Introduction: Weave Chair Seats With Paracord
It's fairly easy to find old wooden chairs with broken out seat bottoms. Often the chair frame is solid, but no one is interested in reweaving the rush bottom. When I found 5 old chairs in the rafters of a barn I decided to hack them with paracord! This is a fun project which will add a pop of color to your home. Here's how.
Step 1: Why Paracord?
Paracord is short for parachute cord which was it's original use. It's now available in a multitude of colors and has a million uses. Comprised of multiple nylon cords it's amazingly strong, very durable, and easy to clean. Cost is not prohibitive either as repairing a chair costs approximately $25. Paracord woven chairs wear well and will look great for a long time.
Paracord - 275 feet depending on chair measurements
I'm using 550 paracord but smaller cord will work too.
Flat bar for weaving cord
Polyurethane, chalk paint or other wood finish
Step 2: Preparing Your Chair
Your first step is cutting out the nasty seat bottoms which is pretty easy. Sand your chair as needed to remove old finish and any rough spots. Apply polyurethane as I did on the chair above or use paint to add more color. Chalk paint is a great option for old wood as it requires less prep and bonds well (blue chair).
Step 3: Planning the Weave
The only tricky part of this project is spacing the weave pattern evenly although it's pretty easy. Most chairs will be similar in size, however variations will affect paracord usage. Start by measuring all four sides of your chair. The yellow & black chair measured 10.5" on each side, 13" front and 11" back and required 110 ft of yellow cord and 165 ft of black cord. This is a good estimate for similar sized chairs. You can always add more cord on the bottom side so it's not critical to be exact.
First find out how many turns you'll be making on each side. In essence of time, I suggest wrapping around and around the entire length of the back dowel, front dowel and one side to get an accurate count of turns. I tried to estimate this by wrapping a few inches and then multiplying by the length (pic 2). It didn't work very well. It's worth the time to quickly wrap each side and get a good count. Try to wrap evenly and snuggly for best results.
Lay out the "front-to-back" pattern (yellow). Using the number of turns on the front and back dowels, you need to (a) account for width difference between front and back and (b) determine how many groups of 4 cords you will make.
Account for width difference. Since the front is wider you must add more turns on its left and right sides so the center of the pattern will run straight from back to front. Subtract the number of turns across the back dowel from those on the front dowel to find the difference between them. Divide this difference by 2. This is the number of extra turns you need to make up on the left and right side of the front dowel so the center will be straight.
- Turns (front) - Turns (back) = Extra Turns to be made on Front
- Extra Turns / 2 = Extra Turns on Left and Right sides of front dowel
Example: On this yellow chair the front had 85 turns and the back 69 turns so I needed to account for a 16 turn difference. Dividing by 2 meant 8 extra turns on each side of the front were needed for the center to be straight.
- 85 - 69 = 16 more turns on the front than back
- 16 / 2 = 8 extra turns on left side of front and 8 on right side of front.
Look closely at the first picture and compare the front and back patterns on each side. To make up 8 turns I either added extra turns in the front or deleted turns across the back. Note along the back there are no "spacer" turns between the cords in the first 2 groups of 4 long strands. Deleting these 6 turns and adding 2 extras in the front got my long strands running perpendicular to the front & back dowels. If the front and back of your chair are the same length, i.e. the seat is a square, then you can obviously skip this part.
Determine the number of 4 strand groups. This should be done on paper using the turn counts you've already established. See pic 3. I typically start with 2 "spacers" turns on the front and 1 in the back and then see how it turns out. The number of spacer wraps at the beginning and end is where you'll want to place extra turns so your pattern is even. Don't forget to include the extra turns on the front.
A turn out of place here or there is not going to be noticeable but try to avoid it. On my yellow chair I didn't realize I had made a spacer turn in the wrong place until I started writing this instructable. One of the extra turns should be all the way to the right, but it's hard to tell. Don't sweat little differences. A good life rule!
Planning out the pattern for the side-to-side weaving (black) is simpler since the side dowels are the same length. I typically don't put spacer turns on the sides so there are no gaps in the weave. Up to you. Use the turn count for the side dowel you've already established and divide it by 4. If you have extra turns then use them as spacers either at the front or back.
Grab some cord and let's get going!
Step 4: Let's Get to Weaving!
Grab 110 feet or more of paracord and bind it up so it's easy to handle. I have tried several ways of bundling the cord and find a rubber band works about as well as anything. I haven't tried rolling it into a ball like yarn but that might work too. It just needs to be gathered up so it's easy to pass while you keep the cord snug on the chair frame.
Tie your cord on the front dowel to get started. A clove hitch (pic 1) works well although the type of knot is not important. After cinching the clove hitch knot rotate it 180 to hide the crossing strand. The clove hitch starts you off with 2 turns in the front which is convenient when you are trying to add extra turns along the front. Leave a 12" pigtail so you can tie the other cord (black) to it when you start weaving side to side.
Step 5: The First Color Wrap
If you haven't noticed this is a 2-layer weave where you will be weaving an identical top and bottom layer. Normally you would only have one layer made by weaving the strands on the top and bottom together for your seat. I didn't attempt this because paracord doesn't stretch much and I was afraid it would be too tight to weave it at the end. As you'll find, it gets hard to pass the paracord in this 2-layer pattern as the weave gets tighter at the end. Weaving 2 layers requires more cord, but it's easier and faster to weave.
After tying your knot, the first pass (moving front to back) is on the bottom side. Passes on the bottom are made moving front to back. Passes on the top are made when moving back to front. Now simply wrap the pattern you've already worked out on paper. Do not wrap the cord super tight! Taunt is good enough. When you finish your passes tie it off and leave a 12" pigtail to use later.
Step 6: Weaving the Second Color
It is much faster to weave this seat if you use a bar, stick, wire or other long instrument to pass the cord. I found an 18" x 3/4" aluminum bar which worked great. Instead of drilling an "eye" for my needle I used electrical tape as a simple solution for attaching the cord to the bar (pic 4). This avoids passing a knot or double strands of cord as you weave.
Unless you enjoy pulling 165 feet of cord back and forth through your weave start with around 60 feet of paracord (or roughly 1/3 of what you estimate needing). When you run short of paracord tie on a new 60 foot strand so the knot will be on the bottom side of the seat. Here are a couple knot options.
To begin make a clove hitch or other knot on the side dowel at the same corner where you started the first layer. Tie a second knot to the pigtail you left from the first layer to secure both layers. Alternatively you can tape or nail the paracord to the inside of the dowel and wrap over it. Either seems to work well. On this chair I forgot to leave a pigtail so I just taped it to the side dowel where it would be hidden.
Step 7: Weave Away
Now that you're tied on start weaving back and forth. Weave across the top and then weave back across the bottom layer. As you can see in pic 4 the bottom looks just like top. When you get to the end tie off your second layer to the pigtail from the first layer. And that's it!
Step 8: Enjoy Your New Chair(s)
I hope you found this instructable useful and that you will give this a try. Once you do a chair you won't need this guide any more as it's simple to learn the technique. A fun furniture hack with a big "Wow" factor. Your friends and family will be amazed at how those old busted chairs look now!
If you find this furniture hack worthy, please give me a vote in the contest. My son is interested in woodworking and I'd feel better if he was using a SawStop;) Looking forward to your comments and questions.