Restoration: 1878 Platform Glider Rocking Chair




About: Me? I just love building this, fixing that, and on the rare occasion creating stuff. I really enjoy repurposing the things I find and collect while working. Pre-enrolled into the Ohio State Engineering ...

  Antiques are cool, especially when they become antiques over many years in your family's possession.  They're not just  possessions any more, every time you look at them they bring back countless memories from the good old days.  Along their journey from past to present many of these items are used so often that they begin to break down, and if not properly cared for, become a pile of unused clutter in the corner of your basement.  You can't use them any more, but you can't bring yourself to throw them away either.
  This is how I came to own this Glider Rocking Chair.  By the time it came to me, it had sat in ruins in my parents basement for many many years.  Apparently it was owned by my great grandparents in Ohio, more than a century ago.  Even in its present state, it's easy to tell that it was once a beautiful piece of furniture.  With a little love and tenderness, and a lot of work, it could again be a beautiful functioning piece of furniture.
  After doing a little research I determined that nothing I could do to this chair would in any way diminish its value; I mean, it  was broken in many places, the finish was in poor condition and the seat cushion was gone entirely.  I gather that the general consensus is, that restoration is still preferable to a broken down pile of.... antique.  Besides, I don't plan to try to sell it anyway, I want to be able to use it.
  My goal with this project is to fix and/or replace broken pieces, and make this chair usable again.  It's over 130 years old and a style not often seen these days.  I want to maintain the feeling of how old it is, so I will not be attempting to make it look brand new again.
  Being that this is  a pretty unique project, this instructable will be more of an account of how I brought this chair back to life, with a few of my thoughts thrown in here and there.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies

  Unfortunately, I don't have a shop or a garage.  So a lot of what I do takes place in a spare bedroom (you can probably see how hard I've been on the carpet), and on my rear deck.  Anyway, without a shop or garage to store larger tools like a scroll saw or a lathe, I make do with smaller hand held tools.
  Here is a list of the tools I used in this project:

- Drill and a variety of bits
- Dremel and various sanding, cutting, and sculpting bits
- Clamps ranging from 2 inches to 3 feet
- Hammer
- Oil paint brush (I prefer white china bristle for stain)
- Mouse corner sander with very fine grit paper
- Regular and Phillips head screw drivers
- Upolstry stapler
- Scissors

  And the supplies I used:

- Sand paper 100, 150 and 220 grit.
- Wood glue
- Sikkens stain
- Danish Oil
- Minwax cherry stain
- 3/4 inch oak
- 5/8 inch dowel rods
- Rags
- A few finish nails
-1/2 inch pine
- Pillow stuffing
- 4 square feet of material

Step 2: The Damage

  After hauling it all out of the basement and looking it over, I could see that there was substantial damage.  Many parts would have to be repaired, and a few would have to be replaced before I could refinish it.
  Both of the rocker's platform feet were broken, one in two places.  One side of the seat support structure was cracked.  The decorative woodwork under the right arm was completely broken and much of it was missing.  There were only five of the eight spindles that make up the chair-back and one of those was cracked.  Lastly, the headrest was damaged where the spindles connect to it.

Step 3: Wood Glue

  Many people are probably not aware of this, but when done correctly, a glued joint between two pieces of wood can be stronger than the wood itself. 
  To accomplish this, its important that the wood be clean and the pores be open and free from dirt or any glue from a previous attempt at repair.  I used my pressure washer to clean most of the debris away, being very careful not to damage the old wood.  After it was dry I used a damp rag to wipe up any dust remaining on the surface.
  I'm sure that a professional restoration expert would have a better way to do this, but I was not able to find any information on professional methods .
  Anyway, once clean and checked to make sure they fit together nicely,  I began to glue the broken pieces together.  The key to a successful wood joining is to use clamps.  Clamp the pieces together and wipe away any excess glue.  If there is any glue left on the surface or in the pores, the stain will not be absorbed by the wood.  You can sand dry glue off or cut it away with a knife, but it's better to wipe as much away as you can before it drys.    Use a very damp rag, almost dripping.  When the joint is dry, give it a light sanding to remove any residue.
  In repairing support structures, a dowel will add significant strength to your repair.  Drill an appropriate sized hole (diameter of the dowel) through both pieces at the break, squeeze in some glue and then the dowel.  Clamp it up and wipe away the excess glue.

