very early CH23 chairs by Hans Wegner

Special end-of-year blockbuster before & after issue!  Happy holidays, everyone!

These CH23 chairs by Danish designer Hans Wegner are some of the earliest made.  They were brought over from Denmark and have been in the owner’s family since the early 50s.

There were four in all.  As you can see, they needed a little work.

 

Not only were the paper cord seats shot, but the teak and oak frames were dark and dull with a lot of old stains.

 

This photo shows the dullness better than any other.  (Somehow they ended up looking brighter in photos, I guess due to tricks of lighting.)

 

This is not the same chair as in the photo above, but they were all in the same shape.

Read on for how I got them to look like this.

 

These black drips probably didn’t start that way.  They were probably some innocuous liquid that didn’t show so it didn’t get cleaned off, but after a few decades it gradually darkened the wood.  My best guess, anyway.

 

I gently cleaned the wood with full strength Murphy’s Oil Soap, which pretty much acts as a stripper so it shouldn’t be used unless absolutely necessary.  I wipe it on and wipe it off with very light buffing with #0000 super fine steel wool as needed.  The soap is rinsed off completely with water, immediately after which the wood is dried thoroughly with towels.  This does not raise the grain on teak, and it also didn’t have any effect on the grain of the oak in these chairs.   It does leave it looking dry, though—that’s what you see on the right.

The left side has already had an application of tung oil varnish, which I used on these to give them the luster of 60-year-old patina.

 

This isn’t a good photo but at least you can see that the black stains are completely gone.

 

Another example of black stains—still a faint trace of them in the second photo but this was on the inside of the back rung of the chair so I left it.

 

More dullness and spots.

 

The cleaning and tung oil treatment reveals the beauty of the wood without removing the character that is acquired over decades of use.

 

The first chair is completely done and one chair has not yet been started.  The seats look really different but in this photo the frames look pretty similar.

 

It would be nice if there was a way to give new paper cord the look of old, but I don’t know of any way to do that.  Age will impart the darker color and use will build patina.

 

The inside of the front rail is just as pretty as the seat weaving.

Also, see that knot in the rung?  These chairs had quite a few little flaws in the wood like that.  I haven’t seen many newer CH23s, so I know know if they use a better grade of wood nowadays.  I wonder if they used lesser quality wood in the early days before Wegner was well-known.

 

Just another pretty picture.

 

Ta-da!

 

 

It was an honor and a pleasure to work on these chairs.

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24 Responses to very early CH23 chairs by Hans Wegner

  1. chairsmith says:

    Wonderful, so wonderful. Your post reminded us of our mother, who used to do a spot of dress-making in her free time and would ‘age’ white lace by soaking it in a pan of tea. However we’re not sure how well this method, which worked a treat on lace, would work on the paper-based cord!

  2. MCR says:

    Tea would give it a nice aged color but unfortunately the paper cord is very absorbent and it swells up when wet and doesn’t ever shrink back to the original diameter! (I did do some experimenting once.)

    • Bill McKearn says:

      It may be possible to use alcohol to thin concentrated tea. I assume that alcohol won’t swell the material.

      • MCR says:

        Hmm, that’s worth trying on a sample.

        I did try spray shellac once. It was recommended in a book. It made horrible blotches that I could not even out. I had to reweave the entire seat. Moral: test on samples!

  3. Alison says:

    Thank you SO much for your posts on the CH23 chair! I recently picked up 2 at a garage sale for 5 bucks a pop. I assumed they were replicas (couldn’t see the name due to a horrible padded rushing job). Once I got down to the naked frames I was stoked. I am so excited to try to weave them. I restore, but this is definitely a challenge. Thank you so much for your detailed posts, this is the most helpful information I have found. If you have a preference of cord distributor and can share…I would love to know. Thanks again for your time.

    • MCR says:

      I get cord from Frank’s Cane & Rush in CA—good prices, good service. You should also get a copy of The Caner’s Handbook, by by Bruce W. Miller and Jim Widess (available on Amazon). It has very clear directions for weaving this chair seat. Good luck! Oh, and be sure to do all cleaning and oiling of the frames before you start weaving. But that’s probably obvious.

