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Painting Tag-Sale Chairs

Source: Martha Stewart Living Television


Also called Grange chairs, they were frequently used in nineteenth-century Grange halls, where town meetings and events were held. A unique characteristic of these flea-market finds is that no two seem to be exactly alike; it is believed that many of them were originally designed for individual workers in New England textile factories -- with each worker's measurements being taken into account for a perfect fit. This theory explains why the names of women are often found stamped on the bottom of the chair's seat.

Martha loves finding Windsor chairs at tag sales and revitalizing them to bring out the original beauty of the wood. The process of repairing, painting, and waxing the chairs is simple, but keep in mind that it can be time consuming if you're working on a number of chairs. Before you begin working, you'll want to remove all of the old paint from each chair. You can have them professionally stripped, or strip them yourself at home using paint remover.


  • Wooden Windsor chairs

  • Wood filler, such as Elmer's Carpenter's Wood Filler

  • Wood glue

  • Putty knife

  • Sandpaper

  • Tack cloth

  • White primer paint

  • Instant color pigment

  • Paint

  • Clear wax

  • Dark wax

  • Clean rags and paint brushes


  1. Begin by patching any cracks in the seat of the chair with wood filler, using the putty knife to apply the filler, and scrape off any excess. Wrap sandpaper around a block of wood, and sand the filled surfaces to make them completely smooth. Also, take the time during this step to examine the chair for loose rungs or legs. Sand the loosened joints, then apply wood glue, reattach, and allow to dry thoroughly.

  2. Using the tack cloth, clean all surfaces of the chair to remove dust before applying primer.

  3. Mix a small amount of instant color into the white primer with a paint stirrer to bring it closer to the color of the paint you will be using. Then use a paintbrush to evenly apply the primer to all the chair's surfaces, taking care to use even strokes and avoid drips and puddles.

  4. When primer is dry, lightly sand the chair, and wipe clean with the tack cloth. Apply three coats of paint to the chair, allowing paint to dry, lightly sanding and wiping with tack cloth between each coat. When painting the spindles, a side-to-side motion is recommended to prevent dripping and to keep paint from getting caught in the crevices. Allow paint to dry thoroughly.

  5. With a clean, damp cloth, apply a coat of dark wax to the chair. The wax enhances the patina, or depth of color, of the painted wood. Allow the wax to dry for 5 minutes, then lightly buff. Using another clean, damp cloth, apply a light coat of clear wax (also called finishing wax). Allow to dry for a few minutes, then buff again.

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