that old bankers chair

May 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Antiques, Before, During, Furniture, Projects | 20 Comments

My main project for the weekend (involving tools!) was working on the old bankers chair I found on Craigslist.  You know, the one I blogged about finding months ago and has since taken up residence and collected dust in the basement. (I should also note that I was inspired to revisit this project thanks to the Inspired Room’s Project Procrastinator’s Party)

Last time you saw my chair, she looked like this:

I was going to paint her, but a few of you talked me out of it.

So instead, I stripped and re-stained her.

My chair-stripping supplies

The stripping process was pretty easy since she was old and neglected and didn’t have much polyurethane on her.  I used about 3 coats of stripper.  For the first 2 coats, I spread the stripper with a paintbrush and scraped it off with a plastic scraper.  For the third layer, I used a green brill-o pad with a bit of stripper and lightly scrubbed the chair, pressing a little bit harder on some of the darker spots.  I washed the stripper off using a different green brill-o pad soaked in water.  Then, I wiped down the chair one last time with the odorless mineral spirits (to make sure all of the stripper came off).

Next, I used some wood filler to fill in the gaps on either side of the chair back.  I then sanded down the entire chair, using my handy-dandy mouse (detail sander) and some 120 grit sandpaper.

Finally, I dusted off the chair and applied some pre-stain conditioner to make the stain adhere evenly on all parts of the chair.  I used a dark stain – red mahogony – and only applied 1 coat.  I may go in and apply another coat later, but wanted to see what only one coat would look like.

I also removed all of the metal pieces from the chair, and boiled them with water and baking soda to remove old paint and dirt.  This worked like a charm, but most of the pieces were a bit rusty.  So I rinsed them and then let them sit in distilled vinegar overnight.  The next day, I scrubbed them with steel wool and a metal brush and rinsed them again to get most of the rust off.

I wasn’t able to get all of the rust off, but the large flaky pieces came off, and the base was smooth enough to be primed and painted with Rustoleum.  I was particularly excited that after all of the cleaning and scraping, I was able to move some of the springs and other apparatus that allow the chair to swivel and recline!

I also discovered the the chair was made by the Milwaukee Chair Company, and patented in the 1914s.  The markings on the metal had been rusted and painted over so many times that they were un-readable.  But the hot water and vinegar baths solved that problem.  I can’t find much information on the Milwaukee Chair Company, but I do know that they made chairs from the 1880s-1940s, and that they supplied the chairs found in the House and Senate chambers of the capitol.  The Milwaukee Chair Company eventually branched out and produced wooden phonograph cabinets, and created Paramount Records, a record label known for blues and jazz in the 1920s and 1930s.

The wooden rectangle to the right of the above photo is the seat for the chair.  It was cained and covered with leather.  And it was completely falling apart.  I plan to cut a new seat, pad it with foam, and recover with a fun fabric.

I will also have to apply a few coats of polyurethane to the wooden parts of the chair, and reassemble all of the metal goodies above.  The chair also needs new casters, as a few of the originals were broken.  Stay tuned… I hope to have it all finished before the move!



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  1. You seriously amaze me. Seriously.

  2. Looks great! Isn’t it amazing how easy it looks when you just show a few pictures? 🙂

  3. HOW do you know how to do all that? Can you spend a couple months here to get this place in shape?
    I would have no idea how to put all those metal parts back where they belong! I can’t wait to see the finished product!

  4. You amaze me too!! I wouldn’t know how to get the thing apart let alone put it back together!

  5. WOW! You know, I had that exact same chair. I eventually gave it away because it always leaked oil. I am not as smart as you to take it all apart! 🙂 Can’t wait to see it when you get it all back together again!
    Thanks for joining in the party!

  6. Okay you evidently use prep and follow technique unlike me. This is a big project. It will be so cool when you put it all back in one piece. I had no idea furniture was female or male, that’s fun.

  7. You’re awesome! I can’t believe you put a huge work in that chair. It’s worth it, though!

    Sooo… eager to see what the outcome on your chair.

    Great job!

  8. WOW! Quite a project! No way would I have taken that one on but You are doing a great job!

  9. Oh my that chair is going to fabulous!

  10. I would have thought the chair too much work & scrapped it. But you are doing an amazing job refinishing it. I’m sure it will be fabulous when it is completely finished. Looks much better already.

  11. What do you estimate is the age of your chair? I have four old office chairs of the same style/vintage, but they are stationary rather than swivel. I presume the swivel version is called a “banker’s chair,” but I do not know about the style in general.

    • Hi Marie – thanks for visiting! My best guess is that the chair is from the 1920s-30s… The chair says that it was patented in 1914, and the Milwaukee Chair Company (the company who made it) went out of business in 1940. Hope that helps!

  12. […] I took apart the entire chair, removed the stain from the wood, then re-stained and polyurethaned the chair (and, yes, that is polyurethane in verb form right there.).  The metal bits were boiled in water and baking soda, soaked in vinegar, scrubbed with a wire brush, and then paint black.  (More on how I did this is here). […]

  13. Where are the finished product pictures?


  15. Have you found a source for the large springs? Mine are broken and I can’t find any. Your help appreciated. Thanks, Dave

    • Sorry, Dave, I have no idea! My springs still seem to be working! Best of luck to you in finding them.

  16. I have the same chair but the casters are missing. Can you let me know what the original ones looked like? Thanks and great job. My husband is doing the same to his right now.

    • The casters are missing/broken/were replaced on mine, too. We just took them off and haven’t done anything to replace them. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

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