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.