Caning Tools & Supplies, Chair Preparation

Needed: (L - R) Cane, border cane, glycerin, side cutters, knife, dowels or golf tees, cloths clips, ruler/straight edge, ice pick or sharp pointer.

Cane comes in various sizes. It is important to get the right size cane for the holes & width spacing (ie the space between holes). The best rule of thumb is to take a piece of old cane with you when you go to buy new cane & replace with new cane the same size. Cane size runs from extra fine to carriage. I've used mostly fine or medium on the chairs that I've done.

Cane is available from most hobby stores. It comes in 1000ft, called a "hank" or 500ft, called a "half hank". It takes about 250-300ft to cane a chair seat with about 80 holes.  Approximate cost (2001 value), $38/hank, $20/half-hank.  Price also varies slightly based upon size of cane. The labor cost for caning a chair is based upon the number of holes in the chair, if you were to hire someone to cane for you.

Prepare the cane by rolling individual strands & clipping them with clothespins. Be sure not to kink or twist the cane. This helps get a feel for the cane, it's growth direction (cane eyes) & also makes the cane easier to soak.

Glycerin, also available from hobby shops, is used to help the cane slide. Soak the cane in warm water with a couple capfuls of Glycerin for 15-20 minutes before use. Do not soak for extended periods of time, as the cane will start to break down & weaken.

The side cutters (or scissors) are used for trimming the cane. The needle nose sometimes comes in handy to help pull cane in tight places. Cut the ends at an angle for easier threading into tight places.

The serrated knife is use for cutting old cane out of the chair.

The dowels or golf tees are used to hold the cane in place until they are tied off underneath. The dowels can also be used for securing the border cane in corners of square seats.

The ice picks are invaluable aids to pry up cane loops and to make room to squeeze cane through small openings.

The ruler/straight edge is used to aid visual line up. It can also be used to ensure proper tension on curved back chairs, by placing the ruler under the middle of the side rails & then running the cane under the ruler, in step 1.

Cane Sizing
There are tools that can help to determine the correct size of cane to use. The tool will measure the size of the holes & the distance between the holes measured from center to center.

An alternative is to count the number of holes within 6 inches. On a side rail, lay a ruler down so that the first hole is entirely within the beginning of the ruler. Count the holes within 6". If the last hole is partially included, then count it. This may be more accurate than measuring center to center of two random, adjacent holes, because the holes might not be drilled evenly. By measuring over a 6" length, the spacing averages out.

If there are:

The size is:


13 holes



12 holes



11 holes



10 holes

Narrow - Med.


9 holes



8 holes




Chair Preparation
Before caning the chair, it is important to properly prepare the chair. Cut the old cane out of the chair with the serrated knife & save it for reference if you get stuck or have questions.  Also take a piece of the old cane to buy replacement cane. Use the ice pick to clean out the holes.

If you are going to refinish/repair the chair, now is the time. The chair must be completely finished before caning begins.


In this picture the cane was cut out by the saw edge of the knife blade & the pick was used to clean out any material left in the holes. Next the chair was thoroughly cleaned & the damage to the finish was repaired.

Return to Chair Caning Instructions page.                                                 Go to Chair Caning Step 1.