How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

rocking chair

I bought this rocking chair from my local buy, swap and sell website for $25.  Something about the chair caught my attention and I knew I had fabric leftover from another project to cover it.  I try and find cheap projects like this so I can get practice and learn new skills.

Looking at the style of the rocking chair it looked fairly easy to take it apart and restore it. I had all the materials needed so this was going to be a quick makeover.

rocking chair

How to restore an antique rocking chair

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This rocking chair does not look to bad in the photo, but in real life it was.  The fabric was threadbare, you just had to touch the braided trim and it would come away from the chair. On the flip side, the wood was in good condition apart from the scratches.

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

Removing the Fabric

The braided trim was a breeze to remove you just have to pull, they are usually glued in place to hide staples. An easy way to remove the fabric is to use a staple remover and loosen a small section of fabric. 

Next,  you can use a pair of pliers to grab the fabric and roll the pliers along the seam. The fabric will be rolled around the pliers when you are finished. This will pull out the fabric and also lift the staple so it can be removed quickly with pliers. I really hope that makes sense.

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

You can now remove all the staples from the wood.  This can easily be done now because of the way the fabric was removed.  You can see from the image above how rolling the fabric lifts the staples out.  I used the pliers to pull out the staples.

I prefer to remove all the old staples before I recover a chair.  The reason for this is when you add the fabric you don’t have to worry about hitting the old staples.  And once the varnish is applied it will fill in the holes repairing the wood so you have a good surface to staple.

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

Removing the old stain and varnish

I would have to admit I thought this was going to be an easy quick project, I was wrong.  The idea I had was that I could take the chair apart and sand down the wood and put it back together. The problem I had was that the chair was riveted together, so I was unable to take the chair apart. 

recover an Antique Rocking Chair

Which meant I had to try and get the sander into all the nooks and crannies, which was a pain in the butt. The flat areas were fine but the rest of the chair was a nightmare.  

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

I have also learnt from past projects, that you can not sand an applique using a sander without causing damage. And hand sanding is not my favourite job.

Wood Applique

In the end, I went with the easy option of using Citri-Strip to remove all the old varnish and stain. This does work great but you do have to wait a few hours for the paint stripper to work.  Goodbye quick project. You can use a paint scraper to remove all the old varnish once it starts to lift.  To clean up the applique, I used a hard scrubbing brush to remove the paint stripper. 

Stain the wood

You can now stain your wood, I used Dark Mahogany stain for this chair. 

Once the stain is dry you can add two coats of Oil-Based gloss Polyurethane.

Adding the fabric

If you are using a design with large patterns try to find the main panel and centre it in the chair.  I will look a bit strange to have a large pattern that is off-centre.  you can use a staple gun and start by stapling the centred fabric at the top and bottom and both sides then staple the rest.

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

You need to make sure you have at least a 1 cm fold in the hem that you have folded over.  This will prevent the fabric from fraying over time.  To secure the fabric add the staples close together like the image below.

Recover a rocking chair

The foam I took out of the back was still in good condition so I reused it.  Once you have fitted the foam you can add the fabric for the back panel using the same process as the front. 

Rocking chair

Adding the braided trim

You can add some Old Gold Gimp Braid using a hot glue gun to hide all the staples.  When you start adding the braided trim, start at the bottom so the join is not so obvious. 

rocking chair

Replace the seat

The wood on the base of this chair was broken and had to be replaced.  I removed the old base by hitting it from the bottom with a rubber mallet. You can use the old seat as a template for the new one. I used a scrap of MDF that I had lying around in my shed and cut a new one using a jigsaw.

Rocking chair

The foam on this chair was all dented and grotty.  I glued the new base to the old base and cut a new piece of foam.  I used Spray Adhesive to add the new foam on top of the old foam and glued it into the lip of the chair using contact glue.

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

You can now add the fabric and braided trim to the seat in the same way as the top.  The underneath will now look like this image below.

Rocking chair

Some before and after photos

How to Restore an Antique Rocking Chair

Before and after

how to restore a rocking chair

More restorations

This dresser should have gone to the landfill but my daughter loved the shape, so I gave it a makeover.

Dresser makeover

This old commode chair was giving a new lease on life.

Anitque Commode chair restored

Pinterest pin

How to recover and revamp an old rocking chair to its former glory.


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  • Reply
    Deanna Lee
    December 13, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    what about webbing? you must have used something besides foam and fabric so it wouldn’t push out the back and the seat.

    • Reply
      Anita Holland
      December 14, 2019 at 8:23 pm

      There was no webbing just the board that was already there.

  • Reply
    Teresa S Cornelius
    January 16, 2023 at 10:56 pm

    I have this same chair and it needs repaired as well. Thanks for the information. May I ask were you found the material? Online?

    • Reply
      Anita Holland
      January 17, 2023 at 6:01 pm

      It was from aliexpress ifi remember correctly.

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