Sep 26

Chair Restoration & Upholstery

Chair Restoration

Initial Assessment:

Early chair Edwardian or Georgian

Chair prior to restoration

  • The chair came from auction with a broken rear leg
  • Worn upholstery to be replaced
  • The framework once repaired would be stripped and refinished

On inspection the leg break was recent, the surfaces were very clean as was the break with no missing wood; that’s great news as I can now do a glue up as ill have full surface contact; should it fail it will mean a complete replacement leg.

The seat appears to have been re-upholstered and the original has been replaced with a patterned PVC material, this would suggest it was done in the late sixties early seventies once that’s removed and I get inside the seat I’ll have a better idea and see if there is any work to be done.

The seat is made up of several component parts built up in layers to form a well-shaped and comfortable seat. I have done several inserts and seat pads for dining chairs and stools, but this is my first leap into the upholstery.

The usual arrangement for this type of seat should be as follows:
Diagram of seat upholstery

Image from Pinterest

  (Starting from the bottom up)

  • Backing material Modern black fabric, Older Hessian or Jute
  • Webbing fixed lattice fashion to bottom frame
  • Springs stitched to webbing
  • Hessian or Jute spring cover
  • Layer of matting
  • a layer of bulk filler such as cotton and hair
  • a further layer of Hessian Jute
  • a layer of padding including the side and front bulk pads
  • A layer of soft material pulled over everything
  • Top fabric for seat
  • Finishing comprises of piping, scrim, Nails or braid to the edges.
Please Note: (Mostly Common Sense)
  Always without exception be ready, stripping down will involve an awful lot of staple and nail removal have something ready to put them in to keep them off the floor.
  Dust, debris, fibres and hair will be floating about, you may choose to wear a mask and in the worst-case scenario rodents yes, it’s been known especially if the furniture has been stored; take care not to damage the frame components and keep your eyes open for any rotten parts to sort later.


  This blog isn’t intended as a tutorial but a record of my experiences, if you can take something from it that helps you some ware down the road then that would please me greatly.
For those who may use my services or want to purchase a piece of furniture made or restored by me, here you have the opportunity to see the work involved in such pieces.

Intended work:

  • Strip the old seat back to the frame, make a note of its construction.
  • Measure the width of materials removed to give a guide to new size requirements.
  • Replace any springs or timbers inside, springs will be replaced or realigned and restrung if needed.
  • Clean down the chair frame, wire wool with a sealer and wax mixture
    ~ Only if the wood is in good condition.

    ~ Wood in poor condition or where repairs leave bare wood showing.
  • Cabinet scrapers to remove any old shellac and grime
  • Sand clean and bring to a smooth finish.
  • Stain and match any areas to cohesive colour.
  • Finish in Shellac or varnish depending on furniture type and age.
  • Polish and buff bringing the wood back to a nice deep red mahogany lustre
  • Reupholster the seat using traditional fills of horse hair, jute plus a hair & cotton mix.
  • I want to re-cover the seat with a fabric more in keeping with what is an elegant chair, I bought some material at the same time as I acquired the chair, I hope the new fabric will complement the deep red mahogany chair so I’ve got some ruby red Jacquard pattern fabric.

Why do the upholstery myself? I have two possible outcomes when I take this job on: 1/ I succeed, learn upholstery, learn even more about the chair, end up with the ability to do others. 2/ I struggle, find it’s not for me, learn a lesson (No shame in that) I appreciate my upholsterer all the more.


Progress report on actual work:


Stripping The Seat:
Traditional seat fillings

     Cotton Fibre & Hair Mix


Pulling the decorative nails and piping away around the seat base gives us access to the material fixings which in this case are small tacks, once these are pulled the top fabric and padding layer can be taken off, the padding on this one is a combination of cotton and fibres.
The intermediate layers are of hessian, then the stuffing which is a cotton hair mixture bulked up and fixed to the frame with countless tacks. (I’ve taken a measurement of the fabric, bearing in mind this is a trimmed finished size).





Jute use to cover seat springs

   Jute Spring Layer Revealed

The next and final layer is the spring cover Hessian or possibly Jute this would be a slightly heavier grade of material due to its requirements of being pulled taught across the springs levelling their height, it also needs to be tougher as it will be repeatedly rubbed on the spring tops and be stretched in everyday use.
The tacks are pulled holding the Jute in place and on the removal of the spring cover I have my suspicions confirmed regards the time of its last re-upholstery. Normally the springs would be sewn onto webbing affixed to the lower frame, then strung to hold them in place setting their height and alignment, these are attached to a combined steal frame, that is nailed directly to the wooden rails; they are in great condition and that spring frame adds to the strength of the chair so were all good.
There are some issues with a couple of rails but before I look at that I want to ensure this leg is a repair rather than a replacement.

