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Refinishing a Wegner J16 rocking chair

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- 16 Jan 2017 -
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Product design

Hi all,


I finally managed to find a J16 for a good price (250€). They are quite difficult to find in France, especially for a reasonable price.


The structure is in excellent condition but as you can see from the pictures, the paint has seen better days.


What would you guys do? Do you think stripping and repainting it would hurt its value?


Many thanks for your help!!!


Refinishing a Wegner J16 rocking chair
Country
Denmark
Periods
1960 - 1969

Comments

- 17 Jan 2017

Leave it the way it is-I think it looks great. Honest wear!

- 17 Jan 2017

I can see the leave as is angle ...., but if you re-do it, strip and ebonize using india ink. Painting is hard to execute well, unless you have a spraying operation ..... just my 2 cents

- 17 Jan 2017

It's too worn for me, and I'm guessing that it would be too worn for the majority of buyers, too---so whatever value is lost by one of these being refinished will be at least equal to what it has lost already with that deterioration.

I think it's up to your personal tastes. If you kind of like it as is, then leave it! If it bothers you, refinish.

I am pretty sure these were done in black lacquer, not paint, so if you want to remove it yourself all you have to do is use acetone. (Use a respirator and the most chemical-resistant gloves you can find.)

I had one of these re-lacquered by a pro for under $200. I paid next to nothing for it so it was well worth having a pro do the work.

Ink is also an option but for it to look correct you will need to add a glossy clear coat finish, which may be just as big a pain to do as glossy black lacquer. (If I'm wrong about the originals having black lacquer---please say so! Now that I think about it, the old ones I've seen have the color evenly worn at points of use, rather than chipping the way lacquer tends to do.)

- 17 Jan 2017

Another factor to consider is whether you want to keep the existing cord seat. If so, is it feasible to 1) mask the seat, 2) strip, and 3) repaint/lacquer/stain, and still look good?

Looks like an all-or-nothing job to me.

- 17 Jan 2017

Thanks a lot for you tips!

I am not sure if it is laquer or paint... the fdb catalog I checked is not so clear about it. Mostly because I do not speak Danish ;). The white ones are laquered but I am not sure for the black ones.
" Leveres i sort, hvidlakeret eller lys bøg".

I have been also advised to cover the worn out areas with bitumen of judea (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitumen_of_Judea).

I agree however that repaint/lacquer/stain will probably damage the cord seat (which is in excellent condition). I'll be probably better off leaving it as it is. I kinda get used to the look and think it gives it "character"...

- 17 Jan 2017

I agree that it's always best to spend some time with newly-acquired pieces before deciding on any restoration vs conservation treatment. That said, your chair, Dr, certainly has accrued more than its share of "character." The damage (as opposed to "patina" in this case) appears to me to have likely been caused by failure of the original finish rather than normal wear which would make restoration a reasonable choice at some point, IMO.

Love the artwork on the blackboard, BTW!

- 17 Jan 2017

Hi.

Rocking chairs should look as though the've been well loved, and this sweet rocker looks to have a longer history of rocking than Meatloaf. I'd embrace the patina. yup. I like it.

Hi,

Aunt Mark

- 17 Jan 2017

It looks to me like it got left out in the elements, or something. Damage vs. patina, as tktoo put it.

You can do a simple test to see if it's lacquer: just dampen a cotton swab with nail polish remover and touch it to the finish for a few seconds. If it's lacquer, the swab will come away black.

- 17 Jan 2017

@ tktoo. Ahah, I don't know if that was ironic but thanks!
When we moved in this flat, we thought it would be cool to have a chalkboard painted wall. We wanted some kind of urban, hipster-ish look. However, my kids took that as an invitation to express themselves.

This Munch meets Basquiat, tormented character is by my 4 years old girl and is supposed to represent Dismarelda from Yokai watch. Jibanyan is on the left...

- 17 Jan 2017

The irony, if any, is that as an art school survivor that spent his entire career working with fine art in museums, I now have a daughter in art school.

That's just a way of saying that I know genius when I see it!

Edit: Spanky, I've looked at the pics a few times now and I can't imagine a likely cause for the pattern of damage. It almost looks as if someone used it to hang dog chains on for a few years.

- 18 Jan 2017

You're right...it's not any recognizable pattern of misuse or just normal wear and tear. Maybe someone started to sand the black off but got discouraged or bored and quit? Who knows.

I am really curious now as to whether it's lacquer or not. DrPoulet, please let us know if you determine which it is!

