How to Fix the Seat on Old Ladder Back Chairs

Written by jean miller
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How to Fix the Seat on Old Ladder Back Chairs
An old ladder back chair with damaged rush seating (old chair image by Agnieszka Kaczmarek from

Ladder back chairs have horizontal slats that run across the backs and connect to straight posts. A number of these chairs also feature hand-woven rush, or cane, seats. The results are clean and simple pieces that have enjoyed popularity in the Middle Ages of Europe, Colonial America and 21st-century homes. Although many ladder back chair reproductions are available, antique originals also still circulate. Simply replacing any holes or tears in the seat of an old ladder back can add life and value to this classic chair.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Bucket
  • Reeds
  • Tape
  • Clamp
  • Utility scissors
  • Wax-coated string
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Woodworking glue
  • Protective stain

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  1. 1

    Soak the reeds for at least 15 minutes in a bucket of water before use. The number of reeds needed depends on the size selected for the chair. Reeds are available in 1-inch, 2-inch and 3-inch strips. While the reeds soak, remove existing tacks, nails or cane from the chair so the seat portion is entirely cleaned.

  2. 2

    Tape a wet reed to the inside of the rear left rail. Keep the reed near the seat, and route it under the rear rail, and then around and over the front rail. Repeat this motion to form one portion of the woven seat.

  3. 3

    Clamp the reed to the front chair rail with every two rear-to-front weaves.

  4. 4

    Cut small notches on opposing sides of each perpendicular strip with utility scissors. Place the notches at approximately the back, middle and front. Join the two strips together with wax-coated string wrapped at each notch point. Wrap the string four times, and tie it in a knot.

  5. 5

    Remove the clamp, and continue rear-to-front weaving with the strips, tying strips together after every two rows are finished. Tape each reed's end to the right rear post when completed, and trim loose ends.

  6. 6

    Turn the chair upside down to begin the side-to-side weaving. Tape the reed to the left rear pole, and begin weaving it toward the right. Weave the reed over one strip and then under one, and continue that pattern. Pull the reed through difficult patches with needle-nose pliers.

  7. 7

    Return the chair to its upright position, and begin weaving the reed in the same manner as Step 5. Start at the rear left side, and weave opposite the first row while continuing the over-one-strip and under-one-strip pattern.

  8. 8

    Repeats Steps 5 and 6 until the seat is completely woven.

  9. 9

    Remove any exposed tape, and tuck loose pieces of reed underneath the chair.

  10. 10

    Clip any splinters or loose pieces after the reeds are dried, which will take approximately 24 hours. Glue all reed ends to the chair base with a woodworking glue. Finish the seat with a protective stain.

Tips and warnings

  • Reeds can also be woven diagonally when repairing the seat of a ladder back chair.
  • Rush materials are often available from craft supplies stores and speciality hobby retailers.
  • Keep a ladder back chair out of extreme temperatures and direct sunlight to preserve its seat and finish.
  • Never sit in a ladder back chair while the rush is still wet.
  • Never use commercial cleaning products that contain silicone on the seat of a ladder back chair.

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