How to Recover an Old Rocking Chair: A Restoration Guide

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Restoring an old piece of furniture is a rewarding task, but it can also be quite time-consuming. Most people, though, agree that spending the time on restoration is well worth it.

That is because an old piece of furniture is, more often than not, very well made with beautiful woodworking and high-quality wood. It also means that you can save your grandparent’s old rocking chair from ending up on the dump (or in the next bonfire). Likewise, it is a fun hobby project that will benefit many generations to come.

If you’ve managed to get your hands on a rocking chair that could do with a bit of TLC, then you may be wondering where to start. As such, we looked at how to recover an old rocking chair with a four-step guide to help you through the process.

The Simple Method

The length of each restoration project will depend on the state of disrepair that your rocking chair is in at the moment. Some may just need a new lick of paint or varnish, while others will need to be fixed and reinforced before someone can safely sit in the chair again.

1. Repairs

The first thing you should attend to are any parts of the chair that are physically broken, including tightening up any loose, rickety joints. If any of the pieces of wood need replacing, for example, if a seat slat is broken or splintered, then you’ll have to take measurements and get those ready first off.

The entire chair may need to be disassembled so be sure to label all of the pieces so that you know where each piece came from, making it easier to put it back together! You should be able to take the chair apart using a mallet or spreader clamps.

  • Stubborn seat spindles: If you find you have a particularly stubborn seat spindle, then you may find you also need to drill an access hole under the seat and use a center punch and hammer so that you can bash it out.
  • Endgrain cracks: If you have endgrain cracks in your seat joints, then you can repair and strengthen it by using thin, tapered wedges of wood (something dense like maple is ideal). Glue it into place using a syringe to get the glue in the right place if needed.
  • Remove old glue: Before gluing your chair back together, try to remove as much as the old glue as you can by scraping it off the ends of the spindles and out of the sockets. Be careful not to scrape away any of the wood during this process as you don’t want to affect the fit, which will make them look weird once joined back together.

2. Strip Previous Finish

While the chair is disassembled, you can apply a stripper to the frame and the various pieces of the chair. Following the manufacturer’s instructions on how to apply it (normally with a brush), and how long to leave it on.

For flat surfaces, gently scrape away the softened finish with a putty knife, being careful not to compromise the integrity of the wood by gauging it. Curved surfaces can be approached with soapy water and flexible stripping pads.

Other tools that you may find useful in this process, to get into awkward and small recesses, include small bristle brushes and pieces of twine. You can then finish the job with fine stripping pads and clean water.

How to Recover an Old Rocking Chair

3. Reassemble

Once the chair is completely dry, you may need to fine sand it in places that have raised grain from the water application, and then, you can start to reassemble it.

Choose your glue carefully since something more traditional like hide glue isn’t as strong. It is also less likely to rip the wood apart when a joint fails. Thus, more modern PVA glue is a better choice. When it fails, joints will loosen, but your wood will be saved.

The chair will then need to be clamped into place to hold all of the spindles and joints in place until the glue is completely dry.

4. Refinish

Now it’s just a case of choosing your finish and applying it! Depending on the look you want, you can use a dye-based stain or opt for a natural wood finish with a clear varnish. Think about how you want to apply your lacquer as some can be sprayed on, which makes the job a lot easier. Or, if you prefer an oil finish, then finishing oils can be easily applied with a cloth.

Rocking Chairs That Rock!

Following this four-step process will help guide you in how to recover an old rocking chair. Rather than buying a new one, breathe a new lease of life into a quality old piece of furniture and reap the rewards for generations to come.

Rocking chairs are fantastic for relaxing on the porch, soothing yourself in front of the fire, and helping to soothe a baby to sleep in a nursery. You’ll always find a use for this well-loved piece of furniture, and find it hugely rewarding knowing that you’ve restored it yourself.

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