- 18 Jan 2017

Perhaps our dear Dr. could provide closeup photos? Specifically of the area near the terminus of the proper right arm and where the seat rails meet the leg posts.

I'm kinda curious about this now and wondering whether or not the black finish/woven seat are original.

- 18 Jan 2017

I've been wondering about the right arm at the end---how is it that the black is so neatly gone up to that line of demarcation? And what's the blueish color left behind? Was this originally blue, maybe? I think they were made in colors way back when though I don't know if blue was one of them.

The seat looks to be original if only because it's really well done. Well, also it just looks vintage. Though yeah, it's hard to image that the frame took the beating it did while the seat remained pretty much untouched.

- 18 Jan 2017

The grey/blue color could be a toned primer under the black, I suppose. But, if that's the case, there was a problem with adherence between it and the finish coat. The black should never have come off an underlying primer like that if original, lacquer or otherwise. Again, I'm having trouble imagining circumstances which could cause this type of damage to a properly applied production finish.

- 18 Jan 2017

I think the seat looks original and like good patina. The rest of the chair is a bit over abused for me. All I see is the "patina" and not he design. For me, this is a clear indication that it is over the line.

I believe that there will be enough give to push the cord away from the legs and then put a tack in the stretcher to hold it. Then you can mask it all off with plastic and painter tape.

I wouldn't strip it entirely. You just need to sand the paint so that it is smooth. And any loose paint needs to come off.

Then finally use a high gloss ENAMEL spray paint.

- 18 Jan 2017

Fair enough, Leif, but I'd advise testing for compatibility before spraying without a thorough stripping/prep prior. I agree that the seat looks good, but I also agree w cd that it's almost an all-or-nothing proposition as far as complete restoration is concerned. These are tough calls without personal inspection.

@DrPoulet, if you were to push the seat cord aside it might reveal whether the black finish is indeed original or not!

- 18 Jan 2017

I love this forum!

Ok , i have done the lacquer test with nail polish remover, the color comes off a bit and it leaves the paint kind of dull.

After further inspection, here is what I can tell you:
* Except for a few normal nicks, the wood is not damaged at all.
* joints are tight.
* the cord seat is in very good condition and very well done. There are not that many people able to do it properly around here so I am pretty sure it is original.
* on the top of the back rest (sorry I do not know if there is a name for that), the paint is kind of cracked, like if it is peeling. But yet it won't go easily.
* In the areas where the paint has gone, there is some kind of light grey coating, not raw wood. Probably a primer.
* I am pretty positive the wood is beech.
* if you push the cord a bit, the color of the rail is faded but it seems to be black. It could be very dark blue or very dark grey as well.
* the FDB mark under the armrest says that the chair has been produced in 1966. According to the 1967 FDB catalog, the J16 chairs came in black, white or beech.

I don't think the chair has been left outside as the wood and the cord seat would show some damages as well.

I like these rocking chairs better in black but I am not too attached to the color. Wood finish would be fine (and it would be a finish that actually existed). I am starting to think that it might be a better idea to remove all the paint and primer, gently sand the chair and oil it.
Well, I do not know what the original finish was (oil, varnish,...) but I know a dealer nearby who has one so I can check.

- 18 Jan 2017

And a close up picture of the peeling paint of the backrest. It really goes if you scratch it with the nails. It is strange because the paint is only in this condition on the backrest. It does not peel on armrests and feet.

I have no idea what have caused this peeling but I think the paint damages comes from that, probably helped with years of nail stractching (it is actually tempting)

The damages on the armrest look indeed like somebody tried to sand it and gave up. The blueish stains being half sanded paint.

I guess that if I leave it as it is, the paint will continue to peel off.

I guess my only reasonable option is stripping the paint, hand sanding the chair and leave the wood unfinished or soaped (never did it so it will be a chance to try). I have checked Fredericia website to see what are the finish available and unfinished beech and soaped beech both exist.
I guess the rails will be a pain to refinish without damaging the cord but it should not be undoable with a great deal of care and patience....

- 18 Jan 2017

The rails on this chairs are only going to be finished where the cord does not cover.

Per tktoo, do a quick compatibility test with the spray paint. However, I put enamel in capitals, because it is oil based and ought to stick well. Latex water based spray paint is a much more delicate chemistry and it probably will not stick.

If the enamel spray paint does not stick, for some reason, you could do a coat of shellac. It is hard to put on uniformly, so read up on your technique, and prepare to sand out lines in the shellac. But I really don't think it will be necessary.

