Asked on Jan 05, 2014

Old nasty ladder back chairs with cane seats

Barbara Turner
by Barbara Turner
I saw my neighbor literally toss these 2 chairs and 2 more just like them to the curb for the trash pickup so as I went out one morning to get the paper, I darted over and rescued them from certain death. They sat on her porch for several years and just got dirty. What is going to be the best method of stripping/cleaning/protecting them while protecting the ok-in shape cane seats but get the other 2 recanted? All ideas will be appreciated.
  60 answers
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Sorry, recaned. LOL The spell checker put the t into the word! UGH! These are solid wood btw and heavy as lead. I really want to do the best I can by them.
  • Leona G Leona G on Jan 05, 2014
    I would mix up a bucket of warm water with Ivory soap and make it very sudsy. I would use a sponge dipped into the suds and wipe every thing down. After that I would Murphy's oil soap to rinse and finish cleaning. Again with very little water. There used to be a website on caning and caning materials if you want to do it yourself. Good luck
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Thanks! Never thought of that. I was just going to start by sanding with a fine 0000 and wire brush the wood and cover the caning with paper and painters tape to protect. Not really sure where I'd have gone from there. Should I use any type of stripper after I do what you suggest? I really have never done anything like this in my life. Mom, Dad and I have only dealt with wood items.
  • Linda Crandall Linda Crandall on Jan 05, 2014
    For old furniture, cabinets and paneling with an undamaged shellac, lacquer or varnish finish, mix a little dishwasher liquid in water and wash thoroughly. Since unfinished wood will swell in water, use an oil-based cleaner like Murphy's Oil Soap. Apply generously and repeat until the wood is clean. Buff it with a soft cloth to restore its luster. Ingrained GrimeCarol Williams, Extension Agent at Utah State University, says a mix of 3 tbsp. boiled linseed oil and 2 tbsp. turpentine in a quart of hot water is best for deep dirt. Turpentine will clean soil and oil and soften built-up wax and polish; linseed oil will replace the oils and restore bare spots. For a stronger cleaner, dip a soft cloth in mineral spirits (paint thinner) to rub away deposits of oil, greasy grime and old wax or polish. Always wipe wood dry and buff with a soft cloth after cleaning. Read more:
  • Melanie Ritchie Melanie Ritchie on Jan 05, 2014
    Hi Barbara...firstly the seats on those chairs are Rush seats not Cane. Because Rush is a grass it is best if you don't get the seats wet. I would try using some Murphy's oil soap on the wood although from the picture the wood looks like it has no finish on it. Best not to get the seats wet :)
  • Linda Crandall Linda Crandall on Jan 05, 2014
    Ps those two chairs would make an awesome bench if you are going to turn them into something else :-)
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Ah! Good suggestion. Still getting suggestions, will wait until Spring, can only work outdoors, no shop space. No rush. Thanks!
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    No. I'm simply going to refinish them. I'm planning on giving them to my little granddaughter when she gets older. She has already (at 2 1/2) gone around our house and given me the famous SMILE that she really likes something! My clue that she'd like to have it some day! LOL She adores several teapots an etagere I have and other items!
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Wow. Thanks so much. I've always thought seats like this were cane. Never even crossed my mind for rush. Now, I'm thinking that could be why neighbor gave up on thinking about doing anything for them.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    One expert on here told me the seats are rush and not cane and not to get them wet at all. She said just to take Murphy's oil soap and clean them up. Do not get the seats wet. Now I wonder what to do with the damaged seats. Gonna keep open for suggestions. We have a caning mom and pop shop here in town and I'm gonna call tomorrow and see if they can assist.
  • Cindy Cindy on Jan 05, 2014
    I have a rocking chair with a rope seat. I bet if you got a roll of bailing twine, real-not the nylon, you could make a decant seat, the one I have is very comfy.
  • Bonnie Bonnie on Jan 05, 2014
