Ask Antique Trader: How to fix an old cane seat

The seats in my cane bottom kitchen chairs have started to sag and in some places the cane and the border have lifted out of the groove. Can this be repaired or do I need to have the chairs recaned?

A It’s hard to say without seeing them, but very often cane seats can be repaired without being replaced – if the cane is intact and is not broken around the edges. Carefully lift the border (called spline) up out of the groove as far as you can without tearing or breaking anything. If you can get under the spline with a small screwdriver or chisel, try to clean out some of the old glue left in the groove to make a better fit.

Use a pointed applicator such as a woodworking syringe or even a small mustard or ketchup dispenser to apply a bead of yellow glue into the groove. Don’t worry about being messy at this point. It cleans up with water. Next, place the spline and cane back in place in the groove as best you can using only hand pressure.

Clean any excess glue on the surface at this point. Tap the spline gently using a small wooden block and a hammer to seat the spline in the groove. Since you probably spattered a little glue with the hammer, it’s time to clean up again with a damp rag. Be sure to get any excess glue out of the pattern of the cane.

Cover the area you have been working on with wax paper and place flat blocks of wood over the area where you have wet glue. If you have bar or C clamps, use them to tighten the wood blocks over the area, applying even pressure all over. If you do not have clamps, use heavy books or bricks and blocks to supply the pressure.

Let the chair sit overnight before removing the clamps or bricks. Clean up any glue that squeezed out around the spline with a damp cloth. Even if the glue is dry it will redissolve with a little pressure on the cloth.

Clean up again with a dry cloth and you are done. Easy huh?

After the chair has dried for several days check to make sure the spline has remained in position. If  the cane still has a little sag to it but the spline is secure, turn the chair upside down and place a warm damp cloth on the underside of the cane. Allow it to soak for about half an hour then place the chair, upright, outdoors in the shade and allow it to dry for several hours. The cane should draw back tight. If it did not tighten up or if any of the strands broke in the process, it’s time to recane the chairs.

Q I heard an antiques dealer tell a customer that the drawer sides and secondary wood in a piece were “deal.” What does that mean?

A “Deal” is an English term for pine, particularly Scottish pine. English pine is generally of low quality compared to American varieties, having lots of knots and a rough texture. The origin of the term is obscure but Thomas Sheraton once said the term means “a part,” a Dutch variation signifying the wood’s use as a core upon which to apply veneer. When the dealer used the term he probably was implying without actually saying that the piece itself was English.

Q The label on my bedroom suite says “Memphis Furniture Manufacturing.” Other than the fact that the company probably was in Memphis, Tenn., can you tell me anything more about it?

A It was in fact located in Memphis at 715 South Camilla St. It also had a showroom in the American Furniture Mart in Chicago. The company advertised itself as a specialist in economical furniture made of gumwood since it was in the heart of the gumwood section of the country. It boasted that its gum furniture took a wonderful walnut stain and also was an excellent wood for enameling and decorating. All floral designs were hand painted as opposed to being transfers or decals and drawers were dovetailed front and rear with three ply bottoms. Its furniture was typical of the lower to medium grade, mass produced pieces of the late 1920s to early ’40s.

With more than 25 years’ experience in the antique furniture restoration and identification business, Fred Taylor is a household name when it comes to methods of identifying older and antique furniture. Fred has written and produced a video entitled “Identification of Older and Antique Furniture.” He makes appearances at trade shows and conventions and does hands-on seminars about antique furniture.

Contact Antique Trader: Send your questions and photos via e-mail (preferred) to, or mail to Ask Antique Trader, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54945. Click here for more details and image requirements.

Or —

Send your comments, questions and pictures to PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or

Visit Fred’s Web site at His book How to be a Furniture Detective is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Send check or money order for $21.95 to the address above.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, Identification of Older & Antique Furniture, ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail