Hans Wegner’s Wishbone chair isn’t something that you can easily find on yard sales or in second hand shops, but it seems that it does happen. I would be quite sceptical about that idea if you asked me about it previous week, but this Sunday I actually came across one on a completely random yard sale that didn’t really indicate that it can hide such a gem. But, surely enough, I was wrong. I can only wonder what was the road of the original Wishbone chair that ended up in someone’s garage. Sadly, however, I decided not to buy it since it was in a very rough condition. The seat was almost completely torn off, one leg was cracked and the colour was peeling from the damaged and dirty wood. I was sure I couldn’t do anything about it by myself, and restoration might end up being rather pricey.
After all, I would need a completely new seat, and some way to fix the cracked leg, and those are just the essentials to make it at least functional. I couldn’t even begin planning what would I need to give it back its former glow.
But, days later, I was still thinking about whether it was a missed opportunity. In order to get some peace of mind, I decided to give my friend, an expert in restoration, a call and ask him about his expert opinion. Of course, he could tell me almost nothing without having seen the chair himself, but he did give me some general guidelines when it comes to old furniture restoration. I found the whole talk rather interesting, so I decided to write a short article here that will hopefully be of help for you in case you stumble across a similar hidden gem as I did.
I can still not be completely confident that buying a vintage Wishbone chair in such a rough state would be a good idea – but then again, prior to taking it to restoration expert, it is unlikely that you can get an exact estimate on how much would it cost to bring it back to original shape. However, I can give you a brief overview of some of the steps that you are pretty much bound to encounter if you ever go to the adventure of restoring a vintage Wishbone chair.
Cleaning the wood
The first step of restoration is cleaning the wood. In case of a coloured Wishbone chair (which is a very rare find when we talk about truly vintage models), this is fairly simple and straightforward. You will have to sand the whole chair with a sandpaper of small roughness to avoid any long-term damage to the wooden frame. In case of a natural colour of the chair, you should apply a solvent-free oil wood cleaner. This is not only the best option for the wood, but is also the healthiest for you as you will be certain you won’t get exposed to any toxic fumes.
Fixing the broken parts
This is the most problematic part as the level of damage to the chair will determine in a significant amount how you should approach this step. In most cases, however, unless you are an experienced carpenter, you would have to ask a professional to provide you with a helping hand. Cracked legs, like in the model I stumbled upon, usually can’t be properly fixed and will have to be replaced which is a job best left for the professional.
Weaving the seat
In most cases, the paper cord seat is the first to completely degrade and it will have to be completely replaced. The good news is that you can get paper cord much easier than you expect and the weaving technique can be learned, although it is far from easy. Hidden from view in completed chair, a line of Danish L-nails encircles the whole seat-part of the frame and they are used to hold the rope in place. At the same time, they are the source of great frustration and if you try to weave the seat yourself, you are bound to get your fingers cut on them a couple of times, so prepare yourself for that.
While doing the weave, you must constantly keep the cord tightened to a consistent degree to ensure the characteristic pattern. This is not only very tricky, but is also surprisingly hard on the hands. If you don’t keep the tension constant, the pattern on the seat will become skewed and it just won’t look right. But, if you keep the cord too tight, then the chair will lose a significant portion of its comfort as the seat won’t be elastic enough.
Once you’re done with all these steps, your vintage Wishbone chair will be ready for use, and ready to catch some attention.