    they are rush seats. Do not get them wet is good advice. Murphy's oil soap is probably your best bet. Looks like they have either been stripped or the finish has just disappeared with age. Might have some value to them because of the seats, don't know but look like good, sturdy chairs.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Thanks I'll consider it!
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 05, 2014
    Yes! They are quite heavy - about 25 lbs. each! Very solid wooden chairs. In fact I'd be willing to say they are from at least the 1930's. Thanks for the value part. Hadn't considered that. I'm def. gonna get the Murphy's Oil soap. Still gonna have them looked at for full and antique value. I still can't believe she was going to throw them out! Stupid people.
  • Kim Butler Kim Butler on Jan 06, 2014
    I am always looking for odd old chairs. We are on a very tight budget since there is only one of us working. You have truly found a treasure.
  • Sally Roesner Fuhr Sally Roesner Fuhr on Jan 06, 2014
    I once had a set of ladder back chairs. Notice how the legs are perfectly vertical' i.e., perpendicular to the floor at a 90 degree angle. This, combined with the lighter weight of the caned seat, makes the ladder back heavy enough so that they are "tippy." Nudge them back a little to arise from the seat, and thwack-- chair tips over backwards. Test them first for this. I gave mine to my sister. She agreed. However you choose to refinish, try to introduce more weight toward the front of the chair. Looking back, I could have strung some sort of lead weights (maybe from the tackle box, to the underside of the caning at the front edge of the seat.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 06, 2014
    @Sally Roesner Fuhr - Ah! Yes they are. I'll def. consider that tip! I'm not starting them til Spring so I'm still gathering and researching! I'm determined to see them through.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 06, 2014
    Yeah, thanks! I know! She threw them out one evening apparently and the next morning I was stepping out to get the paper from the driveway and saw the poor things sitting there like orphans! I felt like "LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" I felt like Nicole Curtis probably did when she found that nice coffee table at the curb of somebody's house.
  • Marti Caldwell Marti Caldwell on Jan 07, 2014
    Re doing rush seats is not difficult and the materials are readily available at craft stores. I did a couple of them for my daughter years ago and i think I got a video that showed how - it is just a matter of weaving the rush around and around. I bet a web search would get you detailed directions - it was really fun!
  • Patty Patty on Jan 07, 2014
    Marti is right, that type of rush is easy to do. As far as the finish goes, I would just use the really fine sand paper and just very lightly go over them, then wipe them down real good to get all the dust off and apply a satin finish poly to bring out the beauty of the wood. That way you have restored the chairs and maintained the value of them. Old ladder back chairs are highly saught after and bring premium prices, You really lucked-out. Good luck and whatever you decide they will be gorgeous.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 07, 2014
    Thank you! Yeah, I knew when I saw them out at her curb I in my mind went WHHHOOOOOOWHOOOOOOO they're mine now! Finders keepers losers weepers! I felt like dancing in the street but had to get them over to my house before she got up! She's a French teacher and young and to know that she's college educated but not too smart in this way just delights the daylights out of me! What else ya got?! Bring it over! Can't do that tho! LOL As far as the satin finish poly, can I do it with a spray type like Minwax Helmsman? BTW - check out my Old Family Rocker.... story page!
  • If you find someone to repair the seats, it will cost a fortune!!! I had a PARTIAL seat done, it cost $125.00 and that was several years ago!!! Learn to repair seats yourself and GOOD LUCK!!!!
  • I had bad seats in my rush chairs. Yours look like they need a good cleaning, but don't use water. It may be a process. I removed all of the rush on mine and replaced it with recycled belts that I had, and picked up more at the local thrift shops and garage sales. You might want to sand the wood down and consider doing the seats differently. Some like to use neckties or roping technique. You should be able to salvage them nicely whichever way you choose to go. Here are my redo's. (I had to do two chairs, and then decided to do the other two to match up.) Instructions:
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    • Nicole Ward Nicole Ward on Jul 04, 2018

