Caning is a process by which natural fibers are woven together into a pattern that is durable and strong enough for use in furniture. Cane, like wicker and rattan, is a product of the rattan plant, a type of climbing palm. The exterior of the plant is processed to make cane, while the interior, a pithy material, is used for wicker. Most rattan suitable for furniture is imported from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sumatra. There are two ways caning can be done: by hand, and by machine. In traditional hand-caning, holes are drilled one-half inch apart in the frame of a chair. Pieces of cane are then woven through the holes and into an openwork pattern. The cost of a hand-caned chair depends largely on the difficulty of the job: The condition of the chair, the distance between the drilled holes, and the complexity and tightness of the weave are all factors to consider. Because of the time and labor involved, it can be expensive to hand-cane a piece of furniture—Dave estimates the cost at about $150 for a 15-by-15-inch panel.
Even more intricate and costly than standard hand-caning is French caning. Because the cane coming through the back of the chair was thought to be less than elegant, French craftsmen devised a method of gluing and securing each individual strand of cane with a peg. A considerable amount of work is involved, but the result is clean and beautiful.
A less expensive and more efficient method of caning is by machine. The cane is woven into sheets, and then the pre-woven panels are attached to a chair frame that has been cleaned and routed. A furrow is created in the wood, and the cane panel is set in the furrow and glued. The excess is trimmed, then a piece of reed, called a spline, is tapped into place to secure the cane. Before staining, the panel is sanded, then burned with a torch to singe away any hairs or imperfections. This quick process costs only about $35 per 15-by-15-inch panel. The difference between hand- and machine-caning is not only in appearance, but in durability. A machine-caned piece will last about seven to ten years, while a hand-caned one will last twenty to forty years.
If you have a piece of furniture that needs re-caning, consider the monetary and sentimental value of the piece before making a decision on the method. Machine-caning can detract somewhat from the value of the chair, but is a considerably more affordable option.
Yorkville Caning, Inc.
31-04 60th Street
Woodside, NY 11377