Thursday, October 3, 2013

Great Grandmother's Wheelchair

My cousin moved a few years ago and Lee and I went to help.  She had an old broken wheelchair under her house and she offered it to me.  It seems it was my great grandmother's.  My Aunt was there helping and remembers using it to push other kids up and down the sidewalk in front of their Ashland, Kentucky home.  No mention was made as to whether this was appreciated by the one that needed a wheelchair!


On the underside of the foot rest is a name and address.  I believe it is my grandmother's house in Ashland.  I can't read the name.

We brought it home and set it aside.  I can fix a lot in the way of furniture, but this is wicker and cane.  I don't know nothin' about birthin' no...I mean wicker.  Or cane.  I discovered the cane can be purchased in sheets and is kept in place with a wicker spline.  Sort of like replacing a screen.  But I didn't want to attempt it.


At one point, to surprise me as a gift, Lee took it to a place that said they could fix it.  Many months later they called and asked him to come get it.  They weren't doing that any more!  The Factory Antique Mall has a lady inside that WILL repair wicker.  We took the chair up there recently for an estimate and discovered it was going to cost a LOT of money. 


I have an appreciation of family pieces, so I do want to get it fixed.  But I decided to do some of the work myself to save a bit.  The wood had been painted at some time in the past.  Most of the paint was gone and what was there was either flaky or stubbornly stuck on.  The wood is dry and cracked.  I used a soft brush to get rid of the worst of the flakes on the canes.


I removed the broken cane in the seat and leg support.  I used a small screwdriver to pry up an end of the cane and then used needle nose pliers to pull it out.  It was very dry and brittle and everything came out in pieces.  This made it easier to get to the wood behind the seat area and it would have to go anyway. 


Notice the pink tools.  This was in self defense when the tools kept in the house for my use ended up out in the shop.  It's a long walk to the shop when I just need to tighten a screw.  So I asked for, and got, pink tools.  No one ever mistakes them for manly, shop type tools.

I used a power sander to get a lot of the paint off.  I started with 150 grit and finished with 220 grit.  Small wire brushes helped me get to the areas close to the wicker that I didn't want to damage.  Then I used the sand paper in my hand.


Lee took off the wheels and all the metal holding everything together.  He, or I, will use steel wool or sandpaper to strip off the rust and smooth out the black chipped paint.  But he left these on.  I used a Dremel moto-tool to grind off the rust and will spray all the metal parts with a flat black paint.


I am not trying to remove all the patina from years of use.  Just make it strong and preserve it.  There are a few damaged places I will need to fill with a wood filler.  There are some places that are cracked or joints that are coming loose.   I will use glue and clamps.  But I am dirty and tired and it will wait for tomorrow! 


My big decision is whether to use Danish Oil on the wood or Tung Oil.  Danish oil will soak in and be good for the wood.  Tung oil will also add a hard surface to protect it.  But chances are it wouldn't have been used back in my great grandmother's day.


Any experts out there with a suggestion?


  1. Becca, Now you know why I didn't want to get rid of it, but didn't know what to do with it either. I applaud your handiwork! The last name looks like Adams on the seat. And the first name looks like Sarah to me. Which would make sense because I believe that was the chair that was used for Grandmama's sister Georgia when she had tuberculosis. I think I remember of picture of Georgia in it when I was living at Grandmam's. I bet your mom would remember. Charles Ernest would be proud of you working on this.

  2. I know what you mean about treasuring some pieces that may not have monetary value, but are sentimental family pieces. We have a cabinet in our bathroom here that will travel with us wherever we eventually relocate. Looks like you and Lee are on the way to making that old chair a functional again, but hopefully not to be used, just admired. Sorry, but no advice on the type of oil that would be best cause do 't know nothing bout...

  3. I am going to ask for pink tools for Christmas. I have a set of blue ones that generally often have to be sought after because hubby walks off with them. Must be a man thing.