Replacing hand-woven rattan with cane webbing?

How to destroy an antique handwoven chair.

I often get requests from customers to convert a chair or seat from hand-woven rattan to the cheaper cane webbing. Now please read this to the end to see how to destroy an antique (with pictures)

No, make no mistake, I understand the driving force behind the reasoning. A standard sized seat, hand-woven, would cost around R1800 to R2300. If you consider the hours it takes it is actually not that expensive. A standard seat can take 30 to 40 hours to weave. Take the price of R2300, then that is R77 per hour, and this INCLUDES the material. The more intricate the pattern, the higher the price. And if it is French caning, also know as blind caning (handwoven, but the strands are cut to length and glued down; they do not go through the frame), the price can be as much as 50% more on a standard pattern.

Now compare that, to around R500 (plus/minus) for a piece of machine webbing fitted to the seat? Now the conversion seems to make sense right? But the outcome may be disatrous. Maybe not today or next month, but it will happen. But please read on…

Sample of seat with cane webbing

Problem – almost all of the handwovens I see are antiques. Now you need to router a new groove around the frame (on the same line where the holes are). Remember, you have about and inch-thick frame, of sometimes already bone dry wood (people tend to forget to oil their wooden furniture – we’ll revisit this one), with between 50 and 80 holes drilled right through the frame. That has already weakened the frame. Now, in order to install a piece of rattan webbing on that frame, we need to router out a groove all around the frame, from hole to hole. That groove needs to be at least 5mm wide and about 6mm deep. Now ask yourself – what are you doing to the structure of that frame? You are weakening it. Setting it up to break.

You are also changing the character of your antique chair. Now you are not only cutting away wood on the chair; you are also cutting away on the value of your antique piece.

This is the type of outcome you can expect. Look closely and you can see the original holes and as per my explanation above, this is what happened. The frame was weakened and cracked through the holes.