Redoing An Old Rocking Chair: Part 1

That’s right. I broke out the word dastardly. And I know we should be hard at work on our office cabinets, but that’s a big job (aka: a weekend job – maybe even a two-weekend job) and I have been giving this rocker the stink eye since November (yes, even before we moved). For anyone who can’t even remember that far back (me), here’s a recap: I originally picked it up off of Craigslist for $25 because I really liked the simple lines of it. Then it sat untouched for over nine months until this weekend.

Why? Well, no sooner had I gotten it home than I realized I had no earthly idea how to reupholster it. At all. I mean I knew how to do the bottom (I’ve redone seats before) but the hole at the top completely confounded me because it had to look finished on both sides. Le yikes.

But I posted this call for help a while back and a bunch of you guys were awesome! I definitely learned that there were probably about ten ways to skin that cat (gross expression, sorry – but it was comforting to hear that even some very experienced folks described many different ways I could “go”). So it gave me the confidence to tackle it right away put it off for nine months and begrudgingly give it the old college try over the last few days.

I will disclaimer this entire process much like when aliens took over my body and I made a quilt for Clara, which is to say: I went rogue. I took in all the advice from you guys along with some google tips and some suggestions from a reupholstering-fiend friend of mine… and just played it by ear and did what seemed to work as I went along. So with that out of the way, allow me to share the madness that is Me vs. Rocker. Which is not to be confused with Man vs. Wild (Bear Grylls I’m not).

Oh and because this process was so involved, it actually took me a few days of work. Which meant it was a multi-phase thing involving lots o’ pics. So I broke it right down the middle for ya (since 40 pics in one long rambling post = madness that even we can’t endorse). So here’s the first half. And the second half is in the hopper for tomorrow (still have to snap some after pics for ya, but it’s almost all set).

Anyway, here’s how it all went down: First I gave my rocker the stink eye one last time. You know for old time’s sake. Then I got to work pulling staples and nails out of the frame along with the ratty old upholstery to see what I was dealing with.

Oh and my tip would be to use a small channel lock pliers to pull things out. It was much easier than the back of a hammer or a needle-nosed pliers for me (although I still had to pull like crazy, this gripped better so I didn’t go flying backwards after tool slippage).

After about an hour I had a nice little pile going on. But I was only about 30% done.

So I kept pulling old nails and tacks for a few more hours, and then removed the two wood seat slats and was left with this:

It was a pretty ugly sight for three-ish hours of work. And I knew I had some serious wood puttying and sanding to do when it came to the frame (to get it ready for some rich dark stain). But I was tired. So I decided to move onto a less strenuous step that I figured I couldn’t mess up. Upholstering the weird little two-pieces-of-wood seat. First I decided to tape them together so I could upholster it as all one thing (as opposed to two with a weird little seam). I just used some delicate surface painting tape because it didn’t need to be super heavy duty stuff (like sticky duct tape) because I knew once the batting and fabric were in place they’d hold it together for the long haul.

Then it was time for a bunch of layers of extra-loft batting. I used “Soft N Crafty” from JoAnn, which I purchased back in November when I thought I was going to tackle my chair (kind of embarrassing that I then just packed it up and moved it and it continued to sit around untouched for 8+ months, but whatever). I knew I could have used a big piece of foam for the seat, but I actually prefer wood seated rockers like this (John’s mom has the most comfortable one ever) so I decided I didn’t want too much cushion goin’ on. But I also knew that staple gunning one layer of extra loft batting around the back wasn’t going to do much…

… so I applied a second layer…

… and then a third, fourth, and fifth. By the end it was plush without being super sink-in squishy, which I liked. Nice and firm with a bit of softness.

Here’s the point where I wanted to throw everything out the window. Yup, after five layers of batting applied staple by staple, I realized that the seat needed to be able to bend to fit past the arms and legs and actually lay flat on the base.

So I nearly broke down with visions of having to restaple five layers o’ batting after separating the two pieces of wood so they could hinge forward for just a second to be slid into place. Thankfully my sweet husband (who I always describe as the brains of this operation) pointed out that I didn’t have to unstaple anything and could just turn the seat over and cut the yellow tape that was running across the back and the batting should be flexible enough to fold forward (it wasn’t like I was trying to stretch it backwards or anything).

