Repairing Heirloom Cane Chairs

Repairing those old ladder-back heirloom cane chairs costs a few dollars, takes a couple of hours and connects the craftsperson with a fascinating history. Includes step-by-step instructions for caning chairs.

| March/April 2007


How to repair heirloom cane chairs.


Learn about repairing heirloom cane chairs using these step-by-step instructions. 

A few years ago, my sister inherited my grandmother’s old ladderback chairs with hand-woven rush seats. The oak frames were in nearly perfect condition, but the seats were tattered and needed to be replaced. Luckily, I knew someone who could breathe new life into her chairs.

Marvin Garner, "The Chair Man of Gordon County," is a master of the lost art of repairing heirloom cane chairs, with more than 30 years of experience and hundreds of restored chair seats under his belt. The Resaca, Georgia, resident is a proud member of the Appalachian Heritage Guild — a group dedicated to preserving and demonstrating early American arts, crafts, food and music.

"From an early age, I loved using my hands to work with wood and other natural materials," Garner reflects. "And so I learned to cane — mostly by watching others."

The term caning typically refers to weaving the seats of chairs using one of many materials — cane, rush, sea grass, or reed. Garner can restore all types of cane seating but refuses to work with rush.

"Why in the world would anyone want a rush seat?" he remarks emphatically. "It’s inferior to the other materials."

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