The cane back chair makeover

So one night a friend of mine brought me this chair that no one wanted anymore.  It was very easy to see why.

Exhibit A – the broken caned back:


Exhibit B – the disgusting vinyl seat:


Exhibit C – the paint spattered wood:


And so I set about working to see if this poor thing could be saved.  Upon initial inspection I thought the wood was too far gone and I would have to paint it.  I have this awesome blue that I have been dying to paint something but it was not to be.  Once I stripped all the yuck off, the wood was really nice and I couldn’t bear to paint it.

The biggest question was what to do with the caned back.  There were spots that had been broken and other that has splattered paint.  I have very little experience with caning and knew I couldn’t save it so I started ripping it out.  This was not an easy job so I looked on The Google to see if someone could suggest an easier way to do it.  There I learned this type of caning is rare and a lost art and I almost had a heart attack.  I like to think I save things not destroy them!   As I read further I also found out that it’s almost impossible to repair and it would have come out anyway.

Here is a pic after I removed all the cane.  Instead of just gluing or stapling the cane onto the chair they actually drilled tiny holes around the edge to pull the cane through.  On the back the holes were covered with wood so you would never know they were there.


After all that was done I stained the wood using Safecoat Durostain in Walnut which took some doing.  This wood is very hard and it took some work to get the stain to soak in.  Next was a few coats of Vermont Natural Coatings Polywhey in gloss.  (I really love this stuff!)

Next we were on to the upholstery.  The seat was easy enough, though time consuming, because I was just replacing the yucky vinyl with new fabric.  The back was a bigger puzzle.  After a bit of research on The Google, I was in business.  The fabric I used here is an original pattern on organic cotton/hemp blend from Swanky Swell.

So without further ado, here she is in all of her made over glory.  If you like her, head over to the online shop where she is for sale!




  1. Melva

    She is beautiful…what a beautiful job you did.

    1. The Ridiculous Redhead (Post author)

      Thank you so much!

  2. meyer

    this is a beautiful job but since i was looking for information on how to replace a caned back with upholstery and you stopped after removing the cane and jumped to the the finished product picture it wasn’t very helpful. why didn’t you show how you rebuilt and upholstered the back!?!

    1. The Ridiculous Redhead (Post author)

      Sorry about that! It was my first time trying to figure it out and I kind of forgot about the pics. The basic idea it that you take a piece of fabric bigger than your opening, facing out the back and then staple around the edge. I put my staples all on the vertical front surface instead of inside the horizontal part of the frame. Trim the excess close to the staples. Next I put in a few layers of cotton batting cut smaller, inside the staple line. Then take a piece of fabric facing forward and lay it over the batting. To make a nice edge fold the cut edge under and then staple, making almost a hem. To cover the staples, hot glue some trim over them.
      To see the back a little better, go here to my shop which has more pics.

      For a better tutorial go here. This is where I got the idea and then figured it out:

      If you have any questions please feel free to email me!

      1. SuttonsDaze

        We just acquired a dinning table with cane backed chairs. One of the chairs has a hole in the cane and I have decided to replace the cane with fabric. Thanks for the updated instructions. I can’t wait to give this a shot.

        1. The Ridiculous Redhead (Post author)

          I’m happy to help! I was kind of making it up as I went along but it turned out great. Let me know if you have any questions or need some help. Kelly

  3. Angie @ ambient wares

    I just picked up a cane back barrel style chair today from the trash and did some google-ing and happened upon your site. I too got a little worried about removing the cane but, #1 – the cane is pretty much destroyed, #2 – it was in the trash, #3 – I saved it from said trash, #4 – I can do what I want, right?? LOL, your chair turned out gorgeous and makes me feel better about whatever route I decide to go with 🙂

    1. The Ridiculous Redhead (Post author)

      There is little you can do if the cane is damaged. Paint stripper will basically melt it and you can’t sand it either. Go make it awesome!


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