  4. Kristin Vonnegut says:

    Hi, I have committed to reweaving the seats of my six CH 23s, but I do not want to re-glue them. Do you do re-gluing? How is it done. I have a local antique restorer who is willing to do it, but I wanted to know if there are any tricks involved.

    Thanks,
    Kristin

  5. MCR says:

    Kristin, I’m sorry but I don’t do any frame repairs. I’m not sure what you mean by tricks–the old glue has to be removed and new glue applied, then the chair has to be clamped somehow until the glue sets up. A lot depends on how loose the joints are and which joints are loose. A good repair person can advise you after examining the chairs. Good luck!

  6. Pippa says:

    These are lovely and your restoration work was superb!

  7. gary gatter says:

    Thanks for these fantastic posts. I have recently started to renovate some Danish pieces myself, with varying degrees of success. My last project was a fantastic Wegner sofa table, solid teak top with oak legs. A giant piece 1.5 meters long. I started by removing old wax with Rustins wax and varnish remover (not sure this was a good idea), left it for 24 hours and then applied a thin coat of teak oil, the oil turned to glue after a few hours! Waited another 24 hours and teak oil was still like glue so used mentholated spirits to remove everything. Then went over with super fine wire wool 0000, this seemed to get back to a clean wood finish. Decided not to try teak oil again and instead added a thin coat of Briwax clear wax, this produced a clean looking finish but did leave a few light areas where the teak had lost some of its colour but otherwise looked fantastic. I am sure I should have not used these harsh chemicals. My next project is a set of Moller chairs. I will remove the old woven paper chord seats and then clean the chairs with water and a clean cloth, dry quickly and then try some teak oil again! If all goes well I will then have a go at weaving the cord seats on these 6 chairs. Wish me luck.

    • MCR says:

      Gary,

      The Rustins (which sounds like what is called stripper in the US) may have been too harsh, but it also sounds like you left the teak oil on the wood too long. You can put a generous amount on but only let it soak in for five minutes or so, then wipe it off. You might need to wipe it down again after 20 minutes or so. The wood should just have a nice glow, not an oily sheen at all. If it does gum up a bit, simply go over it again with #0000 wool and teak oil and then wipe it down well.

      I’m not a fan of wax finishes as dirt tends to stick to wax more than it does to an oil finish but a lot of people like wax. If it were my table, I’d be inclined to remove the wax entirely with turpentine and do an oil finish the right way to even out the color.

      As for your chairs, teak oil is a more effective cleaning agent than water! Grime on dining chairs usually has a lot of oil in it and water won’t do much to remove it. Teak oil along with #0000 steel wool will quickly loosen the grime and then you can just wipe it away. It will also soften latex paint scuffs where the chairs have rubbed against painted surfaces. Just be sure to wipe off all the dirty oil and reapply clean oil. No waiting between steps is necessary.

      You should also be sure to use teak oil that has not oxidized at all because that would contribute to a gummy feel on the wood. It has a shelf life, especially the stuff with hardeners and varnishes in it.

      • gary gatter says:

        Thanks for the advice. Yes Rustins is a wax and polish remover, I wont be using it again, I think it is a bit too harsh. I will try again with teak oil and #0000 wool. But before that I will clean up the Moller chairs, they are teak Model no. 75. I have removed all the woven paper chord seats, as they were all broken and badly stained. I tried weaving one chair to see if I could do it, it seemed to work well, took a day but the result matched the existing chairs, so gives me confidence to do the other 5.

        Once again thanks for your help.

  8. Lisa says:

    I have 4 of these exact chairs, I believe they are from 1950’s as well. Do you have any idea what chairs like these might be worth?

    • MCR says:

      Sorry, I don’t do appraisals. The best thing to do is to check the internet for ended auctions and see what they sold for. Ebay is the easiest place to do this but just be sure you look at auctions where the chairs actually sold. You will need to compare condition, too. The 1st Dibs site isn’t an accurate indicator; those dealers’ target market are decorators who typically get a percentage of what they buy for their [very wealthy] clients, so the dealers can ask high prices and get them. But most other sources will be good indicators.

