Sometimes, though, there’s a chance to do more than take from our past—we can give something back by rescuing a piece that’s seen better days. We got the opportunity to do just that when we discovered this old, neglected rocking chair. Even with broken joints and a ruined finish, the chair’s classic lines made it an irresistible candidate for restoration. Although the specific procedure we used to bring our rocker back to life might not match your restoration project, there’s a good chance many of the techniques will be relevant.
Step 1: Plan of Action
Step 2: Structural Repair
To restore the failed seat joints, first plane the mating surfaces to provide a good fit (Photo 4). Remove only as much material as necessary to avoid affecting the shape of the chair and the fit of the spindle joints. To glue the seat pieces together, first make a clamping caul by tracing the seatback edge on 2 x 4 stock (Photo 5). Cut to the line with a sabre saw or band saw. Then apply glue to the mating surfaces, and use bar or pipe clamps to hold the seat together while the glue sets. Two waxed 1 x 2 cauls at the top and bottom of the seat at each side keep the pieces in alignment (Photo 6).
To repair endgrain cracks in seat-joint lines, glue thin, tapered maple wedges in place. Use a glue syringe to apply the glue (Photo 7). To make very thin wedges for fine checks, tape the wedge to a scrap stick and feather its edge with a file (Photo 8).
With the seat repairs made, scrape away all old glue from the sockets and disassembled spindles. Be careful not to enlarge the holes or reduce spindle-tenon diameters.
Step 3: Finish Removal
We used 3M Safest Stripper to remove our chair’s finish. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, brush on the stripper in heavy coats and allow it to penetrate the old finish (Photo 3). To apply stripper to the spindles, bore oversize holes for the spindle tenons in scrap stock to create a convenient benchtop spindle-holding rack (Photo 4).
Remove the softened finish by gently scraping with a putty knife (Photo 5). Be careful not to gouge the wood surface. Clean the curved surfaces with a flexible stripping pad (Photo 6). To clean small grooves in the turned spindles, use a piece of twine that you’ve coated with dampened pumice (Photo 7). Use a small brass-bristle brush in recesses (Photo 8). Remove any remaining residue with stripping pads and soapy water, followed by fine stripping pads and clean water.
Step 4: Assembly
Remove the cork plugs from the spindle holes and use a belt sander to carefully level the seat repairs (Photo 2). In the concave area of the seat, use a curved cabinet scraper to remove any marks or dents (Photo 3). Finish sand the seat with a random-orbit sander (Photo 4). With the sanding completed, dry assemble the chair to check the fit of all the parts.
We used Titebond Extend glue for the spindle assembly because of its long open time. First, apply glue and assemble the spindle and arm components with the seat (Photo 4). Then, temporarily install the back crossmember, or splat, to keep the long spindles in position while the glue sets.
To complete the assembly, apply glue and install the back spindles in the seat. Spread glue on the spindle top tenons and in the splat tenon holes with a small brush (Photo 5). Install the splat starting at one end and gradually tilting the other end down as you engage the spindles (Photo 6).
Step 5: Finishing
the stain by wiping it on with a padded cloth (Photo 1).
For a durable topcoat with just the right sheen, we finished our rocking chair with three coats of Deft Semi-Gloss Clear Wood Finish, applied following the manufacturer’s instructions (Photo 2).
Now you can enjoy your newly-refinished rocker for years to come.