I saw an antique Barley Twist chair posted on an online auction and felt my pupils morph into heart shapes. I thought it would be PERFECT to go with my 1940s desk, on our main floor. The seat caning was completely gone, but I was hopeful that I could replace it with a cushioned seat. I paid a little [lot] more for the chair than I should have, given that it needed TLC. (Tip: Online auctions and wine are a bad combination.)
How I Replaced a Broken Cane Seat With a Cushioned Seat
When I got the chair home, one of the legs was cracked! Bummer. But the upside was that it was a clean break all the way through (no chips missing). This allowed me to pull the break apart and get wood glue all the way through, for a solid repair.
Once the excess glue drips were cleaned up with a paper towel, I clamped the leg and left it to dry under the fan. Once dry, I pulled on it as hard as I could to ensure a firm leg. The last thing I wanted was to hold my breath every time someone sat on the chair. And thankfully, it was solid as a tree!
I excitedly brought the chair to my desk to get an idea of how it would look…and it was TOO WIDE to fit under the desk!!!! I’m usually so anal about checking measurements before entering into a bidding war! I don’t know why I skipped this important step with this chair (it was the wine). So after an hour of brow-beating myself, I decided to suck it up and continue on.
I gave the chair a thorough cleaning to determine how good/bad shape the stain/finish was in. I used warm soapy water, in case the finish was good. I used a soft bristle toothbrush to clean all the grooves and carved details. Fortunately, the finish was pretty darn good. Yeah!
To build the new seat I was planning to use plywood. But after I looked up the cost of HALF a sheet of plywood ($36+tax) I decided to look around my garage for an alternative. I already over-spent on the chair and wanted to keep the makeover cost as low as possible. And is it just me, or has the cost of DIY supplies skyrocketed lately?!
Anywho, I found a piece of ¾” pine in my scrap pile and used that. I drew out the shape of the seat, using a measuring tape. Because the front corners of the chair had raised decorative features, I decided to start my front-edge behind that line, to alleviate the need for complicated cuts.
I used a jigsaw, with a 4” blade, to cut out the seat. Because I have a very standard [cheap] jigsaw, that doesn’t have a guide arm, or a light, I clamped a straight edge board to help guide my cuts. This is the first time I’ve tried this and it worked fantastic! Hands down the straightest jigsaw cuts I’ve ever made!
I wanted to ‘round over’ the edges of the wood, so it wouldn’t be too sharp or uncomfortable on the keester. I had asked Santa [mom] for a router the Christmas before last – and Santa delivered! Hey, some women like fancy clothes and high heeled shoes. I like clothes I’m not afraid to mess up and power tools. And apparently some women like to wear high heels while using power tools. We all have our own thing…and that is ok!
I had never taken the router out of the box, so I watched a couple [seventeen] videos on how to use it. I decided to practice on scrap wood first, which turned out to be a very good idea, because I messed it up several times. But eventually, I got it, and rounded over the edges of my seat. While they were still not perfect round overs (and would have sucked on a table-top) it was absolutely fine for this project.
The next step was to add foam. I’ve learned that chairs are normally padded with high density foam. But when I went online the cheapest I found was $50. No. Just NO! After racking my brain, I remembered that there was a piece of 2” foam in my garage that came as packaging material in a computer delivery box. I decided this was worth a shot. Even if the foam flattened out too quickly, I would at least know how to do upholstery, and would already have the wood base to re-use, so I can replace with the proper foam later if need be.
I used a serrated bread knife to cut the foam to the shape of the wood.
I couldn’t think of an alternative to batting, so I ordered batting online for $15. I cut it so there was about 4” of overhang on each side.
· I stapled the four sides first.
· Then I folded my corners in and stapled them.
· Then the excess on the corners I tucked in as tightly as I could and stapled those.
My stapler is also not the best quality. For the staples that didn’t go flush with the wood I used a hammer to tap them the rest of the way in.
I had bought a giant piece of upholstery fabric at auction a couple years ago for $6 (great deal – no wine involved). I cut out a piece and attached it using the same steps as the batting.
The last step for the seat was to add a dust cover to the bottom. I guess the main function of a dust cover is to hide the ugly cuts and folds under the chair.
I found a roll online for $20. But still…no. It occurred to me that dust cover fabric looks suspiciously similar to gardening fabric. I had a roll of that in my shed! So I cut out a piece of gardening fabric, the size of the seat, folded the edges under, and stapled it on!
ATTACHING THE NEWLY CUSHIONED SEAT
The final step was to attach the cushion to the chair. I placed the seat upside down on my counter, placed the chair over it and screwed it on! I used a drill bit to make pilot holes first. I added a piece of painter’s tape to the drill bit to make sure I didn’t go too deep on my pilot holes and wreck the fabric. Then I screwed the seat in place.
While we don't really have the space for a random chair, I still appreciate it as a beautiful piece of history. And I'm happy I was able to make it functional again, on a $15 budget.