Chair Caning: "Back to Life"

Photo Essay, Carroll County Times, September 27, 2009

By Ken Koons

caningRick Barrick, of Westminster, starts the process of caning a chair. The seven-step process takes up to eight hours for a square seat and up to fourteen hours for an oval seat.

Rick Barrick weaves in the binder cane, one of the last stages to finish the seat.

Rick Barrick looks under a chair to find the right hole while stitching the binder cane around the border of the seat.

Rick Barrick canes the seat of a Baltimore chair made during the Federal period, between 1815 and 1820.

The cane is woven through the previous rows of cane to make the seat pattern.

The old damaged seat is removed before the chair can be re-caned.

Documentary Film, Carroll County Times, September 27, 2009

By Ken Koons

Watch it on Youtube.

Article, Carroll County Times, September 27, 2009

By Brandon Oland, Times Staff Writer

Charles Shauck hauled away two antique chairs for free from the Northern Landfill in Westminster's Swap Shop in the summer of 2008. He did not want them, but he knew somebody who would.

Shauck gave the 19th-century ladder-back chair and wood rocking chair to his brother-in-law, Rick Barrick, of Westminster.

Barrick accepted them, even though the seats were in desperate need of repair. He could fix them.

Barrick, an avid antiques collector, is an accomplished chair caner. He's restored 75 chairs since discovering the weaving art at a class at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster 18 months ago.

Caning is a seven-step process in which strands of material are woven together to create chair seats or seat backs. When cane ages, it tends to get brittle, Barrick said. Old cane chair seats and backs are prone to cracking and breaking and must be replaced.

The process involves delicate weaving and takes Barrick anywhere from 6 to 8 eight hours for a square seat and 12 to 14 hours for an oval seat.

"With oval seats, there's a lot more weaving generally," Barrick said, "and the alternation of a couple of the steps in making an oval seat … takes me a little bit longer."

After more than two decades of collecting antiques and stumbling upon damaged chairs, Barrick said he wanted to learn how to repair them himself.

"I had found a couple chairs that I couldn't pass up real cheap at auctions," Barrick said. "They were sitting up [in the attic] until I found someone to do them or I figured it out myself."

He chose to use learn the craft.

While Barrick will replace the chair seat and backs, he does as little as possible to the finish of the chair. Refinishing an antique piece of furniture diminishes its resale value, he said.

"When you are dealing with old stuff," Barrick said, "less is more."

Barrick finds antique chairs everywhere from antique auctions to yard sales. He said it's unusual to find old chairs from the Swap Shop, but diamonds in the rough can be found everywhere.

"It's amazing sometimes what people throw out," he said.

Barrick's latest project was to restore an early-19th century chair he discovered at an antiques auction. The chair's original design is still in full view and features an eagle prominently painted on the chair's back.

He kept the chair's original structure intact, but repaired the square seat using the reliable seven-stop process that has worked so many times for Barrick before.

He keeps his favorites and gives a few away as gifts. He said he doesn't sell his refurbished antiques, electing to use his caning hobby simply as a way to keep busy. Barrick is a retired heavy machines operator.

Barrick, a former Civil War re-enactor, demonstrated his craft at Westminster's Corbit's Charge celebration in June. He said he hopes to perhaps teach his craft in the future at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

In the meantime, he said he's always on the lookout for antiques that need just a little refurbishing to be transformed into elegant furniture.

"When you learn how to weave the seats," Barrick said, "you're bringing them back to life."