      I love this idea. I just scored 2 ladderback cane chairs for $2.50 each at a yard sale. I’m now trying to figure out how to repair the seats and you just inspired me to use belts. 😁

      comment photo
  • Anon Anon on Jan 07, 2014
    Pinterest has some ladderback chairs that are similar and they were turned into a bench seat. That way you don't have to mess with fixing the rush seats.
  • How about a white/light paint color, or a light wood stain for the chairs? Our Mom has a ladderback chair with a rush seat that she has had for decades, and it is one of my favs. The rush needed to be replaced at one time and it was done by a very skilled furniture repair man - he did a beautiful job. ~M
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 07, 2014
    I searched out some links and found this really awesome ARTISAN who kindly did a 3 part Rush Redo. He really explains everything and why. Very detailed and patient.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 07, 2014
    Yeah, I'm not gonna even attempt to do it myself. I don't have the wrist strength. I've had carpal tunnel surgeries on both wrists. I do good to pull a midweight bag of trash out of the kitchen trash! LOL - There are a couple of artisans for this around where we are and I'm gonna contact them in the Spring. Cane seats go for about 75.00, don't know about the rushing. Thinking it would be about the same!
  • Melissa Melissa on Jan 07, 2014
    Try Goop to clean the dirt, without damaging any existing finish. Put it on, let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe it off. Big change...very cheap! Investigate your local Senior Center for people who cane or repair rush.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 07, 2014
    Aha! Good suggestions! I'm taking 'em all! Not gonna do anything "serious" til Spring. Thanks!
  • Diane H Diane H on Jan 07, 2014
    You def have a wonderful find there, but to heck with all that sanding and finishing! Simply use a Scotch Brite pad (the green scrubby pads) and your favorite lemon oil. You can treat it with tung oil after the lemon oil has dissipated. The seats appear to be in fairly good shape. I have a similar chair the cats have clawed the seat to pieces and plan to wrap it with leather (tied underneath), leaving the rush in place for strength. Good luck choosing your plan!
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 07, 2014
    Ya'll sure are giving me some great options! Thanks! I'm noting all this - Murphy's oil soap, this and another one. I like your idea! What do you think about Old English? I already have that. That and Orange polish are what I swear by. These are so roughed up, dirty (actually nasty, the blackness rubs off on your hands when you touch them, yuk) and I'm trying to figure out something that I can wrap around the rungs, posts and round sand/buff it.
  • Diane H Diane H on Jan 07, 2014
    The Scotch Brite pads are my best friend when it comes to many projects. They will conform to the rung details, pour a bunch of the Old English on it and go!
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Jan 08, 2014
    What a treasure. I would just wash these with a damp (not wet) rag may take a couple of rounds to get the dirt off...may even have to dampen a small brush to get the grooves clean. Then I would let them dry good and stain and varnish them. You can cut a piece of plyboard to make a covered seat if you want to. Cover each seat in a different fabric and scatter them throughout the house. These make excellent additions to bedrooms, dens, kitchens, etc. and great to have around for extra seating when needed
    • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 08, 2014
      @Jeanette S - funny you should mention scattering them through the house! When I told my daughter, she goes "Oh I want 'em, I'll paint 'em!" UH NOOOO!!! She doesn't know it but her little daughter, my granddaughter is getting them! Oh well! She got most of Mom's treasures, Grd. will get mine! HAHAHAHAHAHA
  • Wanda Ll Wanda Ll on Jan 08, 2014
    It's rush a green living thing at one time? If so I don't understand why you can't use water. They grew in water and they wet it to make it workable. So I would use Murphys oil soap myself to clean unless you are going to paint them.Now to get replacement seats contact the Light House for the Blind in your area. Here in Houston they have people who replace the seats.
  • Sally Roesner Fuhr Sally Roesner Fuhr on Jan 08, 2014
    Because I do refinishing in my open garage, I have resorted to flipping on a compressor to dust an item before I even touch it. It works even better than vacuum. I often wish I had the compressor in the house.
  • Anon Anon on Jan 08, 2014
    You can also chalk paint them, which does not require stripping or sanding first, and usually one coat covers it.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 08, 2014
    Good suggestion! thanks
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 08, 2014
    Thanks I'm still taking suggestions.
  • Iris Nieves Iris Nieves on Jan 08, 2014
    I have 3 real good old chairs I decided to make it into a bench...Would have to get wood to fit the bench seat together....join the chairs legs together with screws...hope it turns out good....saw it in the internet....
