Questions and Common Sense Answers: Advice about chairs and a loveseat

Q I plan to restore an old oak kitchen chair I found in my neighbor’s barn. The finish is black and it needs repair but I think I can do all that. My question is about the seat. It too is black. It has a raised type of design in the center and where it is torn on one edge I would swear the seat is paper. Is that possible? How do I preserve/repair it or find a replacement? R.C.K., N.H.

A If the embossed seat is paper and is torn don’t worry about trying to preserve it. There is a good chance it is a replacement already and not original to the chair. Embossed leather seats were very popular around the turn of the 20th century. In fact many of the oak and mahogany chairs offered for sale in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog boasted of richly embossed, expensive leather seats to accompany their highly polished finishes. Over the years, as the seats wore out from use or neglect, they were replaced with cheap paper ones, especially during the Depression. Paper chair seats could be obtained even into the 1950’s at places like Woolworth’s in small towns across rural America. Some manufacturers of less expensive chairs did originally put paper seats in their products and yours may be one of these. The overall quality of the chair will reveal itself as you work on it.

If you decide to replace the seat, new seats are readily available from several sources. Two that come to mind are www.vandykes.com and www.richmond-restore.com. There are several others of course but I am familiar with these two. Both of these sources carry both embossed real leather seats and virtually identical (and less expensive) “fiber” seats which work perfectly well in low activity uses. The seats come in a variety of sizes and shapes and most are oversized, requiring you to cut the seat to fit your application.

Q I have acquired a nice old love seat that has been moderately abused over time but has some potential. My problem is the legs/feet. It has those ugly slender tapered modern looking legs with rusty metal bands around the bottom and the nylon discs on the foot. I want a more “retro” look with either bun feet or maybe even small cabriole legs but I can’t find a source that has a good selection. The local home store is no help and neither is the hardware store. Do you have any suggestions? Lynn H., Omaha, NE

A Lynn, I have two excellent sources for what you are looking for. First there is my general all time favorite source, Van Dyke’s Restorers in Woonsocket, SD, 800-558-1234, www.vandykes.com. They have a good selection of legs, feet etc. and most of their entire catalog is online. Another source that I have used successfully over the years is Adams Wood Products in Morristown, TN, 423-587-2942, www.adamswoodproducts.com. Their online catalog is not as extensive as Van Dykes but their free regular catalog is terrific and worth asking for. They are a specialty house concentrating almost exclusively on wooden furniture components with a very small selection of essential hardware such as table slides, hanger bolts etc.

Which brings up the next consideration. The attachment of the new legs/feet. How are the current supports attached to the frame of the loveseat?

The most common attachment, from your description of the existing legs is the use of a hanger bolt. A hanger bolt is a threaded steel rod with coarse wood threads on one end and machine threads on the other. The coarse threaded end is embedded in the wooden leg and the machine threaded end goes into the love seat bottom and engages a fixture known as a “T” nut. The T nut is like a regular nut except that the threads are inside a short barrel which has a large flange on one end. The barrel is inserted from the inside in a hole drilled in a structural cross member of the furniture frame. The hanger bolt engages the threads and secures the leg snugly up to the structural piece. If you are lucky this arrangement will already be in place in the loveseat and you will be able to just unscrew the old legs and install the new ones. Since most, but not all, of them come with hardware preinstalled you may have to install the hanger bolts in the new legs. 

If you can’t easily access the inside of the loveseat to drill for the installation of the T nuts then you can use threaded steel dowel screws instead of hanger bolts. Dowel screws have coarse wood threads on both ends and will screw directly into the wooden frame of the loveseat. All of these installation arrangements need to be made before the final installation of the dust cover, the cambric, on the bottom of the couch.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com.

Visit Fred’s Web site at www.furnituredetective.com. 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 info@furnituredetective.com.

Click here to discuss this story and more in the AntiqueTrader.com message boards.

More Images:

featuredImage
Hardware for leg/foot installation. (Top to bottom) Hanger bolt, dowel screw, "T" nut in place on a hanger bolt, "T" nut by itself.

Leave a Reply