Have a seat
May 11, 2008 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I scavenged a chair from the street (oh, how Brooklyn of me) with the overly-ambitious intention of refinishing and reupholstering it. I can figure out how to to remove the seat and replace the fabric, but I'm stuck on several other necessary steps, to the point that I don't even know what terms to Google. Pictures within.

This is the chair. Taking off the seat seems to be straightforward, and I'm an old hand with fabric and foam, so replacing that shouldn't be a problem. However, I can't figure out how to take apart the back so I can replace that fabric. How is the back joined to the sides? What is that little wooden post called? Where should I look for information on how to take that apart and put it back together again? Here's a closeup of the intact post, and here's my best attempt at photographing what's inside the hole from the one that's half-missing. The other side of the back also has one intact post and one missing one.

The other step that I'm confused about is the refinishing. I know nothing about varnish, shellac, etc., so I was considering just leaving the wood as it is, but then the finish started to peel and I figured if I'm going to do this thing, I may as well go whole hog. Can anyone tell from these pictures what kind of finish that is, how best to remove it, what I can expect from the wood underneath, and what new finish I should use?

Any instructions or suggestions on where to look for good instructions are most appreciated. I have basic hand tools, and am happy to buy some specialized supplies, but seeing as how I'm broke enough to pick up a chair from the curb, if this is going to end up being expensive and hassle-y, I have no problem taking the thing back from whence it came.
posted by doift to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: looks like a screw with an allen head inside the hole, probably goes into the back to hold it in place, the wood peg is just a filler to cover up the other screw.. pry it out carefully...

and, if that is the arm, it looks like, perhaps, there is a thin layer of vaneer over the top...

If it was mine, I would sand it all down and paint it....
posted by HuronBob at 4:18 PM on May 11, 2008

I think if you can pull out the remaining posts/pegs from the back of the chair, that will either detach the back, or it will become apparent how to remove the back (e.g. there will be screws underneath or something). Even if you can't remove the back, do you really need to? You could probably just cut the existing upholstery off and then wrap new foam and fabric around it... As for the finish of the wood, I think you could just take an electric sander to it and then stain or paint it to suit your taste. Good luck!
posted by LolaGeek at 4:20 PM on May 11, 2008

I refurbed a chair just like this in Year 9 Woodwork. I encountered trouble with random joints and screws and things, and ended up just drilling out anything I couldn't pry out through other means and replacing them with dowel joints throughout. Like LolaGeek says, removing whatever is on there should only take some sandpaper and a bit of sanding. If you go and speak to the Paint people in a hardware store they should be able to recommend something to finish it with if you're not sure, or something to remove whats already on there is sandpaper doesn't do the trick.

Have fun!
posted by cholly at 5:03 PM on May 11, 2008

I would avoid trying to dismantle this chair at all. The back may be screwed in there as a suggested, and it may not. If you're going to reupholster anyway, take a razor to what's on there and rip it off. Try to save the foam, if it's not crumbly (but take it off); if it's shot, crumbly, take note of the thickness of it. When you've got everything soft off, you can refinish the wood. My rule is: do no evil -- if you like how it looks, sand off anything that's peeling (hand sanding should be fine), use a little steel wool and thinner to clean the whole thing; take some natural or light-colored Minwax stain and do a couple of coats of that. Then finish the whole thing with one or two coats of Minwax Polycrylic, satin finish. Now it's ready for reupholstery, which ain't my forte. But if you're handy with a needle, or know someone who is, you should be able to do that. Or take it to an upholsterer.
posted by beagle at 5:06 PM on May 11, 2008

I'd be really, really wary about curbside furniture being infested with bedbugs... especially in Brooklyn. There's a slew of stuff about this on the search engines.
posted by crapmatic at 5:44 PM on May 11, 2008

Response by poster: HuronBob was on the money. I can't believe, after all the hours I've spent assembling Ikea furniture, I didn't recognize an Allen head screw. The chair is now in pieces on my kitchen floor! A "best answer" check will soon be yours, Bob; I'm just going to wait and see if anyone has any more thoughts about the finish.

I thought about LolaGeek and beagle's just-cut-off-the-fabric method, but it's going to be much easier to get a smooth clean finish on the fabric this way. And crapmatic, few people are more paranoid about bedbugs than me, but I have reason to believe this particular chair is clean.
posted by doift at 9:08 PM on May 11, 2008

The chipped veneer is going to be hard to fix. If it is a problem just on the bottom of the leg, I'd take a sander to it and just smooth it out as best as possible.

Try using a paint stripper on a test spot on the inside and see if that removes the finish. If that works I would use that on the whole chair and lightly sand it. Then just use a polyurethane on the entire chair while it is still apart.
posted by JJ86 at 6:06 AM on May 12, 2008

Most likely the existing finish is polyurethane. Strip it. I would start with a chemical stripper first, then go to sanding. I've used 5F5 stripper which is nasty, nasty stuff, but is a solvent for most things that get put onto wood. Any hardware store will carry its equivalent and more recent, less nasty stuff.

You will want to refinish it with polyurethane. I've used both water based and solvent based and quite frankly, do not care for the water based (things I've finished with water based have not aged well at all). Buy 4 or 5 foam brushes to apply it. I usually do three thin coats with very light sanding with 400 grit paper between coats. If you use water based, you'll want many more coats than three. Make sure you finish the piece in a VERY well ventilated room. Polyurethane reeks.
posted by plinth at 6:49 AM on May 12, 2008

HuronBob has it re: the allen head screw.
As far as refinishing the wood goes, i would just use Restor-a-Finish in a color close to the original finish. I've used it several times and always come away utterly amazed by the ability of this stuff to--*ahem*--restore a finish. I used it on a vintage dresser that had spots stripped to the wood by wear. Looking at it today you couldn't tell anything was ever wrong with it. It had chipped veneer on the corners, too. I didn't bother with repairing it because it was just too difficult for me to attempt with no tools. That and I was in a severe time crunch. But the Restor-a-Finish blended the raw wood/veneered wood well so the lack of veneer is pretty much camouflaged.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:14 AM on May 12, 2008

Yes, that chipped veneer is going to be a bit of a problem. It's a thin layer of wood glued on top of the structural wood. You can't use chemicals to strip it off, and sanding alone will take forever. You'd have to cut, peel, and pry it off, then try to find some matching veneer at the hardware store.

I hate to suggest it, but if you really want a sleek, finished look, you might need paint. 2-3 coats of a nice semi-gloss would do. You might use a different color for the armrests and crossbars than the rest of the frame, to bring those elements out a little.
posted by echo target at 7:14 AM on May 12, 2008

Response by poster: Just in case anyone is still following this, here's the finished chair. Stripped the finish with Citristrip, which took off most of the old finish, and coated with two coats of a water-based finish, which had better colors than any of the polyurethanes at my hardware store. New foam and fabric and it's good as new. Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by doift at 6:32 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Distributed computing as "volunteer work"?   |   Best way to flash my BIOS Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.