Worked like a charm. And apparently I was so excited I took this completely crooked picture in celebration:

Then it was time to reupholster my seat. I was super excited about the “Kravet Design” remnant fabric that I found on clearance at JoAnn for… wait for it… $2 a yard (I got two yards for $4). At the time that I grabbed it I had no idea what I’d use it for, but after woefully glancing up at my biggest failure (Mr Rocker, sitting untouched in the sunroom for nearly a year) I realized that the fabric would look really pretty on it (with some rich dark stain to set it off). The pattern of my fabric meant that I would have to take the time to center it before stapling anything, so here I am roughly folding it around the seat to try to find a center line and see how it might look in place:

Then I flipped everything over and just shot one staple into the top middle and one staple into the bottom middle (while pulling things tight). This way I could flip it back over and ensure that I was indeed still centered (and if I wasn’t I just had two staples to pop out with a flat head screwdriver.

Happily, I was right on track, so I pulled things tight and shot another staple through the middle of each side of the seat, just so it was being held firmly at the noon, three o’ clock, six o’ clock, and nine o’ clock positions. Then I kept the fabric firmly pulled and continued to staple all around the rest of the perimeter. When it came to the carved-out corners, I just folded the fabric like I was wrapping a present – again being sure to pull things taut and use a few staples to hold my folds in place (so it would look nice and smooth from the front).

Here’s what it looked like from the back when I was all done with my staple job:

And here’s what it looked like from the front. Purty, right?

Then I shoved it back into the seat to make sure the batting and fabric still allowed the seat to hinge forward a little bit to squeeze in. Whew, it still worked. And in the distance I heard angels singing.

Then it was time for the strenuous frame-readying step. I used wood putty to fill some of the holes that might be visible (like the ones under the seat along the front of the chair’s framing) and sanded everything to rough it up and ready it for some rich dark stain. Since I had some liquid deglosser on hand I gently swiped that over the entire chair after some rigorous sanding (I used low grit paper followed by higher grit paper to smooth everything out).

This is when I was forced to face the music: stain, even dark stain, wouldn’t make this chair look as flawless and something opaque like a rich deep coat of paint. Because even after all that putty, sanding, and deglossing, it was looking so inconsistent in certain areas that I knew it wouldn’t soak up stain evenly. Boo. And although some folks wouldn’t dream of painting wood, we’re definitely ok with it (especially since this is just a $25 cragislist find and not a family heirloom). So I threw my rich dark stain idea out the window and ran to the arms of an old friend. You guessed it: ORB.

I’m telling you, my name is Sherry and I’m addicted to oil-rubbed bronze spray paint. But thanks to having a nice built-in primer and applying three very thin and even coats, it actually took on the look of a rich dark wood (and had more dimension than plain old chocolate paint thanks to the subtle metallic quality of the finish). Here’s a picture that I snapped after two coats (you can see that it’s not completely seamless and even yet- but the third coat did the trick).

Oh and you can find more general spray painting tips here (lightly misting it while keeping your arm moving all the time is key).

And because I hate to end on that poorly shot, blown out, two-coats-out-of-three spray painting pic, I thought I’d fast forward a little to give you a glance at Part Two of The Glee Project The Rocker Project. Here she is (not completely finished, but getting there). I’ll be back with more details of that whole shebang (and some final after shots) for ya tomorrow.

Update: A sweet commenter (thanks Laura!) just told us that our chair fabric was actually on the cover of the Ballard Designs catalog, so we hopped over there and learned they actually sell a chair that’s upholstered in exactly the same fabric for $600-800 (depending on the finish of the chair) and the fabric is being sold on its own for $32 a yard!

What about you guys. Do you have any projects that you’ve put off for an epically long time? Is there something that intimidates you, like two-sided upholstery does to me? Are you completely unsurprised that I basically try to solve every problem in my life with ORB? Can you believe that darn seat wouldn’t fit on the chair after five layers of batting-stapling? At that point I truly wanted to set the entire thing on fire.


  1. Fran says

    I have this exact same rocker (it was my granddads) and havent known what to do with it. This is great! Thanks guys!