I have put oil based finish over the original finish on a J16 before. It was one of the rare brown ones the factory did In the early 1970s. Unfortunately the mix of pigments gets 'burned' by UV light and turns a sickly green. One side of he poor chair was green and the other brown. This is the same thing that happens to Selig's 'saddle' finish. Anyway, the point is I have successfully done this before. I just wish that I had used enamel spray paint instead of oil based gel stain. It would have been much easier to get a smooth, proper finish.

I would really caution against stripping this chair. It is goin to be a massive amount of work and it will be very hard to get the paint out of the many corners. Also finishes tend to unevenly soak in to beech wood, so some areas will have a very deep dark stain. Others will be fine almost immediately. You may have to sand the wood far, far more than you want to remove the deeply soaked areas completely.

- 18 Jan 2017

Hello.

Methinks that this chair may occupied an insane asylum for a large part of its life. Any teeth marks? Spotting?
Odors? I like it.

Hello,

Aunt Mark

- 18 Jan 2017

The closeups now have me suspecting that the areas showing paint loss may have been top coated or cleaned with some kind of product that reacted with the black lacquer. Either that or the original primer was defective and/or the chair was stored in a high-humidity environment for too long. Or any combination of the previous. What's confusing is that the areas of loss are so localized and defined. A little mystery.

The photo of the crest rail nicely illustrates various conditions in the paint layer with terms like "traction cracking", "cupping", "tenting", and (my favorite), "active cleavage" ...because, after all, what good is cleavage if it's not active.

- 18 Jan 2017

I just would be leery of putting any finish over an existing one that is failing. I don't know how you can be sure that the old finish won't continue to fail under the new finish.

If you want to go with a soaped or oiled finish on bare beach, just be advised that any pigment that you can't remove from the pores of the wood will be more visible when the chair is soaped or oiled. If you are ok with that--great. If you want a cleaner look, it might bother you.

This is my J16 that I stripped, bleached, bleached again, sanded, soaped, rinsed off, and sanded again: http://www.designaddict.com/forum/Repair/restoring-weathered-beech-wood-... (It was actually varnished, not lacquered.) The staining is too deep and it still looked unsightly with a soap finish with added white pigment, so it will be black. I like these chairs best in black so that's fine with me.

The only thing about the seat are the slots at the back. The cord there will be difficult to mask off completely. Sanding may be your best option for dealing with the old finish and then putting the new finish on in those areas with a small artist brush. I do think you should do whatever needs to be done to preserve the seat.

- 30 Jan 2017

Bumping this thread because I just started restoring a pair of these and had some questions for the experts.

These are Beech and the original finish. Lots of loose joints, and the finish is flaking off in many areas. The goal is to get them looking nice without damaging the seats, which are sorta loose and faded/dirty, but in good enough shape to leave alone.

I got started this morning and before I knew it, I'd taken apart most of one of the chairs. I stripped the loose pieces and as much as I could without coming too close to the seat. I'm planning to carefully sand the old finish off in those areas. So far, at least with this one chair, it's looking pretty straightforward. As leif describes, I think I can mask off the cord and finish them in lacquer.

My main question is the seats... I've read what I can here on the soap flake method. Think that is the way to go here? What experience do any of you have with solvents coming into contact with the cord? Like lacquer thinner. I imagine it would just dry it out. I've also read that wax or oil is better than soap... not really sure. The cord doesn't need to look brand new (in fact I think it would be best if it didn't) but there is some discoloration and dirtiness that I'd like to address. Thanks.

- 30 Jan 2017

Yes, cleaning with the soap flakes in water DOES work! The Danes have been using this on pine floors (same material--cellulose) for centuries and it works amazingly well. I have successfully used it to clean both dirty pine floors and stained paper cord seats. I don't know that it will get out very deep, dark stains on paper cord but it will lighten them, and it's pretty good at evening out lighter stains to the point where they are not noticeable.

You may have to do a couple of treatments. Just do NOT scrub or rub the wet cord. Let the soapy water soak in, then blot it up. Wet paper is way more fragile than dry paper.

Danish paper cord used to be made with a waxy coating but I read that that's no longer the case. I've never seen any new stuff with wax. I have never heard of anyone oiling it either---maybe it's been done but it's not a common thing at all. I would just go with soap. When the cord dries you can't tell that it's any different than unsoaped cord. Just be sure that every bit of soap is dissolved before you start! Undissolved bits will settle into crevices and will be visible after the seat dries. I use plain old Ivory bar soap that I grate with a food shredder thing---it takes a long time to dissolve unless you heat it on the stove. Some Danish friends told me me it's essentially the same as the flakes.

