wood glue to the cross bars on the two arm pieces to make the chair more sturdy.
While the glue was drying, I started sanding the rest of the chair. Since some of the pieces were small, used my mouse sander and the sanding head on my oscillating tool. When the glue was dry, I sanded the arms and back of the chair. 
My plan was to preserve the little bunny face so I was extra careful when sanding that area. Most of the protective top coat had worn off so only a light sanding was needed. I started with 120 grit and did a second pass with 220.
Before applying the poly, I cleaned the bunny face artwork. And before I did that, I viewed a few You Tube videos to find out that best way to clean it. After watching the videos, I decided to use a little warm water, Dawn dish soap & QTips. I dipped the first QTip in the water/soap mixture, squeezed out most of the liquid then carefully washed the face. I was thrilled that it worked! I used 6 QTips to remove the surface dirt. 
Once the wood sanded and all the old finish was off, I could tell it was oak! I should have known it was good quality wood based on the weight of the chair. I wiped all the pieces with a soft cloth to remove any sawdust and then moved my project to the house where it would be warm enough to apply the polyurethane. Before applying the first coat of poly, I wiped down all the pieces with a tack cloth. The wood was so dry that I applied three coats of Minwax water-based poly with a 1 1/2" angled paintbrush. Between each coat, which I let dry for an hour or more, I did a light sand with 000 steel wool where needed & then wiped the pieces with the tack cloth. If you haven't used a tack cloth before, they are very sticky! Perfect for making sure there are no little steel wool pieces left on your project.
Now that all the pieces of this little rocking chair were glued, sanded, cleaned and finished, it was time to put it back together. I used brass screws to replace the rusted ones and added little wooden buttons to cover the screw holes.
In the picture, you can see where the repair was done on the back of the chair. The repair job feels really secure and should last for many years. I like that you can see where it was repaired, I think it adds character.
While I could have sanded it down to remove all the blemishes such as the water stains, I didn't want to do that. I wanted to preserve the history of the chair.
Close up of the artwork
Before and after pics of the artwork
Before and after restoration
Supplies Used:
  • Mouse & Oscillating sanders
  • Sandpaper
  • Drill to remove and install screws
  • Elmers wood glue
  • Minwax water-based polyurethane
  • Paintbrush
  • Steel wood
  • Tack Cloth
  • Soft cloths
  • Clamps
  • Brass screws
  • Wood buttons
  • QTips
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Remove all screws
  • Glue broken or loose pieces
  • Sand all pieces with 120 then 220 grit sandpaper
  • Wipe down all surfaces to remove sawdust
  • Using QTips, water and a small amount of Dawn dish soap, clean artwork
  • With a small paintbrush, apply 2-3 coats of polyurethane, allowing dry time between coats
  • Lightly sand between coats if needed
  • Using new screws, assemble chair
After restoration
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  • Jessica
    on Dec 23, 2019

    You have done such a great job with this fun chair!

    • Jeanne
      on Dec 24, 2019

      Thanks! It was such a rewarding project! I'll find out Christmas day how my grandbabe likes it!

  • William
    on Dec 24, 2019

    Extraordinary job. Great save. Great job.

    • Jeanne
      on Dec 24, 2019

      Thanks! I'm so thrilled with the results!

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