I found a set of four chairs at thrift store for $35 several months ago. The only problem was- they had dark colored cane on the back and I prefer light colored cane. I casually googled how to replace cane and it seemed easy enough from the few tutorials and videos I found. I decided to give it a try and I learned a lot through the process. So much so that I wanted to share an in-depth resource for you with all of the tips and tricks I learned + the exact process I used for removing and replacing the cane webbing.
- Cane webbing of your choice
- Reed spline
- Caning wedges
- Hide glue (do NOT use yellow wood glue! Fortunately I read up on this before I started and purchased hide glue because it has a longer dry time so you can work with it easier and it’s water soluble so the cane is easy to remove in the future. You can also use Elmer’s glue)
- Sharp razor blade
- Shears for angle cuts (if your piece does not have allow for the reed spline to be one continuous piece, like in a circle. My chairs had four pieces of reed spline cut at a 45 degree angle at each corner. These shears were a lifesaver for cutting the spline and making the corners look good)
- Hammer or rubber mallet
- Caning chisel or small flat blade screwdriver (I used a very small flat blade screwdriver like this that I already had and it worked great!)
- Drill and small drill bit
- Steamer with a small nozzle (like this)- this is MUST for removing the old spline/cane
Buying cane webbing + supplies
There are several different types of cane weaves to choose from- mesh, radio, and even herringbone. You can buy a sampler pack on Etsy if you aren’t sure what type you want. A good tip I found was to choose a smaller, less busy cane pattern if you have a more ornate piece of furniture. Otherwise, you can get creative with all of the different types. I found the best price for cane at Constantine’s Wood Center, and the best choices for width. I purchased 1/2″ mesh cane webbing, 24″ wide. I measured the existing cane on my chairs and then added four inches to the width and length for each chair so that I had enough to put down into the grooves.
I looked just about everywhere for cane and other good places to purchase are: Etsy, Amazon, and other small online shops like Constantine’s if you google “cane webbing.”
I also purchased reed spline and caning wedges from Constantine’s Woodworking. My total order was less than $60. The reed spline comes in standard sizes, so do the best you can to measure the spline in your piece. I totally eyeballed my spline with a tape measure and it looked to be about 5/8″ wide. That’s what I ordered and it was perfect!
How to Remove Cane Webbing
There are few tutorials out there on how to remove cane webbing that are helpful + from this decade….I watched several old YouTube videos and read many tutorials, but most were not helpful because they made it seem very easy to remove the spline and pull out the cane. You can probably see where I’m going with this…it took me a lot more trial and error to find the best way to remove the cane from my chairs!
The one tutorial I did appreciate was this one from Everyday Old House because it shows you how to remove the spline/cane when the spline is easy OR stubborn. If you happen to be blessed with spline that is easy to remove, it’s as easy as getting your caning chisel or screwdriver under the spline and pulling the spline out of the groove. If your spline is stubborn (like mine!), there’s a few more steps you’ll need to take. That’s where I hope my experience can make the process much easier!
- Run a razor blade along the sides of the spline and cut the cane out
The razor blade will loosen the spline from the sides of the furniture piece and you’ll want the cane from the center of your piece out of the way.
2. Drill holes in the spline every 1-2″
I used a 7/64″ drill bit, but just make sure your drill bit is smaller than the width of the spline. Drill carefully but you’ll be able to feel when the drill bit hits the bottom of the groove.
3. Run the steamer nozzle over the spline and inject steam into each of the small holes in the spline for a couple of seconds
This process was messy and I was very worried about water all over my chairs because typically water + wood = bad, right?! However, I quickly realized there was no easy way to go about removing the spine and cane, so I forged ahead and the steam/water didn’t damage my chairs at all! My only note of caution here is that the steam did take off some of the stain on my chairs. I don’t honestly know how you can remove spline/cane without having to at least touch up the finish on a furniture piece. I painted my chairs after I removed the spline/cane, so I wasn’t worried that the steam/water ruined the finish on the chairs. Just an FYI.
4. Remove the spline
When the spline is damp all around from the steam/water, set aside to let the water soak into the groove and loosen the glue. After 10-15 minutes, pry the spline up from a corner with a hammer and the caning chisel or screwdriver. The goal is to get the caning chisel or screwdriver underneath the spline. Once you have the chisel or screwdriver underneath a small part of the spline, see if the spline will come out with a little encouragement. Otherwise, grab your steamer nozzle and inject steam where your chisel/screwdriver is underneath the spline.
