How to Restore and Reupholster a Vintage Wood Dining Room Chair

When my dad came to visit back in February, he brought with him four of my dream dining room chairs, the “dog bone” or “dog biscuit” style chairs by Heywood-Wakefield. The chairs had some issues, but they weren’t too far gone! Most of their iconic finish was still intact with some wear in a handful of spots. This meant I was able to restore the chairs without stripping them. I also opted to reupholster the seats. And it gave me the perfect opportunity to share with you all the process!

How to Restore & Reupholster a Dining Room Chair

With mid-century Heywood-Wakefield it is important to avoid stripping it when you can. Heywood-Wakefield’s pieces from the 1930s through the 1960s was known for its unique stain, which was very warm, but slightly murky, and muted the grain just a little. Heywood-Wakefield offered a variety of different stains, but its two most popular were “champagne” and “wheat” and it is these two stains that make up the majority of our furniture in our home. And for these two colors I learned that Restor-A-Finish’s “Golden Oak” color works best. So for this post I will be using that brand and color. I was not approached by Howard Products to do a review or promote their product. I use it because it has provided the best solution for minor issues in my years working with Hey-Wake.

Now, there are a ton of pictures here. Patrick said it’s better to have too many photos instead of too few, lest I become the “How to Draw an Owl” meme.

Before we really kick things off, here is the before…

The chair, before

Close-up of a spot where the finish has worn through.

Close-up of a spot where the finish has worn through.

You can see the chair wasn’t really all that bad. It was dirty, with some scuffs, scratches, and areas where the finish wore through.

Restore

You Will Need: grade 0000 steel wool, scrub brush, screwdriver, mild liquid soap, Tuff Stuff, Restor-a-Finish, rags, buckets

1. Remove Seat from Chair

Most seats are held on with three or four screws. Removing the seat allows you to clean it and the rest of the chair easier.

Remove screws so the seat can be separated from the rest of the chair

2. Clean Seat

First start by taking a damp rag and rubbing it on the seat, to pull off any loose dirt, followed by Tuff Stuff, then scrub, followed by wiping the seat down again with a damp rag. And in case you’re wondering why three buckets? One is clean water, another water, but specifically for rinsing, and another that is a mixture of mild liquid soap and water.

Wash the seat with a mixture of liquid soap and water

Use a damp rag

Spray with Tuff Stuff

Use the scrub brush to scrub the Tuff Stuff

Wipe off excess Tuff Stuff with another damp rag

Let the seat sit out to dry while you work on the chair.

3. Clean Chair

With a mild soap and water mixture, use a damp rag, and I mean just barely damp, to wipe down the chair, removing any surface dirt, then quickly dry it with a towel. It’s important that you do not saturate the wood.

Clean the chair with an damp rag.

Follow up quickly with a dry rag to dry the chair

4. Restor-A-Finish

As noted it is important to use Grade 0000 steel wool! Any larger grade is too abrasive for the wood. Typically I tear my pad of steel wool in half. I work in small areas, so an entire unit is sometimes too much.

Pour a small amount of Restor-A-Finish onto the steel wool, follow the steel wool up with a rag to remove the excess.

Rub in Restor-A-Finish with steel wool

Follow up with a rag

The steel wool will help to remove mild scratches and surface blemishes.

Steel wool removes minor surface blemishes

Gone!

White marks along the edge

Gone!

I go over the entire piece to give it a good, consistant wash with the Restor-A-Finish, but you may want toΒ go over areas that have lost more finish with more of the Restor-A-Finish.

5. Let dry

Wait at least thirty minutes between using Restor-A-Finish and applying an optional top coat. I personally wait a day.

6. Top Coat (Optional)

After applying Restor-A-Finish you can opt to do a top coat. Restor-A-Finish is adamant you do not use polyurethane on top of it, and recommend their Howard Feed-N-Wax, however I prefer to use a real top coat, an acrylic one, which seals in the color I have applied. For this project I used Deft’s clear wood finish in semi-gloss.

Once Resto-A-Finish has been applied, you may apply a top coat.

It is important to go over the wood with a soft rag to remove any dust or dirt prior to applying Deft.

