12 December 2016

Bentwood chairs get a new lease on life

 Once upon a time in a city weirder than yours, I saw three bentwood chairs in a storage place dumpster by my apartment in Austin. Naturally, I stopped my car, dug the chairs out of the dumpster and they have been mine ever since. Two of them were painted white with orange paint underneath. The third one was in rough shape, but was its plain wood. Having never done a wood refinishing project this difficult before, I chose to paint them all dark brown at the time. And my dad cut a seat for the one without a seat.

Mom had one bentwood chair with the original caned seat that she was looking to get rid of, so that helped me have a nice set of 4 dining chairs for my first apartment. They served me very well painted brown for, but I always wanted to sand them all down and stain them a dark stain. After five years, I decided I was brave enough to finally take them on!

 Sanding and sanding and sanding:
These poor chairs had SO MUCH paint on them. One layer was my fault, but those other two layers were something. I started sanding them in 2015, but my poor Black and Decker Mouse sander broke. And it turned out that all of them had a certain life span like mine did, so I held off on my chairs for a while until I could get a good, reliable sander.

Take two in 2016:
 Josh gave me a Bosch detail sander for my birthday this year that has been fantastic. It has a few different attachments for detail sanding. I ended up taking the chairs apart completely. This turned out to be a good idea, because some of the brackets and screws were rusted. I started out just sanding them, but the thick layers of paint kept clogging my sandpaper up. I don't like using strippers and chemicals in general, because my lungs are sensitive, but for this project I decided to dry out Citristrip. When Citristrip didn't really do much, I went in with the big guns and got a heavy duty spray-on stripper. It did really well and ate through several layers of paint at once. After that got most of the paint off, I sanded everything out. Since I was doing all of this in the New Mexico rainy season, I moved everything inside for staining.
This is the chair my mom gave me. I have no idea what kind of polyurethane/shellac/resin was on this chair, but I never did get all of it off. Spent hours sanding and stripping, only to have it get gummy and never dry. I eventually got it dry enough to get a new coat of stain on it, but it took a couple of weeks for the chair to actually dry. 

All done! Caned bentwood chair is still drying at this point.

Glamour Shots:


  1. Did they all have that plastic mesh seating originally? Just being rid of that makes all the difference in my opinion. The chairs themselves are pretty timeless, that stuff isn't!

    1. I think three of them probably had a thin plywood seat originally, but the fourth one had the original caned seat. Caning is traditionally made from rattan palm and that is what mine is made out of! Never have seen a plastic mesh caning!