"Free" Patio Chair Rehab




I recently moved from Anchorage, Alaska to Independence, Missouri. The why is not really important. I am still getting over making the 4500 mile drive after rehabbing our duplex. The duplex sold so it was worth it. Our new house has a detached two car garage, The Hut, that I have claimed as my workshop.

For reasons unknown, we have been frequenting thrift stores. On one of our trips I spotted a "free chair". It needed just a little repair, so I claimed it. You can see the before and after pictures above along with the "free" sign. I left the "free" sign on as long as was practical. It reminded me of why I was doing this. The cheesy tool kit contains all the tools I have available. My real tools are in transit from there to here.

I confess that I made up a term for this Instructable. I was too lazy to look up the actual term for the flexible plastic rods that hold the seat into the side rails. It looked like the French Cleat principle to me, so I called them "cleat rods". I'm sure someone will enlighten me on the proper terminology in a gentle and kind manner. I'm always ready to learn.

I wanted a chair to use in The Hut. This is the story of my quest.

Step 1: Disassembly

I began by removing the caps from the bolt heads. These were plastic and came off easily. Then I removed the four bolts attaching the seat rails to the frame. I placed all of the small parts of the chair in one zip-lock plastic bag. Having just moved, everything is in chaos. That and I tend to lose things. I set aside the base. Note that the "free" sign is still attached. I removed the caps from the ends of the seat rails. Care had to be taken to avoid damaging them. For some reason they were especially fragile. I removed the tension rod from between the seat rails. Then I used pliers to pull the seat fabric and the cleat rods from the rails. I intended to use the cleat rods to hold the new fabric seat in the frames. This turned out to be a wise decision. I don't make those often, so take note. Care was taken to avoid damage. Once the chair was disassembled, the project had two distinct work paths: The Frame and The Seat.

Step 2: The Frame

The metal frame pieces had seen many seasons in the sun. The finish was faded and rubbed off like chalk. I used waterproof emery-tape to scuff and remove the finish in preparation for painting. I use the waterproof stuff because the grit accumulates whatever you are sanding. A bowl of water to swish the tape around in removed the accumulated particles and the emery-tape is useful again.

I figured that if I was going to go this far I should go all the way and primer the surfaces to be painted. This added the cost of a can of spray primer and a day for drying to my "free" chair.

I am the worst spray painter in the world. Drips, runs, and missed spots are my trademarks. It took three days and many returns to the task to get the top coat on. Now the frame is semi-gloss black. Don't look too close.

Step 3: The Fabric Seat

I kept the original torn fabric to use as a pattern for my new seat. I carefully measured the finished width and length without the cleat rods installed. The finished product must be 18" x 39" before installing the cleat rods. I allowed for the overlap and seams when I cut my fabric. (22" x 41") I figured on two inches of folding and sewing for each side and one inch extra to finish each end of the seat. Note that there are many pictures of me taking measurements. I like to go by the Military Rigger Motto: "I will be sure always"

I used a hot iron to crease the fabric so I would not lose my place. I sewed the sides first. I made sure a double stitch was used to secure each side. I am not light and I want this chair to last for a while. For the second reinforcing seem I inserted the cleat rod and made sure the presser foot of the sewing machine rode it as a guide. That worked out well. Then I sealed both side channels and finished both ends. All in all it turned out not too horrible.

The fabric was purchased with my Grand Daughter in mind. She likes sea creatures with claws. One of her favorite phrases is, "Pinch pinch" in a very soft and cute voice.

Add the cost of a yard and a half of that ghastly fabric and a couple hours of arguing with the sewing machine to the cost of the "free" chair.

Step 4: Reassembly

Now it was time to bring the frame and fabric seat together. The first photo shows all the pieces in one place. The next shows how the cleat rod surrounded by the fabric slides into the track on the side rails. It was not easy to get the fabric to slide in there. Pliers were helpful.

I should note that if your seat fabric has right and wrong sides, it is very helpful to consider the orientation of the fabric, cleat rods, and the rails when assembling the fabric and seat rod part of the chair. I made the two most obvious mistakes. I put the fabric in upside down and had the rails reversed so the tension rod holes were facing away from each other instead of towards each other.

After experiencing frustration again (twice) I finally got the seat assembled correctly. For some reason I did not document the re-bolting of the side rails to the base. Suffice it to say that all four bolts were difficult but I was able to overpower them and the chair is together.

Replace all the trim caps.

Step 5: Conclusion

The finished product, while retina searing, does not look too bad if you don't look too close. It is certainly a functional improvement over the torn condition at the beginning of the project.

So how much does a "free" chair cost?

Time: 4 days

Materials: Paint x 3 cans = $10 US

Cloth x 1.5 yards = $ 7.00 (Yes, I overpaid)

Could have been worse. At least now I have a place to set in my Hut.

Thanks for bearing with me.



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    9 Discussions


    6 weeks ago

    Thank you! I have exactly the same kind of chairs, with the same ripped fabric. I've been wondering how to fix them, and now I can.

    Alaskan Bev

    4 months ago

    I don't care what the "correct" name of that rod is, cleat rod should definitely become permanent nomenclature. Your fabric selection is beyond perfect. I wish you still lived in Anchorage, though, so that when you get tired of it I could see it at the curb with your old red sign still on it and take it off your hands for you! Perfect Instructable - thanks so much for sharing!

    1 reply
    AaaecmAlaskan Bev

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thank you for the kind words. Luckily I over bought on the fabric in a big way. It was on sale. Now my collection of chairs has grown to six. All with different frames but matching fabric. It seems to be some sort of ritual to dump lawn chair by the side of the road when the seat rips. Odd. Anyway, I pick them up, repair them, and put in new fabric. They all set around the fire pit I put in the back yard. I'm looking forward to summer. Friends over. Cool beverages. A nice fire, and fireflies. Creating some best moments of my life. Who knew a "free chair" could lead to such bliss. I'm glad I was able to share it on Instructables. Again, thanks for your kind words.


    Answer 5 months ago

    Oops, I almost forgot. I have since found several chairs like this damaged and abandoned. They are easy to fix. I have found that inexpensive wire cable is a suitable substitute for the plastic rods. It tends to be more flexible, thus easier to work with.


    Answer 5 months ago

    I suppose if it would support the weight, then sure. I would choose something that would be easy to work with.


    9 months ago

    Very nice job! I love the fabric you picked. As to terminology, I know nothing, but I wonder if you could call that "cleat rod" a "spline rod"? I'm thinking of the screen door I had replaced and it had a groove around the window frame that you press (or pound) a long strip of flexible cord into, fastening the screen edges into the groove. The long strip is called "spline." Sorry if that's a crap explanation. Here is the best picture I could find showing what I mean.

    Screen Shot 2018-08-23 at 11.17.11 AM.png
    1 reply

    Reply 9 months ago

    Dear ThreeOutside,

    Thank you for your thought provoking comment. I did consider using the word "spline", but it just didn't seem to fit. The spline in a screen depends on friction to retain the screen material. The as yet to properly be identified rods in this project acted more like a wedge. Like the workings of a French Cleat. Instead of gravity, it depends on tension and the slot being too narrow for the rod to come through. I hope that made some sense. And it was very nice of you to complement my aweful taste in fabric. The picture was a tremendous touch too.



    10 months ago

    Good job! You've saved another product from going to the landfill - thank you!