Mammaw’s Rocker Revival

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Mammaws Chair

This story, written from the memoirs of Liz Matheny, Marketing Director for Woodcraft, is about the restoration of a 60 year old rocking chair handed down three generations, now to be shared with future generations to come.

“The rocker (below) belonged to my Mammaw Opal Taylor, who lived in Little Hocking, Ohio.  She purchased the rocker in 1942 from the estate of an elderly woman who lived across the street, Mrs. Curtis.  Mammaw particularly liked this rocker as it was smaller than the normal rocking chair as Mammaw was only 4′ 11”. “

“As long as I can remember, the rocker was painted white and sat on Mammaw’s front porch.  It had plastic PVC tubing for a seat as the caning was long gone.  A seamstress, she made herself cushions for it. It was specifically her chair.  This was her summer view of the world and was a good vantage point to keep an eye on us kids while riding bikes.  It was her favorite place to enjoy a bowl of chocolate ice cream.  My mother was her only child and when my mother left the nest, the Cain boys across the street filled the void, sitting on the porch chatting and eating ice cream, first Terry, then his younger brother Robin.  As Robin grew older and was interested in other things, I had come into the picture and took my place on the porch.  My brother is 7 years younger and he too, ate his fill of chocolate ice cream on the porch, next to Mammaw sitting in this rocker.”

Mammaws Chair

The chair needed stripped of the white paint of which we removed 4 coats of latex paint, and at least 2 coats of lead based paint.  We used a natural soy bean product called Soy Gel initially, then a methanol chloride based remover for some deep paint ingrained areas.  Underneath these coats of paint, we found an oak grain just waiting to be brought out with the gun stock finish.

We repaired a few loose joints, then sanded and finished the seat rungs, all before an upcoming Woodcraft caning class.

Mammaws Chair

After the class, we covered the cane weave with plastic wrap to protect it from additional sanding and finishing.  We sanded the chair with the Festool R090 Rotex Multi-Purpose Sander which really came in handy due to the curved surfaces, and also with Abranet.

Liz recollects, “The rocker was put in storage in 1994, was scheduled to go on the burn pile, and I rescued it to my porch in 2004.  I started to work on it several times, but something else seemed to always get in the way of the restoration.  It wasn’t until August of 2011, when Woodcraft offered a chair caning class taught by Mindy King, that the restoration finally made the beautiful results come to life.

Mindy holds a BFA degree in Woodworking and Furniture Design from the School for American Crafts at the Rochester Institute of Technology and has been a woodworker for 40 years.  During her class, she taught us to attach the first piece of caning to the chair with a cable tie and begin the wrapping process from front to back using in this case, a splint weaving process with basket reed which comes from the inside of the vine that chair cane comes from.  Applying the reed smooth side up, wet the reed first with water for aproximately 2-3 minutes.  For this larger chair we kept wetting it down a little more often due to the size and time needed to completed the weave.  As the chair is completed, the weave will tighten up once the reed dries.  Join each section of reed with 6″ of material overlaping with 3 staples, which you will remove at the end.  Once the staples are removed, “friction” or pressure will keep the reed weave intact.  Another reed section assembly process to use instead of staple joinery is called the arrow join, see photo below.  In this class, Mindy taught a weave pattern by going three over and three under, skipping one reed over with each pass pattern.

Mammaws Chair

Liz added, “Mammaw died early of cancer at the age of 68. I remember sitting with her in those final days.  We couldn’t get her to eat anything, except, you guessed it, chocolate ice cream.  This is now my rocking chair, restored and renewed to last a while longer.  I plan to sit in her favorite place (on my porch), eating chocolate ice cream and say “Cheers!” to Mammaw who taught us all how to stop for a moment, chat a bit, enjoy the view from your own front porch and never grow too old for chocolate ice cream.  Treat yourself!”

Liz also loved to hang around with her Grandad Dave and Pappaw Mutt in his gunsmith shop, so we finished the rocker in Tru-Oil Gun Stock Finish as a special memory of Liz’s grandad and pappaw.

Enjoying the old oak rocker at last! Mammaw would have loved it!

Here is our video of the rocker restoration project,

Thanks to everyone who helped in this project, and the preceding events that led to this story.

For more on Mindy go to
Look for Mindy King’s weaving classes at your local Woodcraft store.

Let Woodcraft inspire you to get a project started or completed today.

See you at Woodcraft…Frank!

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  • MT from Tallahassee
    What a wonderful story - I have my husband's grandmother's old rocker - I have now been inspired to restore it!

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