I have never gotten solvents on any of the countless seats I've woven because I have the luxury of getting all of that stuff done before I start on the seats. BUT---I don't think a one-time-only contact with solvents will compromise the strength of the cord. I think the only problem would be that you can tell where the wet area ended (like a water mark).

- 31 Jan 2017

Thanks spanky! I guess my concern with the soap is that it might present problems in finishing... so it'd be best for after the finish is applied and dried/cured. I will come back to this later in the week when I am at that point. Or maybe I just won't bother with it... we'll see how the frames come together and maybe the seats will give them a nice, contrasting patina. Thanks again.

- 08 Feb 2017

So here I've taken the plastic and tape off of the seat after putting on a couple coats of flat pre-cat lacquer.

You can see in one shot from the side that one chair still has some dark discolorations on the sides of the seat. Does this look like something that can be cleaned up with a soap treatment? Or would the treatment potentially lighten the rest of the seat and further highlight the dark spots?

Oh I should add that the cord seems to have responded well to the lacquer thinner and I think it cleaned it up in places, also.

- 08 Feb 2017

I haven't done a ton of paper cord cleaning with soap, but what I have done has worked well on stains of about that darkness. Maybe it depends on what caused the stain, though--I really don't know. I have also used it on a pine floor that was quite dirty from 6 months' worth of muddy shoes and the results were amazing, though the floor had already had soap treatments before (which would have kept the dirt from getting too worked in).

I don't think it will intensify the contrast. It might while wet---but I think it'll dry to the same or will be less contrasty.

The Danes often add titanium white pigment to their soapy water when treating pine floors (or they use a floor soap with added pigment). I tried this on my J16 that had deep discoloration from weathering and it didn't really work. I wonder what it would do to paper cord? Maybe I'll test a sample.

That's kind of a hard seat to weave so you might want to think about just leaving it if you think you can get used to it. The chairs themselves look great! You're so lucky to have a pair!

- 08 Feb 2017

Thanks spanky... I'm going to take the plunge. Question, though: does the water need to be hot, or does it work best when it is? I can dissolve the flakes at home but I don't have a stove or way to boil water in my workshop. Should I bring them home with me to do this? Or am I cool to heat up the mixture and make sure it's fully dissolved and then apply it at room temperature?

- 18 Feb 2017

I ended up doing two treatments. Pretty simple and it did remove the worst of the darker discolorations and lightened the cord. Second application went even further, and I bet that with a couple more treatments, the seats would look a lot better. As it is, they look alright. It didn't exactly fix everything, but it was better than nothing. Thanks again for the advice.

- 18 Feb 2017

They look great! I would just leave it as is and live with them awhile.

I wrote a reply to your questions in the next to last post above--must have closed the window accidentally before hitting submit? Sorry about that! Just for the record, though you clearly figured it out--- no, the soap solution doesn't have to be hot when you apply it. In fact it should probably be warm at most. Cool is ok but if you let it sit too long it will turn into a gel-like mess, or maybe separate into a cooled solid and clear fluid--I forget. I had some sitting around years and had to pretty much start the whole process over again.

- 18 Feb 2017

I applied it both times when it was warm enough for me to touch. I was surprised by the consistency when it cooled... very weird. Like Jello.

- 19 Nov 2017

I have looked through the threads with J16's and I can't find what I am looking for so I thought i'd ask here. I vaguely remember seeing a photo of one on here that had some interesting cushions, maybe a whole pad for the back? Hopefully I didn't imagine it : ) I would love to see it again if it does in fact exist or maybe folks would like to share how they use pillows etc. with their rockers.

Thanks!

- 19 Nov 2017

I started a thread a few years ago about tall back rockers with cushions, or maybe it was more about weird cushions that people had come up with, I can't remember. It didn't go much of anywhere, though. I just did a google image search for "Wegner rocking chair" and found a few, plus all the other popular high back rocking chairs popped up, too--some with cushions.

I think the back of the chair is the most beautiful part so I don't cover that with anything. The seat can feel kind of firm, especially if the weaving is newer and hasn't stretched out yet at all. But it's lovely to look at too! I just use a 20" square throw pillow on mine at the lower back, a rather squashy down/feather one.

If you're thinking about a full back cushion, I'd consider 1" latex foam. It will be more comfortable and it'll conform to the curve of the back better. Urethane foam will tend to be just flat, at least until it gets compressed enough from use. but then it's compressed for good, pretty much. Latex is way more resilient. It's also more expensive but 1" latex is sold as mattress toppers and you might be able to find a good deal on one. Ditto for the seat.