  2. heather says

    I am a huge fan of re-using old (and normally better built) pieces of furniture and items. You guys did a really fantastic job on this chair. It’s absolutely beautiful!

  3. says

    Well, the ORB looks good, at least. It almost looks like an ebony stain. I had considered painting my outdoor bench, but I decided to show the wood some love (that sounded bad) and refinish it. My bench cushion is taller than the original and I thought about tearing it apart to make it shorther, but my laziness kicked in and I left it. I also sat on, more like jumped on it, the seat really hard to get it to fit.

    I feel your pain about the seat cusion not fitting. At least you found an easier solution!

  4. Kim says

    Oh my gosh, it looks so pretty already! I am surprised spray paint could look that good on wood. Maybe I can ORB the bamboo settee we found on the curb-whaddya think?!?

  5. says

    Part of me almost wishes you had just because seeing the chair aflame would have been funny, hahaha.

    Your ORB addiction is totally understandable. I mean, seriously, it makes everything look awesome, plus y’all don’t overuse it in a single room. It’s always, like, accent bits and whatnot.

    As far as projects go, I am so bad about my scrapbooking habit. I keep buying stickers and printing pictures and then shoving it all into a shoebox and ignoring it. It’s badsauce.

    For what it’s worth, I love the material for the seat/back and gosh it was a total steal. I can’t find a bloody Michael’s or Joann’s around here, or else I’d upholster my walls yesterday.

  6. Kate says

    I have been waiting for you to get back around to tackling that chair! Very exciting!

    I currently have a hutch sitting in my living room that I’m scared to death of. Mostly because I’m afraid that after primer + paint it will still smell like smoke. Or that my painting skills will massively suck and it won’t look as good as I want it to. Or that the primer and paint will be too thick for the clearance the bottom doors have (which equals none). Sa far all I’ve done is just kept wiping it down with water and vinegar to cut the smoke smell (which it is helping).

    • Kate says

      It can take off a bit of the finish with it (especially if you use a high ratio of vinegar and rub instead of just swiping it), but that doesn’t matter if you’re painting it!

    • Katrina says

      Found this recipe online for cleaning yucky smoke smell/residue:
      1 gallon water
      1/2 cup ammonia
      1/4 cup vinegar
      1/4 cup washing soda (found by the laundry soap at WalMart, mine was in a big yellow box that looked like a baking soda box)
      Use rubber gloves and a rag – Judging by how dirty the water got (three batches to do one bedroom in our new house), it works pretty well!
      That, and put baking soda on a plate in the cabinet, and stalks of celery – you’ll look crazy (esp if the internet guy comes to hook up your house while you’re not home and can’t explain… voice of experience), but it works! :)

  7. says

    Looks beautiful!

    What if you put this rocker in that corner in your office? I seem to remember you wanted a chair to put there but didn’t have one specifically in mind. Then you can claim this project as part of the whole office makeover… see, you MEANT to wait until you started to see the office come together… :)

  8. Pip says

    Ooo that last shot is tantalising ! Way to leave us on the edge of our seats. You are truly an ORB fiend, S. My procrasty-project is a 40+ year old table that belonged to my late father and has had many lives as a workbench, potting table and most shamefully living in pieces for 10 years in my garage. Thanks to yhl I’ve bought a new table top and put the frame back together. Nearly there!

  9. says

    Holy crackers, the finished project looks amazing!

    You have a typo in the first paragraph about having a sink eye — but I’ve decided that a “sink eye” is a new thing and even scarier then a stink eye. And it totally reminds me of Joey from Friends saying that it’s a “moo” point (instead of moot) because it doesn’t matter like a cow opinion.

    • Emily says

      You *were* really great! You sounded so laid back and relaxed. I would have been shaking in my boots! :)

    • says

      Thanks so much! I can’t believe that because I was shaking in my boots! Literally, my hand was shaking when I drank something during the commercial break. Haha.


    • Kristin H. says

      Omg shut the front door Sherry you did not seem one bit nervous for even a SECOND!! I was so jealous the whole time, thinking how incredibly stupid I sound during interviews and how come Sherry can sound so perfect and put together!! ha! Great interview I loved it.

    • says

      Man that’s nice. John should have taped me on the Flip cam during it, just pacing and shaking and cringing after answering something. Haha. Not pretty!


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