Step 4: Sanding, Sanding, and Yes... More Sanding

  Being as old as it is, the oak was worn away to a rugged texture revealing the grain very nicely.  I could have sanded this down to a very smooth, brand new look, but I wanted instead, to maintain it's antique look and feel. 
  This meant taking less off the surfaces, but it also meant that i had to do it all by hand.  Electric sanders are great for achieving a smooth, raw wood surface, but in this situation it would have taken too much off.  Also, electric sanders can damage the wood, especially if it's as old as this wood is.
  I started with 100 grit sand paper to remove the bulk of what finish there was left, also to remove overly dry and decaying wood.  Then switched to 150 grit to smooth it out.

Step 5: Replacement Parts

  Replacing unusable parts can be easy and fun if you have the right equipment.  If not, it can be frustrating or not even possible.  Fortunately I had some aged oak laying around with which to rebuild some of the damaged parts, But I don't have a lathe to turn more spindles.  I will just have to make  due with what I have.
  I cut a new piece for under the right arm, but had to replace the broken dowels. 
  I also cut a replacement piece to fit the bottom of the head rest.  This was a little more involved.  I had to cut out the broken and decaying bottom end of the head piece, replacing it was the only way to secure the spindles in place.  Again, a more experienced person might have done this differently but this is the only way I knew how to accomplish the restoration of appearance and structure.
  All in all, I think my replacement parts came out quite nicely, keeping in mind that I don't have a shop, just a jig saw and a Dremel.

Step 6: Faux Finishes

  Faux finishing is the art of recreating a natural look, using unnatural materials.  Most faux finishes requested are at this point well known and easily recreated for a particular look in a home, Venetian Plaster, soft suede, burled leather, and wood grain, to name a few.  Most painters can learn how to do these if they truly want to.  Random recreations require a certain feel for the trade and an understanding of what it is they're trying to recreate.
  The most amazing faux finishes are those that recreate a natural and random surface, such as tree bark.  Some of the most amazing that I've seen are in natural history museums.  They have to build artificial nature and then paint it to look natural.   Plant and animal life is must be very difficult to recreate, I've never tried..  
  In this project, I needed to recreate the feel of a few pieces of wood 130 years old.  Not impossible, but challenging.  The key is knowing what was done originally to the wood, and how time has affected it.  That being said, I am by no means an expert but I do my best.
  The piece I had to make for the right arm of the chair simply needed the correct type of wood, and the right shape.
  The  piece I made for the bottom of the head board was more difficult to finish.  After mimicking the shape, I flooded it with a very dark stain to darken the grain and the low points of the detail work.  I then sanded it lightly to remove the dark stain from the top surfaces, and open the grain for the final coat of stain.  After that it just needed the finish stain color and clear coat.

Step 7: Staining

I live in the ski resort town of Vail, Colorado.  Being a career painter in this valley, as I am, means knowing how to stain and finish wood.  People don't like painted wood trim out here, like they do in Ohio where I grew up.  Lots of big houses with LOTS of wood to stain and finish.
  The two types of wood, hardwood and softwood, require very different preparation.  Softwood, like pine for instance, is very temperamental and requires a lot of prep work to come out nicely.  Being so soft, they require a very fine finish grit sanding or you will see sanding marks when you stain.  They also tend to absorb stain non uniformly, so it is always a good idea to use a pre-stain conditioner.  This will help to clean the pores, get rid of any oils in the wood, and help the wood to absorb the stain evenly.
  Hardwoods, like oak on the other hand, are much more forgiving.  The tight grain and uniform density, make hardwoods fairly easy to stain.  Without much effort, a coat of stain will usually come out looking very even.  The type and amount of prep work you do on it depends on the look you want.
  As I said before, my goal in this project was not to make this chair look brand new again.  I like that it's 130 years old and wanted to keep its antique feel.

