Copyright © 2007 by The Wicker Woman®–Cathryn Peters
Hole-to-hole traditional strand chair caning is probably the most popular and well known type of chair caning, but there are at least three other types of actual “chair caning” methods and techniques.
One very common type of chair caning that was invented and first used way back in the 1870s, is “machine woven cane webbing,” but it also goes by several different names; sheet cane, cane webbing, spline cane and cane panels.
In this process the cane strips are first woven on a loom into “sheets” or “panels.” This fabric-like material is used on chairs that have a routed out groove around the perimeter of the chair seat. Where the cane webbing is tamped down into the groove and held in place with a reed spline.
Because the woven cane sheet is held in place with the reed spline, this design or pattern is also known and referred to as “spline cane.” And because it’s woven by a machine or loom in big sheets or panels it’s also called, “sheet cane,” “cane paneling,” or “machine cane.”
Installing cane webbing is a lot easier and less time consuming than its counterpart, hole-to-hole hand caning. In fact, the hardest part of this caning process, is removing the old cane and glue from the groove. But on average this caning project should take you only about one hour to complete from start to finish.
Step-by-step Instructions for How-to Install Cane Webbing
Difficulty of task: Moderate
Things You’ll Need for this DIY Project:
• chair with a routed out groove on the top side of the seat
• replacement sheet cane
• replacement rattan reed spline
• special spline removal chisels, 1/8″W, 1/4″W or 3/8″W
• utility knife with sharp blades
• measuring tape
• basketmaking or regular scissors
• wooden wedges
• white glue or hide glue (do NOT use carpenters yellow glue or super glue)
• large sink, bathtub, or 4 inch diameter x 3 foot long, PVC pipe with cap on end to soak cane in water
Step #1–Remove Old Cane Webbing, Spline and Glue from Groove.
Remove cane webbing, spline and glue from chair seat using specially made chisels and a hammer. Then bevel the inside edge of seat opening using a rasp and sandpaper, so the sharp edge doesn’t cut the new cane. And be sure to keep a large piece of the old seat in case you need to match the pattern design or color.
Refer to my previous article on How-to Remove Spline Cane Webbing from a chair seat for detailed instructions and photographs to follow the first step.
Step #2–Measure and Order proper Size Cane Webbing and Spline
Measure cane webbing to be 2″ beyond the groove in all four sides. Also measure the width of the groove itself and measure for length too, giving yourself about 2-4″ longer than needed for the spline.
There are several different patterns and sizes of cane webbing to suit your needs, but order the specific size spline to fit the groove in your chair.
And if you are replacing the sheet cane in an fancy, Victorian style wicker chair or rocker, use the “close woven” sheet cane, because the plain, dense pattern will not compete with the fancy, curlicues, loops and other embellishments typical of the Victorian period style.
Cane webbing, spline and caning wedges can be ordered from special cane & basket supply stores online and through woodworking shops.
Step #3–Prepare the Machine Woven Cane Webbing and Spline
Soak the cane webbing or sheet cane in warm water for at least 30 minutes up to four hours until very supple. Roll up the cane and soak in bathtub, wallpaper tray, or PVC pipe with caps on both ends. Measure spline to be 2 inches longer than groove. Spline only needs to soak a short time, so put it in the water as you apply the webbing.
Step #4–Begin Spline Cane Installation Process
Drain or shake off excess water from the pre-soaked cane webbing. Position the sheet cane webbing over large seat hole opening so the pattern is centered and lined up both vertically and horizontally. Make sure you have the shinny side up, which is the correct side.
Then gently tamp webbing into the groove using the special wooden wedges, assisted with light taps from the hammer.
At this point, you might want to remove a few of the outer rows of caning from all four sides, which can ease the application of the getting the cane into the groove.
Step #5–Cut Corners, Trim Excess from Cane Webbing Sheet
Press cane into groove at back and front first, then press cane into sides so the cane is centered properly. Angle your wedges so they are applying the most pressure to the outer side of the groove, not the inner, just to make sure your wedge doesn’t cut the cane.
Cut (make small snips) the webbing at each corner to ease installation into groove and then cut off excess webbing on sides to within 1″ to get out of your way.
And if you have a round seat, cut at several intervals around outside of seat in the extra overhang.
Step #6–Secure and “Seat” Cane Into Groove
Continue to tamp webbing into all sides of the chair seat groove. Make sure that the webbing is completely down into the groove and that the sheet itself is pulled taught, but not tight across the large center hole. The cane will shrink and tighten as it dries, so you don’t want to install too tightly while it’s wet.
