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I've taken on some simple restoration projects in the past with some success (to me anyway) and I have a new one that I'd like to take on. I was given a cane chair that has been sitting in the elements for quite some time. The cane is woven and I'll be weaving a new one, however, the wood (spline? not sure what the word for it is) that hides the weaving on the backrest has warped and expanded due to the elements. How would I go about fixing or replacing that? I can easily pry it out to access the weaving, but I would like to place it back into place after I finish to hide the weave work and create a smooth surface.

Should I soak it in hot water or steam it to make it more pliable and force it back into place and trim any excess or do i have to replace it completely? Are there techniques for dealing with this?

Here are some pictures of what I am talking about enter image description here

enter image description here

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    Hi, welcome to Woodworking. Unless you can make a new one from scratch your plan to soak the existing one in hot water is probably the best bet. Heat (along with moisture, although that's not vital) is the usual way wood is made pliable enough to bend. It's probably not necessary to get the entire piece hot, I'd bet it'll work to locally heat the right portion to make it amenable to squeezing back into position. Then hold it in place with wrapping or numerous clamps until it cools and dries. Is it currently glued or tacked in place?
    – Graphus
    Jun 29 at 16:20
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    BTW just out of curiosity, are you planning on doing anything to reduce the greying of the surface due to weathering prior to refinishing?
    – Graphus
    Jun 29 at 16:21
  • I believe it was tacked onto place - probably for easier access to the weaving holes when repairing the cane. I haven't decide how I am going to finish this off, but it's best that I do before weaving in new cane. I kind of like the patina on this so I may sand it smooth and wet it with some mineral spirits to see how it's going to look with just a layer of finish. If that doesn't look good, then do you have any suggestions for reducing the grey and prep for stain? Jun 29 at 18:00
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    You'll have to do some sanding regardless of anything else, and of course this always freshens wood up to some degree. You can also try literally washing the wood down with soapy water, which can sometimes be surprisingly effective. But once you get water staining in wood the usual thing to rely on is oxalic acid. There are various wood cleaning or freshening products that contain oxalic (including Bar Keeper's Friend) but if possible it's best to use it unadulterated. Although there are commercial solutions of oxalic available (may be called wood bleach) if possible buy the dry powder [contd]
    – Graphus
    Jun 29 at 23:11
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    so you can make up solutions yourself, as needed. This has two advantages, A, you can make it as concentrated as possible, and B, use it hot (which both increases concentration and speeds its effect). But speed is really irrelevant with oxalic acid since you always let it dry on the wood, before rinsing off (very thoroughly, either using running water or by wiping/sponging off three times with clean water).
    – Graphus
    Jun 29 at 23:14
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Should I soak it in hot water or steam it to make it more pliable and force it back into place

Unless you are in a position to make a new one I think this has the greatest chance of success. After you get the strip out to replace the cane and are then ready to reinstall it you might be able to coax the piece as-is back into position, starting in the middle and working outwards, or starting at one end and working your way along. But obviously with the wood dry like this, and possibly/likely brittle from weathering, there's a greater chance of the piece cracking on you.

Heating the wood (along with moisture, although that's not vital) is the usual way wood is made pliable enough to bend. I would use boiling water for this, not merely hot. It's probably not necessary to heat the entire piece, I'd bet it'll work to locally heat the right portion(s) to make the strip amenable to squeezing back into position but be guided by how the wood is responding, not by your prior plan. Temporarily clamp/wrapping in rubber strips as you go — it wouldn't be safe to tack the wood down as you go in case you need to start again!

It may be best to get used to the idea that the piece will crack on you at least once even with heating, and be prepared to continue. These strips aren't structural, so it wouldn't be the end of the world if they aren't one long continuous piece of wood, although obviously it won't look as good.

Some notes:

  • You might be temped to re-use the existing nail holes. I would advise against this unless you're moving up to a thicker gauge of brad/panel pin.

  • Same size or not, make sure your new nails aren't too long! If you can't find brads in the gauge you want that are short enough don't hesitate to shorten them yourself1.

  • If you are repositioning your nails pre-drill for each and every one to help ensure against splitting2. The holes can be undersize.

  • Do ensure you leave the wood to dry out fully before tacking back into place. Although it'll undoubtedly look dry in about an hour or so it would be best to leave it for a few hours, overnight if possible3.


1 Regardless if you use a mini drill and a cutoff wheel, a pliers or wire cutters to shorten the nails do not worry about losing the point. Nails (of all sizes, not just small brads) can be completely blunt and still work well, actually slightly better in some cases!

2 This is assuming you're nailing by hand, disregard if using a nail gun.

3 Overnight drying, or even a full 24 hours, is advisable before continuing work any time you get wood soaking wet. Bear this in mind if you decide you need to use oxalic acid or another product to try to combat the greying, after the thorough rinsing stage.

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  • Isn't wood usually bent in a steam box? Doesn't that, inherently, require boiling water? Are you suggesting that OP soak the spline in hot/boiling water instead of steaming it?
    – FreeMan
    Jul 1 at 16:31
  • Yes of course steam boxes are the norm (although q.v. bending irons) and it's likely that is how the part was formed originally. But that's when the starting piece was straight — even assuming the OP wanted to go to the trouble of making a wood-steaming setup (tough ask just for this one job) it's now not at all an easy shape to steam (understatement haha). So soaking, or repeatedly dousing, the relevant area in boiling water seems likely to be best bet. You can do a similar job using a heat gun actually, but again I didn't want to assume the OP had one or would want to buy one just for this.
    – Graphus
    Jul 1 at 19:08
  • Fair points, makes sense.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 2 at 12:26
  • Hair dryer yes, heat gun no. This might be my first and last wood bending attempt so boiling water bath it is! Jul 2 at 18:48
  • Yeah, if you don't already have a heat gun on your must-buy list they're not exactly something crying out to be added to the toolkit! I will mention though, they can be very effective in helping in removal of old paint and clear finishes; this is the sole reason I bought mine.
    – Graphus
    Jul 3 at 1:27

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