I found this beauty at a local junk shop in the "please take this away, even our standards are higher than this" section. The seat had been so used, it felt like sitting on cement, the leather back was "5-year-old-who-just-ate-a-PB&J-sticky-hands" kinda sticky and gross (you know exactly what I mean), and the height adjustment mechanism was locked up solid. But with some love and time, this chair is the perfect addition to my office. Read on, and enjoy!
- Chair (obviously)
- Sandpaper: I started with 80 grit and moved to 200. You can use a sander for some of this project, but mostly it's done by hand to get into all the nooks and crannies.
- Wood Stain: this is ebony color but go with what you want
- Poly: oil based, and you'll need a brush if you don't already have one
- Fabric: makers choice, but you'll need around 1/2 to 3/4 yard
- Cushion: get a foam size that works for the seat. I bought the wrong size on my first try, so maybe bring the wood base with you.
- Tin Snips: to help with cutting away the fabric, and other useful things
- Orbital Sander
- Staple Gun/Staples
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Step 1: Disassemble
I took this lovely chair apart piece by piece, careful to log every screw and where it came from. Trust me, you might say "oh yeah, I'll remember where this went or came from" - you might be right, but why take that chance? Just write it down, take some pictures, put screws in ziplocks, whatever it is you do to organize the chaos. You'll thank yourself later.
Some of the parts here were...interesting. The back of the chair was attached using the pictures metal "brackets" (I use that term loosely), that were too long so someone, rather than cutting off the excess, just bent it in on itself. With vintage handmade items like this, it's helpful to have a variety of tools on hand: pliers, tin snips, exact-o knife, etc. I managed to get the metal bracket unfolded and the screw removed.
Step 2: It's a Rough Job, But Someone's Gotta Do It (aka - Sanding)
I should probably buy stock in sandpaper at this point. Honestly, I blow through the stuff in reams at a time. This operation was no different. But also, totally worth it. Just sand this puppy till your hands are grittier than the paper you're using.
I started with a high grit, and moved to finer and finer with time. Also, unlike sanding a board or table, chairs have lots of nooks and crannies, that a handheld orbital sander is just not gonna reach. So yes, go old school here and use your hands.
The wood on this chair was in pretty rough shape already, so some of the work in areas was already done for me. But don't forget the legs, the back, and all those other places that you might not think will be noticable (spoiler: you will notice it if you don't sand it).
Step 3: Hide Your Sins With a Dark Stain
I originally started with a lighter stain, but realized I needed something darker to hide parts of the original finish I just couldn't reach. So I went with an ebony stain to hide the sins of my negligence. It worked, but I wish I had been more diligent in my sanding.
After staining (and drying), I finished it off with 3 coats of high gloss oil based poly. Office chairs get banged up, pushed around, and generally abused. An extra coat or two here will protect the chair longer, so if you have time and energy, I recommend as many coats as you have energy for. that magic number was 3 for me, but I could have gone with another if I had time. And don't ditch that sandpaper: sand in between poly coats for a really smooth finish.
Step 4: Why Are You Sticky?
Seriously, why was this leather back so sticky? Did Slimer use this chair in between takes on the Ghostbusters set? The stickiness was disgusting, and probably a contributing factor to the chair being in the "please take it" pile of stuff at the junk shop.
And here's where I sing the praises of two products: "goo-be-gone" and saddle soap. Invest in both, they'll last you a good long time, and you will have them available for projects like this. I started with goo-be-gone and then gave it a wash with saddle soap. I also used some black leather polish (you know, for shoes), to buff up some parts that needed it.
Step 5: Please Take Your Seat (Apart, and Put It Back Together)
The seat bottom needed a total re-do. When I removed the fabric and "cushion" (aka foam that fossilized and became rock), it came off in a cloud of butt-dust. I really don't like to think what biological components were present in that cloud. So we're just going to move on...
I needed less than 3/4 of a yard to cover the seat, so I went to the remnants pile at my local fabric store and grabbed a fabric that would match the office decor. It might take a few trips and scouting to find exactly what you want...but be patient.
Also, I got new foam for the cushion. Keep the original foam for sizing/cutting, or make a template of it before you throw things away. I also saved the wood bottom from the original chair, since that was still in fine condition (but sanded and washed it off because...butt-dust).
I glued the foam on the original wood base, then stretched the fabric over the top, using a staple gun on the bottom to keep it down.
Lastly, the chair had this label (pictured) on the bottom, which I saved and re-attached when I was done.
I also used this time to oil the mechanism for adjusting the height. Some WD-40 and scrubbing out the dust did the trick.
Step 6: Put It All Back Together
With the base stained and poly-ed, your chair back un-slimed and shiny, and a cushion worthy of a king's tokhes, you're ready to put it all back together! If you logged and recorded all those screws and placements in the beginning, this process should be pretty easy and self-explanatory. And if you didn't - well, have fun figuring out which of the 20 screws goes in which place. I warned you.
Now you have the prettiest chair in the office. Congratulate yourself by grabbing a whiskey (or beverage of choice), and putting your feet up on the desk in true Mad Men style. You earned it. And the whiskey will help you forget the sanding and butt-dust.
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Trash to Treasure