Seat Caning

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Jan 31, 2013
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Doubt I can put this off until Summer as much as I would like to. I know Conk is on this site too and he being the Master seat builder, my recent mess will pale in comparison, but I did say I would post this so here we go...

I've been ill for the past 10 days or so and had a few days off work a week ago, so sat down on the Friday and started on the smaller, stern seat frame. I got 4 coats of Epifanes varnish on the frame during the week, done in the kitchen, makes the house smell like heck but the only place I can do it presently.

So I sit on the couch, I have my tangled mess of cane, a 1kg empty coffee can full of water between my feet, frame on the coffee table, old Chestnut seat as a sample next to me, pop a DVD in the player as a distraction, and start...

The cane comes in a bundle and generally one length isn't enough to do a full course, but on the smaller seat I had some that were long enough. I tend to grab the folded end and then pull it out of the tangle in that way carefully. Then I wind it up tighter and put it in the can of water to soak a few minutes. Time varies depending on how dry the cane is, in this case it took longer due to that. If you leave it in too long it can turn dark.

There is a good side to cane. The top will be smooth and slightly curved and the bottom rough. It is fairly easy to tell them apart and as you run it through the holes it is necessary to ensure it doesn't twist and come out the wrong way up.



The tapered dowels are used to hold the cane in the holes while it is being woven through the holes, to keep tension while not harming the cane itself.



Here we are starting the first course. I try to leave about a 6" length out the back for tying off later. So, run it through your first hole, peg it, then start weaving it through the other holes. There will be two courses in each direction side by side so I try at this point to push and peg it to the side of the hole a bit, it is much easier now than trying to do it later. Put some tension on the cane as you weave it, it is wet and pliable, when it dries it will tighten up.





Keep weaving that first course until it is done, cross to the adjacent hole on the back, pull it up through and across the frame to the next hole, keep moving the peg as you move down the frame. When you get near the end of the piece of cane you are using, make sure there is enough tag end at the back for tying later, peg it, get another piece of wetted cane and keep moving along.

When you are done with the first course, start on the second course in the same direction. In total there will be 7 courses to do so the holes are just slightly under 1/4" diameter this time. The first seat had 3/16" holes and by the time I got to the last course I had difficulty stuffing more cane through.



 
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Courses 3 and 4 run in the opposite direction and are the same as 1 and 2, in that they sit beside each other. More pegs than I have would be handy, I might need to make more for the next time I do this. My cane was too dry really despite being soaked well and was breaking at inappropriate times.





 
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So now we have the easy part done. Next is the diagonals and they are the most tedious part of the process. When I did my first seat last year, I got it wrong and didn't realize it until I had the entire course in already. It didn't "look" right and at that point I got the old Chestnut seat out for a look and then just kept trying until I figured it out. The first four courses determined the angle to weave the next course, there really was only one correct way to do it, not run on a 45 degree angle like I assumed.

~Now, this is where I messed up this time. Not enough holes. Coming across the short sides is the same, but on the longer side I have less holes than the original, which means my spacing is wider making for a crappy looking pattern, too much space. Although they look good, they aren't up to My standards so I will likely make new frames this Summer and re-do both of them to get them just right. Apparently I got "lucky" last year with my holes since that pattern came out very tight and neat, unlike this mess I have.~

So, we run the diagonals the same as the first four courses, hole to hole, but it needs to be woven up and over, up and over the existing courses.



At this point the corner holes finally come into play. Also, there may be issues with feeding the cane through the holes as they are beginning to fill up. I will take an awl and carefully move the cane in the holes to make space for the next strand. I will definitely have to do that for the last course, but with my larger holes this time, I haven't had to do it yet.

The 6th course is the opposite diagonal to the 5th.



At this point I have all 6 courses in and I have tied off the cane at the back. I poke it under and tie it off as best I can. A simple knot, or just wrap it twice under one of the cross strands. This is all the keeps it in place on the back, prior to finish varnish.



I will get to the 7th course this weekend at some point. I did see in another thread here that some people had experiences with cane seat getting wet, sagging and staying that way. The sample Chestnut seat in the photo's here is 45 years old and still tight. The finishing is important. Once done, the cane gets varnished on the top only. The bottom is left raw to allow wetting of the cane, it will stretch then tighten when it dries. My understanding of the top only varnish is that if you coat both sides, it will dry out and eventually break.
 
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Great sequence of photos, Mihun. Already looks like a stellar job. Good to know about the top-only varnish tip.
 
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You made that look easy! I have woven many seats, not out of cane, and I always get messed up with the diagonals. I realize now I need to get a better pattern for holes, I think i was one or two shot as well. How many does the chestnut seat have?
 
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What is the seventh course? I will be faced later in the season with the same sort of seat..from a Robertson. And a pile of cane. I was sure I was doomed to a book. Your pictures are going to be so helpful. I am aiming for useful not fancy.
 
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YC, I cannot imagine you doing anything only useful, you will go with fancy since I imagine at some point you intend to show the canoe at Assembly.
 
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The 7th course is merely ornamental, it covers the holes and finishes the seat. With the cane there is a wider piece for this purpose. It lays flat over the holes and you bend it around the corners and hold it down with loops of the regular cane.

Start with it offset between holes since you will overlap it in the end. Push the regular cane up through a hole and then back down the same hole to create a loop, the broader cane goes through this loop. Pull it tight, then thread it up through another hole 2 down and repeat many times. I had to soak both pieces for much longer than normal to get enough bend in them, especially the wide strip so it would bend as flat as possible around the corners.

Once back to the starting point, overlap a hole or two, cut it and finish with a close loop, then tie it off at the back.

