Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cane If You're Able

Hand Caning Super Fine Cane Seat

When I started restoring antiques 50 years ago a good caner could make as much as 10 cents a hole!

Now, if you're not familiar with how caners charge for their skills, you need to know the difference between traditional hand caning and machine woven press cane.  Not everyone who looks at chair seats pays attention to this difference.  In fact, not everyone knows the difference between rush, splint, and natural cane seating materials.

The last post was about natural rush.  The title of that post applies to this post.  Weaving cane is not a way to make a living, even when you can charge 10 cents a hole.

To be truthful, it is a perfect job for the blind or the unemployed or the mentally ill worker.  There is something about mindless work which eases the chaos that sometimes fills the head.  I think there is a saying about "busy hands" or something which keeps kids out of trouble.

In any event, I have caned hundreds of chairs and rockers over the years, and my favorite time of the year to do this work is during baseball season.  I can sit in front of the TV and cane during the game which allows me to work and watch TV at the same time.

There are four different types of cane: hand woven, single blind, double blind, and pressed cane.

The oldest method is to drill holes in the frame around the seat, and the size of the hole and the distance between the holes determines the size of cane used.  Natural cane comes in 8 different sizes, from 1.5mm to 3.5mm in width.  It is harvested from the outside bark of rattan, which is a jungle vine in Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia.  This plant grows amazingly fast and the vines can reach lengths of 300 feet in a short time.  The leaves are stripped off and the vine is cut by machines into different widths and lengths.

Common Cane on Side Chair

To weave a seat there are 7 steps.  The first step is to run strands from front to back.  Next is side to side, and after that front to back again.  The fourth step is where you start to weave, running side to side, over and under the two strands that are front to back.  The fifth and sixth steps are the diagonals, which need to weave over and under the vertical and horizontal strips.  The last step is to add the binder, which goes around the perimeter and covers the holes.

Neat and Clean after Binder is Done

Over the years the price has changed.  From 10 cents to 25 cents, then 50 cents a hole.  When it reached a dollar a hole, I thought it had peaked.  But today if you can find a person who knows how to do it and will charge $2.50 a hole, do it.  I have heard of workers who ask rediculous prices like $6 an hole, but seriously?

What this means is that it costs more to hand cane a chair than the chair is worth.  But, as I keep saying, money is not the most important thing in life.  I love what I do and love matters most.

Cane Changes Color When Exposed to Sunlight

The blind cane is different.  There are holes around the perimeter but they do not go through the frame.  That means the individual strands of cane need to be pegged in place, one at a time, as you weave.  Every time you pull out a peg for the new strand, it starts to fall apart.  I don't do this type of cane.  I have no love for that type of punishment.

Don't even ask about double blind cane.  That is where the blind cane is on each side of the frame, usually on the arms or backs of furniture.  I just saw a bed where double blind cane was used on both the headboard and footboard.  The owner asked me if I could do it and I just turned and ran...

Cane Seat Chairs on the Wall

Pressed cane is much easier.  In fact, pressed cane is one example where modern methods are superior to traditional methods.  Since the cane is woven by machine into a sheet, all the strands are set at the same tension.  That makes the cane last longer.  It takes real talent to hand weave cane so that all the strands are the same tension.  Kind of like weaving a tennis racket.

Pressed Cane and Spline

To replace pressed cane you need to carefully chisel out the spline, and clean the groove.  Then the new cane is soaked in hot water and put in place with new spline, like you would install window screen in the frame.  I use Old Brown Glue in the spline to secure it.

Pressed cane is usually charged by the inch, measured across the widest part.

Under normal conditions natural cane has a lifespan of around 20 to 30 years.