- 19 Nov 2017

Hi, I have seen recently this chair for sale with a lambwool skin, but there are plenty of nice pillows, even from Danish companies, that will make a nice chair.

All the best
Ernest

- 19 Nov 2017

I picked my J16 up this past spring, and it was already fitted with these cushions.

Initially, I thought that I would remove them, but here we are 6 months later, and they are still on it. I typically fall more on the purest side of things, but these cushions have really grown on me, and I suspect I will keep them on long term. I am also 6'3" and am definitely more comfortable sitting in the chair with the cushions on.

I agree that without the cushions, the design gets to shine and there is an overall, cleaner look. But I also appreciate southwestern patterns, so it is a bit of a compromise.

- 20 Nov 2017

I too am usually a purist but I'd love to get a J16 rocker at some point and find just a head cushion and matching seat for it. Ideally a linen with navy pin-stripe style fabric I've seen. Was actually looking through the Kvadrat site for a similar match today with no luck :(

- 21 Nov 2017

Thanks everyone! That’s the picture I was thinking of Zephyr! The cushion reminds me of rocking chair setup from when I was a kid, it looks super comfy. If I can find the right fabric I might get something like that made. I like the idea of having multiple options for how the rocker can look/feel.

- 21 Nov 2017

Getting a third one today.....annnnd you get a rocker and you get a rocker. Soon I’ll have one for everyone in my family : ) From the pictures it will have the most damage of the ones i’ve found. Once it’s in my possession I’ll need some advice on how to proceed.

Pics from seller.

- 21 Nov 2017

No problem Ponyboy. Sounds like you will be able to have a number of different options and looks with your J16 rocker collection! The pillow is one my wife made from Pendelton remnants, and has since been properly stuffed, the seat and back came with the rocker. It definitely is more comfortable with the cushions on.

I would also like to take a moment and tell mgee that he did a killer job on that J16 refinish above. Taking one of these apart and refinishing, is no small task. It is not that it is difficult, but more so tedious with all the spindles on the back, and the delicate nature of many of the pieces. I wonder if I would have the patience to take that on myself?

- 22 Nov 2017

You can get that sort of Navajo styled upholstery fabric all day long where I live. Bolts and bolts and bolts of the stuff!

- 22 Nov 2017

I stripped one of these rockers with methylene chloride stripper. I didn't think it was too hard but then I cut my refinishing teeth on early 1900s oak furniture with lots of turned legs and spindles and annoying nooks and crannies. My grandmother's kitchen table and chairs had about a thousand coats of paint on them. Good times!

Sanding is not too difficult either. I was dreading the whole job but it all went a lot faster and easier than expected.

- 22 Nov 2017

Oh how I'd enjoy rocking myself into a coma in Zephyr's sweet chair...wearing a fringed poncho and sipping gin. Who needs pants?

Best,

Aunt Mark

- 23 Nov 2017

Don't forget your sombrero hanging from a back post, gently slapping the chair with each rock. I'm nearly unconscious just imagining it.

- 23 Nov 2017

And we are talking a real Mexican poncho, not a sears poncho. Yes, I can see it now. Might I suggest some local northern Mexican specialty firewater like perhaps Sotol? Chihuahua’s finest.

Dust blowing, narco ballad playing. Who needs pants when your belt buckle reaches down below your knees?

- 23 Nov 2017

Off topic: DrPoulet, would you like to tell us what you eventually did with your rocker and how the outcome was? These old threads read like good stories to me but sometimes it’s a bummer, when they have an open end.

- 23 Nov 2017

Mark, you are welcome anytime, but be forewarned I only have Mezcal on hand, so even if you show up with pants on, they will undoubtedly not remain that way.

- 23 Nov 2017

Too goddamn funny!

oh my hell,

Aunt Mark

- 24 Nov 2017

Turns out this rocker was one of the brown ones originally. The sellers husband sanded off the brown when it became worn. Maybe that’s when the damage happened to the arm but she couldn’t say for sure. It looks like the chair wasn’t taken apart completely during the sanding as there is evidence of the brown if you look for it. I don’t know that I’ll try and fix it, might just give it to my brother for a Christmas/housewarming gift as is.

- 24 Nov 2017

HI herringbone. I still have the rocker. It is half stripped, waiting for some more. I must admit that stripping paint is not my favorite part of a restoration project and it qI find it super hard to get motivated...
It willl probably look awesome in a couple of year :)

- 24 Nov 2017

Haha, Thanks für the update, dear Dr! Sounds like a good starting point for a new thread: projects that got stuck in the middle because things are complicated.

Nevertheless: Post a pic whenever you finished the thing.

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