Buff the wood to remove dust

Do not shake your can of Deft! Shaking will cause bubbles. Instead stir it well with a paint stick.

Stir Deft

Then apply using a nylon brush. Apply in thin coats, waiting at least an hour in between coats. Avoid runs and bubbles, as they will dry and leave bumps and imperfections.

Apply in thin coats

7. Let Dry

Let your chair sit in a well ventilated area for 24 hours before putting the seat back on. Which leaves you plenty of time to reupholster!

Reupholster

It should be noted that I am going to upholster right over the top of the fabric that was on the chair. This may not work for you if you opt to choose a thinner fabric, or if someone has done that already. You can remove the old fabric and follow these same steps.

You will need: fabric, staple gun, hammer, scissors

1. Cut Fabric

Lay your seat face down on your fabric and estimate how much fabric you will need. Be sure to give yourself enough fabric to accommodate the sides and to overlap onto the back to staple.

2. Situate Seat

Lay the fabric, with the top side down, with the seat on top, with its top facing the fabric.

Situate the seat on the fabric with enough excess fabric to overlap, and when working with a pattern or weave, make sure you have it going in the direction you want.

3. Wrap and Staple

I start with the back portion of the seat, because the curved corners are the most important part to get right. I begin by putting a staple directly in the middle of the back portion.

Staple the new fabric onto the wooden seat.

You’ll need to note where the holes are for the screws and cut fabric away from those areas. A V shape notch works best.

Cut away fabric where the holes are for the screw - V shape notches work best.

V shape notch where the screw hole is.

You will need to make some pleats when working with curves and corners. Make sure you pull the fabric tight before stapling, too loose and you end up with bunching and ripples on top of the seat.

Make careful folds to curve the fabric around.

Staple the folds

Folds all stapled

Throughout the stapling process you can work on cutting away excess fabric.

After fully securing the back portion of the seat I move to the front briefly and put one staple in the middle to keep the fabric in place before moving onto the sides.

Secure the fabric to the front portion with a staple in the middle

After putting on staple at the front of the seat, secure the sides

After doing the sides, I move onto the front corners, which require careful folds like the curves earlier.

After doing the sides, move to the corners.

Folding the corner

Careful folds to avoid bunching

Staple folds

Stapled folds

After the corners move to the front of the seat. For this chair, it featured a curved front, which required me to make relief cuts to keep the fabric with the curve.

Staple the front, if the front curves, cut relief cuts so it curves easier.

If you end up with staples that don’t go in where you want them, or staples that do not go in cleanly, you’ll want to remove them, and therefore you may additionally need a flat head screwdriver or something similar to pry up the staple, a pair of pliers to remove them, and something to put the staples in so you don’t end up stepping on them later.

Some staples my not go in flush, pry them out and re-staple

4. Hammer Down Staples that Are Not Flush

If you’re like me, you end up not getting all of your staples flush against the fabric, so you’ll need to hammer them down so they are flush.

Hammer any staples that aren't flush.

Hammer any staples that aren't flush.

And there you have it! Time to screw the seat back in.

Fresh upholstery!

The underside of the seat completed

And here is the glorious after!

The hair all done!

The dining room, complete with the four finished chairs.

While these chairs are still far from perfect, but they are clearly better (and cleaner) than when I got them. I also do not mind their mild imperfections. First, all of our Hey-Wake has issues, so having a perfect piece would stick out like a sore thumb! Second, fully stripping and refinishing is a very time consuming process, and especially difficult for Heywood-Wakefield, as I mentioned earlier, due to its unique stain. Typically I resort fully stripping for pieces that have been painted, or need dark water stain removal.

I hope this post has been helpful and encourages you to either tackle that project you have, or gives you the confidence to purchase those vintage items that might need a little TLC.

Where to Buy

You can purchase Restor-A-Finish through their on-line store, or use their website “Where to Buy” button. Visit their website here.

Tuff Stuff, Deft and steel wool can be purchased at most home improvement and hardware stores, such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, True Value, and Ace. Tuff Stuff will typically be found in the automotive section, where car waxes, etc. are found, as it is originally designed as a car upholstery cleaner.

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