By Lisa Brunette
I'm of the opinion that few of the things manufactured since, oh, let's say 1975, are of sturdy, high-quality construction. You know what I'm taking about, right? A major reason we love antiques is because truly, they don't make 'em like this anymore. Take the above glider chair as an example. The structure is heavy-duty steel, and the slats are real wood, each one fastened with a steel bolt. It's called a "glider" because it gives you a smooth, rocking-chair motion as the seat glides forward and back.
I picked up a set of 3 for 100 percent FREE more than a year ago. Here's what they looked like when I got 'em, with the addition of some new bolts where several were missing or too-far-gone to be salvaged.
As you can see, they were pretty weathered and beat up, but I saw good bones, and if I were willing to put in the effort, something I just can't buy new these days. I don't honestly know if these gliders were made in the 50s, 60s, or even early 70s, as I haven't been able to find a perfect match with provenance noted in my online research. If you have an idea, please tell me in the comments below. I'm dying to find out. But suffice to say, they've been around a while, and as far as outdoor furniture goes, I think they've stood the test of not just time but the elements as well.
Now I could have cut new wooden slats to replace these, as they are definitely warped. I thought about it, and my brother tried to convince me to do it. But I'm not that handy with a saw, possess few woodworking tools, and didn't like the idea of scrapping the wood, from an economic and eco standpoint. Besides, the warped curves give it a bit of charm, and the weathered patina, in my view, add to the whole look.
So, the wood would have to be part of the rehab process. I wanted the chairs to be as eco-friendly as possible - not just out of obligation to be kind to the environment but because I planned to spend a good amount of time sitting in these chairs, and as someone with autoimmune sensitivities, I have to think about the chemicals in my world more than the average person. That led me to tung oil for the wooden slats.
Ah... tung oil. Where have you been all my life? It's obtained from the pressed seed of the tung tree and is a safe, fume-free alternative to the prevailing wood sealant available in most hardware stores, a noxious substance containing petroleum distillates. Please note that many products for sale are labeled "tung oil" or "Dutch oil," and they might even contain some actual oil from the seed of the tung tree, but they are NOT pure tung oil. If there's one thing I've learned over 30+ years of trying not to come in contact with things that make me sick, it's to ALWAYS READ THE LABELS. What you see in the photo above is pure tung oil. What you're likely to find in your box hardware store shelves is, frankly, a lot of GICK: toxic chemicals and extracted byproducts from the petroleum industry. I couldn't actually find pure tung oil in these stores and ended up purchasing it online from Woodcraft. This is not a sponsored endorsement; we don't take any commissions for the products we mention so that you're assured to get an unbiased take. But this stuff is liquid gold, trust me.
I heavily sanded the wooden slats first, and then wiped any remaining sawdust with a dry cloth. Then it was time to apply the tung oil. Pure tung oil feels amazing to use - it glides on easily and smells pleasant, and a little bit goes a long way. I finished 3 chairs using that 1-gallon jug above, and I still have more than half a gallon left! It was a hot day, and I didn't like sweating inside plastic gloves, so I worked barehanded, and it was fine. In fact, the oil moisturized my hands, for a bonus benefit, and washed off with no problem. Tung oil hardens as it dries, giving the wood a deep, wet look, and the result is a protective sheen. I rehabbed the first chair, the orange one you see in the photo at the top of this post, all by my lonesome, handling the whole process in the space of two afternoons. Here you can see the slats drying in the sun behind the chair frame. Oo, look at how the green patina pops out! Look at that deepened woodgrain!
Now that I've soapboxed on the topic of eco-friendly wood preservation techniques, lemme get to the issue of the chair frame. I researched around and could not find an alternative to spray paint for metal surfaces. I feel like an eco-failure in this regard, and maybe I've missed something. If you know of a better substance than your standard can of gicky spray paint, please enlighten me in the comments below.
I had a leftover can of pumpkin spice hue from another project, and I thought that would look cool on the chair, so there you go. My Cinderella chair turned into a pumpkin coach, all set for the ball.
I don't mind telling you I had a bit of a bad time, though, on that first chair. I'd made the mistake of replacing a few rusted-out screws in the glider mechanism. At first I felt like a genius, as this fixed a wobble and brought the frame into better alignment. HOWEVER, the wooden slats had warped to that wobble shape, and I had a devil of a time getting them back onto the chair frame after I'd "fixed" it. Lesson learned. For the other two chairs, I decided not to mess with imperfection. I also had Anthony to help, and he was only too happy to take on spray-paint duty so I could concentrate on wood restoration. For these, I opted to go aqua, of course. Do you not know about my obsession with aqua?!
The process went faster with a second pair of hands. We finished the other two chairs in one day, with enough time left to admire them in the setting sun.
If you come across a trio of these beauties, or even a duet or solo, I recommend snapping 'em up. Now restored, I'm sure we'll get many more years out of them. Here's the process in a nutshell.
Step-by-Step DIY Glider Re-Do
- Remove wooden slats from chair frame. You can do this by hand, most likely - ours were screwed on with bolts and washers. We just unscrewed the washers in the back, and lifted the slats off. Keep the bolts and washers in a bucket for later. Replace any rusty or broken bolts/washers with new ones.
- Wipe the metal frame, making sure it's clean and dry. Spray paint the frame, keeping the can moving to avoid drips and globs. We wore a mask and gloves for this.
- At the same time or while you're waiting for the frame to dry, you can sand the wooden slats. Note you'll want to place the slats on your sanding surface IN THE SAME ORDER THEY APPEAR ON THE CHAIR. This is to make sure the wood gets placed back in the same spot. Otherwise you'll have trouble re-bolting the slats to the frame. I used a heavy-duty sanding sponge, and I went through two of them on all of the slats, but you can use sheets of sandpaper instead. Wipe the slats clean.
- Check to see if the frame needs another coat. You might also need to paint the frame in two stages, propping it at different angles to get the undersides of the frame tubes.
- Pour tung oil on a clean, dry cloth and spread it onto the wooden slats. Coat until the oil penetrates all surfaces of the wood. I really put in some elbow grease here, rubbing to make sure the oil got into every crack. Let the oil dry on the wood.
- Bolt the slats back onto the frame. The wooden slats don't have to be 100 percent dry; in fact, the oil will continue to dry and harden as time goes on.
- Dispose of the oil rags properly, following the instructions on the tung oil container and your local guidelines/ordinances.
Now... the stunning before and after comparison!