Last is varnish, which may need to wait until it warms up here a bit more.









 
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The first 6 courses took about 4 hours with fumbling on the first diagonal. Tonight the 7th took about an hour. Add a few hours to make each seat frame, twenty minutes per coat of varnish, 4 done another 2-3 to go. This was the smaller of the two so the next will take longer. Again, as I do more the time should lessen, this was only my second time caning.
 
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Really nice thread, I did the seats in my Chestnut Pal for the first time years ago and they have held up well. I never varnished them though, I'm not sure why, but they still look good.
Hope your feeling better.
 
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YC, I cannot imagine you doing anything only useful, you will go with fancy since I imagine at some point you intend to show the canoe at Assembly.


Yup.. but its a livery canoe We think we have found not only the makers stamp but a livery stamp. If we wanted it to be period fancy we would have to invest in a mahogany gramaphone. That is totally out of the question. Its a short deck Robertson...not one of the long decks like Ken Kelly has.

I have caned a kneeling thwart that had a cutout once . It turned out OK but took me some eight hours to do a space two inches by twelve inches. Gave me a better understanding why hand caned seats are so expensive.
 
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Yup.. but its a livery canoe We think we have found not only the makers stamp but a livery stamp. If we wanted it to be period fancy we would have to invest in a mahogany gramaphone. That is totally out of the question. Its a short deck Robertson...not one of the long decks like Ken Kelly has.

I have caned a kneeling thwart that had a cutout once . It turned out OK but took me some eight hours to do a space two inches by twelve inches. Gave me a better understanding why hand caned seats are so expensive.

It is still a Robertson, something more rare than the boats I work on and I'm sure it will clean up nicely. And, it will give you good experience since you will seek something else, maybe buy Robin's Morris as your next project, then he won't need to haul it all the way out to Manitoba for me.
 
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The caning looks great! How well does it stand up to the elements? And with a few coats of varnish (I'm a big fan of Epifanes, too) does the cane get too stiff and want to crack?
Do you know if there is a synthetic material look alike?

Again, beautiful work!
 
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Cane is much different to sit on than webbing for sure, I found it to be much stiffer in my Chestnut last year, but not uncomfortable at all. I cannot say yet how it will stand up to Manitoba Summers, but the original Chestnut seat in the one photo is 45 years old, the cane is still tight, no broken strands, it just needs a scuff and new varnish.

When I make my contoured seats for webbing, I make them wider and deeper so you don't sit on the frame at all, unless I'm just using the front edge kneeling.

This pair I'm making now are sized to fit the original positions based on the inwale holes, so they are much smaller. I wanted cane since the canoe is a late 1930's vintage. If we choose to use it for tripping, I would likely make up webbed seats for comfort and design a system to use the existing holes but allow the stern seat to be moved forward so it could be larger.

I would imagine there is synthetic cane available, but I have no personal interest in using it. I like old, I like old ways and natural materials.
 
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Haven't tried synthetic cane. My Loon Works Aria was made in 1996. Its got a caned seat and gets quite regular use. None of the cane has splintered or broken. Most of my other boats almost all have caned seats dating from the 1990's and they see some regular 70 nights a season tripping.

On our Robertson circa 1900 it had a replacement cane seat but some of the original was still present in the holes.

I have varnished them sparingly and never the bottom.

I way prefer cane over web, but that is personal preference. One of the best seats was made by Peter Georg in an emergency for the Raven when it got some stuck on a strainer underwater in current. The webbing ripped. One bad thing I have noticed about webbing is it remains intact for a long time and when it fails it fails catastrophically. There is no warning.

 
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Cane is much different to sit on than webbing for sure, I found it to be much stiffer in my Chestnut last year, but not uncomfortable at all. I cannot say yet how it will stand up to Manitoba Summers, but the original Chestnut seat in the one photo is 45 years old, the cane is still tight, no broken strands, it just needs a scuff and new varnish.

When I make my contoured seats for webbing, I make them wider and deeper so you don't sit on the frame at all, unless I'm just using the front edge kneeling.

This pair I'm making now are sized to fit the original positions based on the inwale holes, so they are much smaller. I wanted cane since the canoe is a late 1930's vintage. If we choose to use it for tripping, I would likely make up webbed seats for comfort and design a system to use the existing holes but allow the stern seat to be moved forward so it could be larger.

I would imagine there is synthetic cane available, but I have no personal interest in using it. I like old, I like old ways and natural materials.

My only experience with cane was when I used some sheet cane on the seats for a guideboat that I built.
That sheet cane seems to be far different than the real stuff that you're using, and clearly, the real stuff lasts a long time.
The sheet material looked great, but performed poorly, sagging and eventually cracking at the high stress spots. I categorically eliminated cane (it's all the same, oops!) from the list of seat materials.

Again, I really like the look, and it sure seems to last. Maybe I'll give it a go for the next boat, my current build is not the right platform.
 
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Necessity is the mother of invention. I was banished from caning in the living room due to the mess I left after doing the first seat, so, the kitchen is my new work space. It turned out to be fortuitous in that I created a new technique. Placing the frame across the back of two chairs allows me to work easily with both hands, speeding up the process. After starting the strand, I could feed it through the opposing holes and using one hand on each side, just slide it through both quickly. You do need to watch for standing on the strand though.

The cane soaked longer than it took to put in each course. So in 75 minutes I have it to starting the 5th course. This time also I started tying off the ends right away while the cane is still pliable, if I wait too long it will break trying to pull it tight under other strands.





 
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Around Christmas I bought a used Wenonah with cane seats. The cane is in great shape. Is there anything I should be doing to keep it that way? Does it need yearly varnish? It's 14 years old but shows very little use.

DW
 
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