This is the story of a chair. It's not just any chair, it's a special chair. No, it won't fly us around the room, it won't grant us wishes, and it won't run errands or do chores for us, no matter how nicely we ask. But if it won't do any of that, then how is it special? Well, this chair is a time machine of sorts. The chair I'm speaking of is Wendy's great grandfather's rectory chair.
As children of families with deep heritage and histories, we both know stories and have knowledge of our lineage. Neither of us are from any sort of famous, powerful, or particularly wealthy families, and both of our families represent an eclectic mix of hard working individuals. The various sides of our families' roots in the United States were established anywhere from the industrial revolution to the Revolutionary War, all depending on the branch of our respective trees. But no matter the situation, each of our families came here with little, in hopes of providing more for their loved ones. For this very reason, antiques, keepsakes, and heirloom pieces passed from generation to generation are rare and treasured.
As a young girl, Wendy remembers this old, dirty, and wobbly chair sitting in her parents' basement. As the story goes, this chair once sat in a church rectory, and somehow ended up in her great grandfather's possession. Dark and splintered wood, worn with age and use, faded and torn fabric seat, and tattered burlap seat straps did little to tell the story of the possibly rich history the chair possesses. Instead, its current condition acted as more of a footnote to its largely unknown legend.
As a child, Wendy was unaware of the chair's eventual meaning to her. She always knew it was her great grandfather's chair, but figured it was a lost cause from a furniture or seating standpoint and was only being held onto for some sentimental purposes.
As we grew older and began to build an appreciation for our families' history, we both started searching for items that can hold a special meaning in our lives, and in the history of our families. At one point, Wendy asked her parents if they had any plans for the abandoned chair in their basement, and if they didn't, could we have it? Wendy's parents generously gifted the worn and tired chair and wished us luck.
We received the chair in 2004 and began work on it almost immediately. We had hoped to salvage it in some way, but were unsure given the tough shape much of the wood was in. Dry, cracked, splintered, and wobbly, the chair had seen better days. While working on nail removal, one of the pegs slipped from the chair's arm revealing a completely failed glue joint. This joint failure explained the wobbly nature of the chair's structure. We knew we'd need to do a little bit more aggressive of chair surgery if we were going to be able to use the piece for its intended purpose.
After we completely disassembled the chair, we were able to begin working on the chair in earnest. Though we had every intention to restore the chair to its former glory, we had little know how at the time. Still newlyweds and with a "new" very old house, we had a project list longer than we could fathom and few specialized tools (such as cabinet clamps) that would be necessary. We had gotten off to a decent start, but we put the project off to the side, where it sat for an additional eight years.
As luck would have it, our kitchen/sun porch "rethink" rolled around this summer. Knowing we'd need additional seating, Wendy raised the idea of using her great grandfather's chair for the room. She was hopeful we could work it in, but figured it would be more of a decorative element than functional. It's old wobble was so severe, she assumed we wouldn't be able to use it as viable seating. After disassembling the chair, we were left with four pieces that needed a complete sanding and prep.
I did the majority of the remaining sanding using my Fein Multimaster oscillating tool and sanding pads I had cut to a more manageable size. I found using the oscillating tool to be a bit slower, but it allowed me to get into the detail areas of the chair. I also found it was much less likely to leave those tiny little swirl marks you often see with an orbital sander.
After a few more hours the chair's sanding was complete. I went over the whole chair with 220 grit paper and "00" steel wool, we were ready for reassembly.
I've had an internal struggle over sanding this chair for quite some time. I mentioned in a prior post that my inexperience in what we're doing really showed when we were given the chair. Back in 2004 I was sanding everything raw, caulking gaps all over the place, and pocket hole screwing everything to death. I didn't yet have an appreciation for the patina and character that comes with "old." Once I started to gain this appreciation, I began to regret my decision to take off all of the chair's original finish. Perhaps there was something I could have done to better preserve the chair's character?
Through much soul searching I came to a final conclusion. (Can you tell I take this chair seriously?) I determined that, if I had it to do over again I would not have sanded the chair so aggressively. But what's done is done, and I know better for the next time, I just need to be sure I put as much effort into making this chair exactly what it should be with what I have to work with.
With the chair ready to assembly, I broke out my various cabinet clamps. These clamps were absolutely necessary in ensuring my ability to assemble the chair the way it once was and should always be.
I painted wood glue on the various dowels of the chair and also applied glue on the surfaces that accept the dowels.
Painting on the glue rather than just slopping it into place allows the joint to be securely made without having glue squeeze out all over the place. Once all of the glue was applied, I made the necessary connections and clamped the whole chair back together.
The rear of the chair has two steel slot head screws that were the final pieces I had to insert. Once in place, I was able to take a step back at the famed chair finally reassembled.
After allowing several hours of dry time I removed the clamps and inspected the work. The chair was secure and sturdy. Even without a seat I could tell it would be plenty sturdy to act as actual seating. I brought the chair into the sun porch to see how it might eventually look in the space. It was nearly perfect.
I surprised Wendy by completing the chair assembly and putting it in place and I can't tell you how happy she was when she arrived home and saw it. She danced around and gave me a huge hug. We had longed talked about getting this chair back in place and it was finally becoming a reality.
We still have a fair amount of work left before we can call the project done. We need to stain the chair as well as install jute webbing, a burlap cover, and a seat cushion, but we can see the whole thing taking shape. We're planning to stain it a very dark brown a little later this week. We'll be sure to update you on progress.
What do you think of our sentimental heirloom and its placement in our sun porch? Do you have a piece of furniture in your home, that has been passed down from generation to generation? Maybe a family heirloom that you've worked to restore? If so, we'd love to hear all about it.