  9. Peter says:

    Hi
    You have done a great job restoring these chairs. I wish I lived nearby (live in Sweden) so you could put your gentle hand on my chairs. Anyway – this was very inspiring to find.

  10. Alison says:

    Hi,
    I just bought 4 of these chairs and the owner has sanded off the finish. They look beautiful- light and soft, so I’m ok with the color difference. But I’m wondering if I should oil them to protect them? He recommended a linseed and turpentine mixture. Do you have advice for a finish to protect them but maybe not restore the patina (make them darker)? Would you dare leave them alone? Thanks!

    • MCR says:

      You could look into a soap finish. It’s just white soap flakes (like Ivory bar soap) dissolved in water, sometimes with white pigment added, and applied to the wood. You don’t rinse it off, it stays on/in the wood and repels dirt and stains. If the wood does start to look a little grimy, you can just reapply the soap finsh as needed. Here’s a photo of a CH23 with a soap finish but keep in mind that it’s no guarantee that yours will look like this. I don’t know how well it works on teak or if you even have the teak version. http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/yhst-69328165909994_2383_5573487

      Oil will darken the wood and most wood darkens with age anyway. It may take awhile to get to the color that was sanded off, but it will be darker than bare wood. And yes, you should not leave it bare because it will open to absorbing body oils, food stains, and general grime that comes with normal use.

      ETA: For the record, for others reading here, I don’t reccommend sanding vintage wood furniture of any value simply to get it to a lighter color. I have no idea why the above-mentioned chairs were sanded. Sometimes it’s the only way to fix a piece, like if it has a lot of deep scratches or stains, I guess. But my answer to those just wanting a lighter chair is to buy a lighter chair. Patina is the color, lustre and richness that develops over a long period of time and to remove it destroys a lot of the unique character of a piece. It can also affect the value pretty adversely if that’s something that matters to you.

      • Alison says:

        I really appreciate your input. I have no idea why he did the sanding, but the chairs were a good deal and I didn’t realize what he had done until I picked them up (I think he was trying to clean the age/water spots off them), I may have made a mistake buying them in the end (from an investment standpoint) but they are beautiful and I will keep and use them once I figure out how to protect them.
        They are oak with teal backs- would a mineral oil on the oak and teak oil on the back be a good idea? I’m willing to sacrifice the color to restore the integrity and protect the chairs…
        I really appreciate your knowledge! I wish I was closer to you!

        • Alison says:

          By the way, I love the soap finish! I may have to try that.

        • MCR says:

          Don’t use mineral oil. It’s good for salad bowls and cutting boards because it’s food safe, but it never really dries so it’s not good for furniture! Teak oil is fine on both teak and oak. I use Star-Brite brand which you can get at Ace Hardware stores. It has no added varnish and almost no solvent smell.

          I also do not recommend linseed oil and turpentine. Linseed oil supports mildew growth, for one thing. Just go with an oil formulated for furniture use and you’ll be ok.

          By the way, cleaning with #0000 steel wool and teak oil is an amazingly effective way of getting rid of water spots and many food stains, too. It should always be the first plan of attack, well before resorting to sanding.

          • Alison says:

            Thank you so much for sharing all this information. I really appreciate it. I’ll head to Ace today. 🙂

  11. Noelle says:

    What size rush were you using? I just picked up one of the folding chairs, ordered it on line and then when it got here the rope was…plastic! Eww! So although it’s well done it’s got to go. I see there are two sizes of the paper….

    • MCR says:

      These chairs weren’t made in a folding version and I think the only folding chair designed by Wegner was done in binder cane, not paper cord. Is your chair something else entirely?

      Either way, most Danish style paper cord weaves are done in the 1/8″ diameter cord. A few require the 1/4″. Some vendors measure the diameter in increments of 1/32″; just order whatever is close to 1/8″.

      Also, rush is a different product than paper cord, so make sure you are looking at paper cord when you order. Rush comes in quite a few diameters but paper cord is made in only two basic diameters.

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