This should loosen the spline enough so that the spline comes out nicely with a little help from the chisel/screwdriver. Trust me, it makes it so much worse if you try to force the spline out in small pieces and splinters. You’ll want the spline to come out of the groove as cleanly as possible so that you don’t damage the groove or end up scraping out tiny pieces of leftover spline from the groove.
The groove needs to be as clean as possible so that it’s easy to insert the new spline and cane. I gently scraped the groove with my screwdriver after removing the spline to clear any remaining glue and pieces of cane stuck in the groove. This step is so important!
Note: getting the spline out is hard work and super messy, or at least it was for me! Letting the spline soak helps immensely, so don’t skip that step, but just know that the spline typically isn’t going to just lift right out. I was unaware that this process was going to take a lot of elbow grease! However, if I had known all of these steps that I just shared from the beginning, it would’ve been much easier. Also, this isn’t a warning to discourage you, you can do this! I will definitely be doing this project again myself!
How to Replace Cane Webbing
There are many tutorials out there on how to do this, but I found that a combination of tips and tricks from all of them helped me get the best possible result, so I’ll share my step by step process here:
- Cut the cane webbing to size
Leave yourself a 2″ margin so you have room to adjust the cane and plenty of cane to work with when you stuff it into the groove.
Note: cane has a shiny side and a dull side. Shiny side up!
2. Leave the cane to soak in a bathtub full of warm water for at least 30 minutes while you cut the spline to size (if needed)
Give your cane a little soak in the bathtub while you assemble everything else.
My spline needed to be cut into four, 45 degree angle pieces. If you’re lucky, your groove is round and you don’t need to cut the spline. This added a lot of time while I got the hang of it. I used these angle shears to cut the spline to size and dry fitted it into the grooves to ensure that it would fit. Once you have the spline cut, then put it into the bathtub to soak while you insert the cane into the grooves.
4. Wedge the cane into the grooves
This is MUCH harder than it appears. All of the tutorials made me think that the cane because super flexible when you soak it and you just simply shove it into the groove no problem. Wrong, sort of. The cane does because slightly flexible, which is good, because you need to be able to wedge it into the groove without breaking it. But this process requires quite a bit of elbow grease! I used the caning wedges to gently push it into the groove along one side, then used the hammer with the caning wedge to tap it further in. Then I did the same on the opposite side. Then do the other sides.
Use the caning wedges and a hammer to gently tap the cane into the groove. You don’t want the cane to break, so be gentle. When you’re using the caning wedges and the hammer, angle towards the outside of the groove. You want the 2″ margin to be the part that’s wedged into the groove.
At this time, make sure that the cane is even and level. If you don’t pay attention, the cane will look lopsided.
Also, the tutorials all warned against pulling the cane tight because as it dries, it will become taut on its own. I really worried about how loose to keep the cane, but it turns out that there really isn’t any way you can pull it super tight. Just focus on wedging it into the grooves.
Make sure the cane is wedged all the way down into the grooves all the way around using your hammer and caning wedges.
5. Remove layers of the cane around the side and use a razor blade to cut the cane
After the cane is thoroughly wedged into the grooves, peel the horizontal pieces of cane back until you get down to the groove. Then use a sharp razor blade to cut the cane so that it does not stick up above the outside of the groove. When cutting the cane, angle the razor blade to the outside of the groove so that you do not cut the cane short!
6. Wedge the spline into the groove on top of the cane using hide glue
The spline doesn’t need to soak for long, so I took mine out of the bathtub as soon as I was done wedging the cane into the grooves. Run a bead of hide glue into the groove and press the spline into the groove. A rubber mallet would have been helpful here to tap the spline into the groove, but I put a towel over the spline and gently tapped with a hammer. Make absolutely sure the spline is pushed as deep into the groove as possible! Sometimes the ends would pop up while I was working my way around the chair, so I made sure to keep tapping it back down. Hide glue has a longer tack time before it dries, so it is very forgiving.
7. Clean up any glue residue with a wet paper towel or rag
I hope this tutorial was helpful. Don’t be afraid to try it! I will definitely do this project again because it opens up so many opportunities for refinishing old furniture.