Step 8: Clear Coat

The clear coat brings out the natural beauty of wood, whether it's been stained or not.  It also acts to protect the wood from scratches, dents, water, Sun light, etc..  There are many different types, urethane, varnish, oils, and for different intended uses, such as boats, bar tops, furniture and wood flooring.
  Because I'm trying to maintain a traditional appearance, not a brand new look, I chose Danish Oil for an old polished look.  It won't give my chair a glassy new look like polyurethane, but will bring out the beauty of the wood and protect it as well.  I've use oils in my work before, but never for my own furniture.  They are very easy to use and go on quickly, but I believe they need an annual coating to maintain protection and aesthetics.
  After the first coat there are a few things that need to be done.  I wanted to fill some of the cracks and joints with some colored wood putty.  This has to be done after the wood is sealed, and just to be clear, stain does not seal the grain of the wood.   After that, two more coats of oil.

Step 9: Seat Cushion

  Since there was no seat cushion at all (just about a thousand nail holes where someone tried a thousand times to nail some cloth there), I had to make one.  I didn't have any boards wide enough for it, so once again I got out my wood glue and clamps to make one.  Once it was dry, I marked out the shape I wanted, using the chair as a guide,  and cut it out.
  Next I got out some material I inherited from my mom, cut a piece that would fit over the board with about 6 extra inches on all sides.  I had an old pillow I borrowed the stuffing out of to fill my new seat cushion.  Then it was just a matter of stapling the cover to the board with the pillow inside. 

Step 10: Reassembly

  Now that all the repairs are done, replacement parts made and all is finished, it's time to put it back together.  I will be using all of the original screws, nuts and bolts, but will be gluing the points that don't use hardware. 
   I didn't think I would be this excited when I started this project.  It has been a lot of fun restoring this piece of family history.  There are a few more relics in the basement and I think I'm going to have to do those as well.
  I hope you enjoy looking through this instructable, maybe I've inspired you to begin your own restoration project.  As usual, I welcome any comments, criticisms or helpful hints because like I said, I have a few more of these I will be tackling. 
Thanks for reading and Have fun!

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    32 Discussions

    Thank you for sharing your adventure.
    I have a chair similar to yours, one that that maternal grandparent received when they 'set up housekeeping' after they were married. It had been being used by my grandmother's parents and family for decades prior to being given as a wedding gift.
    My mother was rocked to sleep in that chair when she was an infant; as was I and my four younger siblings. My fondest memories of that chair were times I would sit in my grandfather's lap as he read the evening paper; he taught me to read sitting there, doing that every night. And so, I was reading, and understanding what I read, by the time I was four.

    I am not physically capable to do the repair work necessary to use it, so I am having it professionally repaired. I really wish I could have done the work myself; but ... Oh well.
    There are some slight differences in the chairs. The back of my glider has eight dowels up the middle, with the two outer ones being slightly larger. I was also trying to find, in your glider pictures, just what your cast iron glide supports looked like. In the one picture I found, it appears yours are different also. I'll post a pictures of my chair, for comparisons.
    I am still trying to find out exactly when it was built originally.

    You did a fantastic job refinishing your chair. Your should be very proud of your efforts. It is beautiful. I have a question about the oil: Will you need to reapply it regularly? After a few months or years of use? Or did you seal the wood? If you said so in your article, I missed it.

    Anyway, again, thank you for sharing.

    Have yourself a great day!