  • Iris Nieves Iris Nieves on Jan 08, 2014
    Repurpose Old Kitchen Chairs;; HOMETALK this is where i saw it.....awesome ideas......:D
  • Susan Sibley Susan Sibley on Jan 09, 2014
    My pressure sprayer is great for removing mold from my teak furniture outside. Be careful to not over do it so it doesn't rough up the wood.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 09, 2014
    I have a small one but I'm gonna do the scrubby pads so I can keep control of it. I do not want to damage the good seats. Gonna take the ones that need re-rushing to a restorer we have here in our area.
  • Sonya Soward Sonya Soward on Jan 10, 2014
    I don't know my grandmother put new bottoms in the same kind
  • Kim Kim on Jan 10, 2014
    I had a friend re-do old chairs with old neckties... some from family and some picked up at the local thrift store.
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  • Melinda Lockwood Melinda Lockwood on Jan 10, 2014
    The seats are rushed, not caned. You can do these yourself - there are books of instructions and the materials are not that expensive. You can also use Murphy's Oil Soap on a Scotch Brite pad to get them good and clean. Give them a nice coat of lacquer and you will be good to go. Remember - you do NOT need to "polish" furniture that has a finish on it. It will not feed the wood or any of that nonsense. The wood is coated with a finish - it doesn't eat. ~ : )
  • Marcia Rasberry-Smith Marcia Rasberry-Smith on Jan 10, 2014
    there is no need to strip anymore unless you are restaining it. There is a new pain on the market you can use on anything without stripping, or sanding. be right back w/ the name of it can't think of it right yet.
  • Marcia Rasberry-Smith Marcia Rasberry-Smith on Jan 10, 2014
    it's Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
  • Wanda sinnema Wanda sinnema on Jan 11, 2014
    I'd take them to a pro, like you plan to do. They look in good shape-they can tell for sure..then I'd go with the chalk paint...If you like the look you could also just make cushions to match your kitchen decor. I have a leg problem, of sorts, and those with the top part of the leg, up above the seat are not very comfortable, a cushion solves that problem. You could also do a crazy funky paint job, then stencil the seat.
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 11, 2014
    Thanks, another good idea! Well, like I've stated before, I'm going to do them and hold them for my granddaughter. She's getting my Boston rocker I had as a child, the rocker (other post of mine - Old family rocker gets restored after 30 years!) and these chairs. She's 2 1/2! LOL Her mommy - our daughter thinks she's getting them - LOL - NOT!
  • Barbara Turner Barbara Turner on Jan 11, 2014
    Thanks for the answers, but I'm still hoping for more ideas.
  • Lis Ricketts Lis Ricketts on Jun 22, 2015
    TheRush seats can be repaired by reweaving with new material. Look for DIY videos and tutorials on line. Try reweaving rush seats on ladderback chairs. 2:30Oak Ladderback Chairs with Rush
  • Melinda Lockwood Melinda Lockwood on Jun 26, 2015
    These are not caned; they are rush. Real rushing is quittrickyto work with so I would recommend artificial rush. This can be a real fun project and you will get great results if you find and follow the directions. Have fun with these!
  • Melinda Lockwood Melinda Lockwood on Jun 26, 2015
    You can always finish the seats with shellac too. Just Google it. Don't bother taking these to a pro. If you are the least bit clever, you won't have much trouble. Doing this. It's fun! Have done many of these over the years.
  • Realgrandma Realgrandma on Jun 26, 2015
    wow they dont look all that nasty to me. i have 4 ladderbacks at my table just like them. hard to say how to redo them.awful dark stain already on them. if they are pine one way if they are oak another.sometimes the best thing is to just clean them really well and make a cute cushion.
  • H H on Jan 25, 2016
    I saw an amazing seat repair where they'd collected up lots of old leather belts and woven them to form a seat. I have also seen recycled electrical wires with the colour coating still on it woven into seat bases.No shortage of E-waste around for the purpose!
  • Deb Deb on Mar 08, 2017

    These are not ladder back chairs. All the slats are horizontal in a ladder back chair, most of these are vertical. Unfortunately, I do not know what these are called.

  • Diana Deiley Diana Deiley on Mar 08, 2017

    Great looking chairs, just need a little 'make up'.  Personally, I'd lightly sand and then apply wipe on Polyurethane to bring out the richness of the wood. I have no experience regarding the seats, so others will have to help you with that. Great save. Best of luck.

  • Claude Claude on Mar 18, 2017

    Good score.! I would clean them up...period. I might coat w poly eventually but just live w them for a while...sometimes wooden chairs just had a coat of linseed oil on them...nothing else. Can you figure out...maybe take this photo to a restorer and ask?

  • Great score!!! The project will be fun. Please post them when you're finished, would love to see them!