Step #7–Cut Excess Cane from Outer Edge of Groove
After cane is tamped down along the entire groove, then cut away excess cane webbing from outer edge of groove. Use care to only cut on the outside of the groove, not the inside or you will ruin the sheet of cane.
Use a new sharp blade in your utility knife to make a clean cut within 1/4″ below seat surface. Again, going all the way around the groove and only cutting and trimming away the cane from the outside edge of the groove.
Step #8–Apply Glue to Groove
Apply a 1/8″ bead of animal hide glue or any white, water-soluble glue to the inside edge of the groove, over or on top of where the cane is.
Inserting Spline on Round Chair Seat
Shake off excess water from previously soaked reed spline and press into groove and if working with a round seat, begin tamping and pressing in the spline from the center back and work your way from left to right in a counter-clockwise direction. Press spline into groove using the side of a wooden wedge over the top of the spline and then tap lightly with hammer to push into groove.
When you get around to the beginning end of spline, measure both ends so they butt up closely together with no gap in between and mark those spots lightly with your fingernail or pencil. Or make a diagonal or slanted cut to match on each end.
Place a small piece of wood like a shim or use the flat side of a cane wedge to cut the spline ends. Using your utility knife or basketmaking scissors, make either a diagonal cut on both ends as in the photograph, or a blunt cut. Press ends into groove so they lay just a hair under the top of the seat surface like the rest of the spline.
Inserting Trapezoidal Cane Seat Spline–If you are working on a trapizodial seat with four sides, you’ll need to measure and cut four portions of the spline and also cut a 45 degree angle on each one at both ends to get mitered corners at each of the four corners.
Then begin pressing in the individual pieces of spline on either the front or back section, ending with inserting the sides last. Lay a wooden wedge on the side and lightly tap the spline on top with the hammer so the spline lays even with the seat surface or just slightly above.
Step #9–Clean Up and Let Sheet Cane Seat Dry
Clean up any excess glue spills with a warm, wet rag and you’re project is done! Allow at least three days for the cane webbing, spline and the glue in the groove to dry thoroughly before using. Congratulations on a DIY job well done. Enjoy!
Color Matching New Cane Seat to Old
If it’s necessary for you to color match an new chair cane webbing seat to the old, because it is part of a set, then you can use a gel stain or oil-based stain to get a fairly close match.
It’s advisable to let the cane darken naturally on it’s own if at all possible though, because the finish treatments seal the cane making it more brittle. The cane sheet can’t expand and contract with the variations of humidity as well with a finish as without.
And remember too, the smooth, glossy side of the cane does not absorb stain well, nor does a clear finish coat stay well. You will need to first rough up the new cane surface using some sand paper or steel wool (steel wool leaves messy fibers), then apply several light coats of stain until you get the desired result.
Let all coats dry first before applying another. Then either brush on or spray a compatible final finish clear coat. Don’t let anyone sit on the chair until throughly dry.
Chair Cane Webbing Installation Helpful Tips & Safety Warnings
• Cane webbing, spline, chisels, glue, basketmaking scissors and wooden cane wedges can all be purchased through specialty cane & basket suppliers or through woodworking shops
• In Step #7 when you’re cutting off the excess cane from the outside of the groove, DO NOT cut cane from INSIDE of groove or it will ruin the cane and you’ll have to start all over!
• Don’t let anyone sit on the seat for at least 3-5 days so the cane webbing and glue can dry thoroughly.
• Use only hide glue or white water-soluble glue, do NOT use yellow carpenter’s glue or super glue in groove. It will be almost impossible to remove the next time the cane seat is to be replaced if you use yellow or super glue.
• The natural glossy side of the cane seat does not accept stain well, so it’s best to let the cane seat age naturally. After about 5-7 years it will turn a dark honey color.
• If you must match the color of the seat to one of a set, it’s best to use an oil-base stain applied by brush, using several light coats. Let dry between applications and follow up with a natural varnish or polyurethane.
• Always use caution when handling sharp tools such as the chisels and utility knives to guard against cutting yourself. But make sure the tools you are using are sharp rather than dull, so they perform optimally.
• If using stain, varnish or polyurethane do so in a well ventilated room or outdoors. And always wear safety glasses.
See more Chair Caning Hints and Tips on TheWickerWoman YouTube Channel
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