What To Look For In An Antique Chair

Imagine that you’ve found a little corner junk shop with a surprisingly good collection of antique chairs. The prices are appealing but the chairs haven?t been exceptionally well taken care of and show a good deal of wear.

You ask yourself can any of these chairs be restored and how difficult will these repairs be. A flawed antique chair can be a bonanza if the damage isn?t too great. Sometimes a chair will seem to be only slightly flawed but is in fact ruined while others may look terrible but only need a little tender loving care. Some damage can be fixed quickly with little expertise while others require a trained and expensive professional.

The chairs and repairs discussed below apply only to dining and not stuffed easy chairs. Most of the information will apply to side, frame, and ladderback chairs as well as most other single seat chairs.

One of the first things to do when assessing the damage to most stick chairs is to try and move the seat around by taking the seat into your hands and turning it in a circular motion. If the seat moves at all it is probably poorly seated on the supporting legs. This sort of damage isn’t a disaster but can be trickier to fix than it might seem.

Examine the joints of the legs to the seat. The leg top may be split or missing a chunk of wood where the pieces fit together. The groove or hole where the legs sit might have become enlarged due to the leg rubbing against the side of its joint. If the gaps have become too large the seat might have to be replaced entirely, a difficult chore. Unless you are a skilled furniture maker it is probably best to avoid chairs with very loose seats.

Bentwood chairs are a type of antique that often has damage that looks worse than it is. These chairs were commonly mass-produced during the nineteenth century and are a common rummage sale find. If the back seems loose and moves more than you’d like, examine the bolts holding the back to the seat. Often times during the life of the chair someone has replaced the original bolts with ones too small to offer lasting support. While you?re at it take a look at all of the screw mountings. Any that are undersized or worn out can be easily replaced.

Many bentwood chairs were originally made with weaved seats that couldn?t stand up to regular use and were eventually replaced with pressboard, plywood, or similar material. Some bentwood chairs were sold with a seat made from a material very much like plywood. Replacing a cracked or stained seat on a bentwood chair is a simple matter and will hardly affect a chair?s value. In fact when compared to an original but ruined seat it will improve the chair’s value.

Be sure to closely examine any antique chair leg that has scrollwork or intricate lathing. Any chair?s leg where that kind of delicate work has been done is going to be prone to weakness and splitting. A split or cracked leg is the death knell for an antique of any kind. It takes wood working skill far beyond the average collector to manufacturer new legs. Even if you are willing to pay to have the work done it will only be perfect if placed in the hands of a master and that costs.

Armrests and supports are generally less cataclysmic possibilities. Take a seat on the chair and grip the arms firmly and try to move them. Weakened armrests will move but unless it?s extreme, the damage is often slight. Constant stress and aged glue is the probable root of most shaky arms. Unless the supports are cracked and artistically lathed some carefully applied wood glue will mend the problem.

Unfortunately, a carved armrest or support that has been cracked is almost as bad as a ruined leg. It all depends on the difficulty in reproducing the damaged piece.

Any loose joint held together by nails rather than glue can be a real problem. If the nails are rusted or the heads have been broken off it is fairly difficult, but not impossible, to extract them without causing greater damage to the woodwork, although even this can be repaired if not too grave.

Silas Finch is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. He can be reached at Content and Solutions.

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