    3 years ago

    Hi Attmos... I have a similar platform rocker I am in the process of sanding down, repairing and refinishing. It has a label on it but pieces have flaked off. This is what does show: curved seat ____ swing ____. Then patented _____ 25, 1894. Along one side of the platform base is stamped :patpending. Like you, I would rather restore and just trash which seems to be the norm of society today. Thank you for your tips and tricks, they have been an encouragement to me to keep sanding on....... :-)

    3 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    You're very welcome! :) Absolutely keep sanding, the finished product is a great reward. It's very gratifying to see the end result of all your work. In fact, I'd love to see some pictures if you have the time. Good luck and thanks for your comment's, I appreciate it.


    Reply 3 years ago

    As you can see the varnish has almost turned black. I can't wait to see the grain of the wood again. After seeing your rocker, I am now wanting to add some spindles to the back for better support. It has previously had material stretched across the opening. Some one had nailed two boards across the curved seat. I would like to have it be a solid sheet. There are many nails and holes that will need to be filled also on the seat base. That will come... still much sanding to go.... lol

    2015-10-3 Rocker in Pieces.JPG2015-10-3 Rocker Back.JPG2015-10-3 Rocker seat and base.JPG

    Reply 3 years ago

    Very interesting, at almost looks like it could be made by the same company. The back seems like it was made for a fabric or (maybe more likely) woven cane, but if you want spindles I think they would look very nice too. You might have to take the back apart to put the spindles in depending in their shape. Overall, it looks like it's in great shape and a fun project. Good luck with it and have fun! :)


    3 years ago

    Hi Attmos... I have a similar platform rocker I am in the process of sanding down, repairing and refinishing. It has a label on it but pieces have flaked off. This is what does show: curved seat ____ swing ____. Then patented _____ 25, 1894. Along one side of the platform base is stamped :patpending. Like you, I would rather restore and just trash which seems to be the norm of society today. Thank you for your tips and tricks, they have been an encouragement to me to keep sanding on....... :-)


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, I have the same type log home. The log joints look the same. But your logs look nice and shiny. What did you coat them with ?

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    As a matter of fact, I just remembered that I used Sikkens on this chair as well, the same product. There is a picture of it in this instructable in the staining step.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I use Sikkens. It's a 2-step finish. First step is color, second step is protection. After you do the first coat and have the color you want, you do the second step once every two or three years. The people at Sherwin Williams will help you find what you need.


    6 years ago on Step 10

    I have an antique glider rocker that is missing one of the cast iron arms on the bottom of the rocker. The rest of the rocker is in good condition and ready to be refinished. I am having trouble finding a replacement casts iron arm for it. It looks like you already had both of them with your rocker but wondering if you have any ideas of where to find one? I've searched the internet and can't seem to find that part.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Because I had all of the parts, broken or not, I didn't have to search for any. I don't know where to look for parts for this kind of thing, but I have another couple of things I'm going to restore. I will definitely do my best to find out where to locate antique parts and let you know of any findings. I do know that thereare many parts being sold on ebay if you haven't searched there yet. Good luck, I'll get back to you.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    now that I read my response, It looks like didn't come out quite right. I always enjoy seeing what you come up with next, so what I meant was that I really appreciate your congatulations. Lol, I hope you weren't offended in any way.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I was not offended in the least, but I chuckled at the unintentional appearance of sarcasm. I've re-read my own comments before and thought "oh crap, that sounds rude."

    It's been nice chatting with you. Enjoy the ipad.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    (That last line was supposed to be heavy with mock sarcasm, just so you know!)

    What's astounding and wonderful and great is that no one decided to throw it out or store it outsided or toss it in the wood stove.
    No one gave up.
    And that gave you a chance.
    And you took it and hit the ball out of the park.
    And that is your history and your legacy.
    I love what you've done.

    1 reply

    Beautiful Job! I have a chair pretty similar. I did alot of research trying to figure out what it was as it is so unique with the platform. I cant tell if yours has springs or not and mine has casters on the front as well. I thought mine was a Hunzinger, but I can not find any labels either. Since you took your completely apart you probably would have found one, but then again you never know. They are pretty valuable. Yours look like it has a nice home on your porch:))