Rear Chair Leg:

      Broken Chair Leg

The two parts were offered up to each other this confirmed no missing pieces; so I continued with a wood glue repair. Once glued it was clamped up and left-over night to cure. I managed to get good wood contact, essential for a successful joint; had great squeeze out on clamping down so I’m confident of a nice clean and strong repair.

Image of repair to chair leg

   Strong Repair Joint

Any ideas of cleaning back the finish and adding a new coat of shellac on this chair isn’t a option now with this repair, as It will be necessary to take the finish back to the wood at the joint where they meet, although there is only a micro gap if any; at the repair join it will stand out if I don’t feather, grain out.


  Jointed and Clamped

The next day and the moment of truth with the removal of the clamps, we have a really good join and I’m so pleased.

I now use cabinet scrapers to take minimal shavings at a time taking the finish back until the joint is bare wood a light sanding and I know that joint is totally flush. Undetectable by touch now the staining and finish application, later on, will dictate if it’s more importantly also invisible by sight.


Rails being cut on a bandsaw

     Cutting New Rails

The Chair Rails & Frame:

It’s time to sort these chair rails I noticed yesterday during the strip down; the front rail looks in excellent shape I can’t decide if its original or a replaced piece, it appears to be hardwood and possibly original.
The rear rail looks as if it was replaced the last time it was upholstered; the right and left rails are original but now have deteriorated and tack holes that look like mice armed with little AK47’s have been let loose on them, so they come off and new ones cut and fitted.


Rails clamped in place before being nailed

    Rails Ready To Fit

Softwood is the best solution to the rails; the softwood will except the multiple tacks that are about to be hit into it better than a hardwood option less chance of splitting and more flex regards seat strains and movement without being displaced.
There’s nothing technical or fancy with this job so I simply run some good straight pine through the bandsaw to match the height and width of the original timber and nail through to the bottom rail pinching the spring rail in place.

30th September 2017

Sanding An Endless Task:

A little more this evening last side then invert to do the undersides, rely feels like progress now.
So easy to rush and make mistakes, but patience is paying off.
Time to start getting the dyes and finishes together and order any upholstery materials I’m short of.









17th October 2017

Finished Preparation Work:

Spent a few hours in the shop this evening, I now feel I’m almost there regards sanding down if not finished with it. I could have gone right back but felt I would have lost all the originality if I did that; the colouring of this piece will naturally end up lighter as its age that brings about the darker hues in a piece.




The wood grain will be quite open now so I’ve done some test pieces regards die’s and decided to put a light sand sealer coat before any dies are applied. It should restrict penetration, hopefully, it will stop any severe blotching.





I’m going for a two-part die process; I’m after a dark reddish brown so the first layer will be the red undertone, then a brown on top to gain some depth from a darker colour this should give me what I’m aiming for.
I’m going to finish in Shellac as the traditional finish and again aiming for further darker depth, probably be Button Shellac maybe a little darker.


Decisions Decisions:

Once that’s done it will mean the upholstery is the last job to do. I’ve asked for a quote today from a local upholsterer; I can’t rule out the idea of having it finished by a professional,  always wanted to try it and add to my learning but I just feel the upholstery may be a line past woodworking I may not want to cross. Openminded for now and it depends on how the chair finishes, get a great result I would be tilted towards a pro finish still wanting the red Jacquard material.



19th October 2017

Cut Coat Sealer Experiment:

A thinned layer of sanding sealer laid down as a cut coat.

Applied a thin sanding sealer coat; thoughts were to try a method to reduce absorption and to reduce blotching.  Already the slight undertones came through with the sealer (Cut Coat). I’ve deliberately left certain mars and aged ware in the chair, not to everyone’s taste but I’m hoping it will give depth and character.

Concerns: I know I’m risking it slightly looking as if it’s been not prepared enough, but the amount of work and effort is there, will my efforts look as if I didn’t make one? or will it pay off, time will tell?


First dye coat Deep mahogany

Starting the colouring process:

I’ve now applied a coat of dye “Deep Mahogany” this is getting a red undertone.
Its gone on well and of course is highlighting all those marks and age-related ware I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit of a scary process as being a dye it will penetrate the wood and usually there’s no going back; now this is where that cut coat comes in; certainly won’t stop it penetrating but it should reduce it and maybe a saving grace if it doesn’t work out.


Once again that’s it for now until next time: I’ll be back in the shop soon to continue this chair so come back for any updates and progress.

Thanks for visiting

Regards Dusty

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