Cane Back Dining Chair Makeover: A Vintage DIY Upgrade

Find out how I updated these cane dining room chairs for a more modern, sophisticated look in just a weekend with a little paint and stain!

Neutral Dining Room

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Before I dive into this amazing before and after, I gotta be real with you for a minute.

As beautiful as these vintage cane chairs turned out, there were so many times during this process that I was ready to throw in the towel and regretted ever buying them.

But I pushed on, testing out different colors and techniques, and boy am I so glad I did. I get so many questions daily about these cane dining chairs from people wanting to purchase their own set. I’ll just give myself a big ole pat on the back for this project.

They were seriously the pieces that tied our entire dining room makeover together.

Are cane back chairs in style?

I’m always keeping my eyes peeled for a good furniture makeover project. Vintage pieces that have a classic look a personal favorite of mine, especially when they happen to be heavily trending at the time.

Cane furniture adds just the right mix of texture and vintage flair to make a statement in any room.

So when I scrolled past this set on Facebook Marketplace, I knew it had some serious potential.

Cane back dining chair makeover

Now, at first glance, they probably don’t look that bad right? Unfortunately some previous DIYer thought that a really uneven gel stain job and some very ugly upholstery was a good look.

Cane back dining chair makeover
Cane back dining chair makeover
Cane back dining chair makeover

See how caked on and blotchy it looks up close? It even had this gritty sticky texture to it when you touched it.

Nope, my perfectionist tendencies weren’t having it. So I got to work scheming up some good makeover ideas for these beauties. And I had so many questions on how to start this project.

Can you paint cane dining chairs?

Yes, you absolutely can paint cane dining chairs. In fact, many people opt for this method because it’s much more efficient than staining, and still adds a big wow factor to the chair’s appearance.

But of course, I wasn’t like most people, and insisted on having these cane chairs match the wood in my refinished dining table.

What I didn’t know was how difficult it can be to try to match two completely different wood species to the same stain color. Hence why I said I was ready to throw in the towel a time or two.

Can you refinish cane?

I really struggled to find a good solution to refurbish this cane.

I had hoped to remove the old cane webbing that had been previously spray painted. My goal was to replace it with new natural cane that I could stain to match the color of the wood on the chairs.

Cane back dining chair makeover

Apparently there was a massive material shortage though, because every supplier was on backorder for several months, so replacing it was out of the question.

There’s really only one option for refurbishing previously painted cane, and that’s to simply just paint over it.

It’s such a delicate material that any efforts to try to strip and remove old paint or finishes will weaken and damage the cane beyond repair. Trust me, I tried.

So on to plan B I went.

Cane Dining Chair Makeover Supplies

In terms of materials, this was a fairly inexpensive furniture makeover project. Especially since I had most of the supplies on hand already.

So here’s how I went about refurbishing these old cane back chairs.

Step 1 : Remove old seat cushions

The seat cushions on these vintage cane chairs were very easy to remove, so I just unscrewed them from the bottom of the seat base and put them aside for a later reupholstering project.

Step 2: Sand the wood chairs

This is really where the bulk of the work comes in. If you’re not used to sanding through old finishes, then you might need to muster up a little patience before you get started.

Cane back dining chair makeover

I used my palm sander and a 60 grit sandpaper to remove the old stain finish from the chairs. For some of the hard to reach areas, I ended up hand sanding the corners and grooves of the wood.

Cane back dining chair makeover

I had to be very careful not to sand overtop of the cane webbing so that I wouldn’t damage it.

Step 3: Clean and prep the chairs for new stain

I used our shop vac to remove the bulk of sanding dust from the chairs before I went over them a few times with tack cloth. You want to be sure to remove all debris before you being staining furniture.

Step 4: Apply stain finish

Using an old rag, I applied Minwax stain in the color Jacobean to each chair. Early in the process I made the mistake of applying the stain too heavy and it was very uneven so I ended up sanding it back down and reapplying in lighter coats.

I let the stain absorb for about 15 minutes before wiping off any excess with my rag.

I love how the beautiful wood grain shows through now and has a much more even appearance.

Cane back dining chair makeover
Cane back dining chair makeover

Step 5: Apply a stain sealer

After allowing the stain to dry for a day, I used a foam brush to apply my matte polyurethane finish to the chairs. This will protect that gorgeous new stain finish.

Cane back dining chair makeover

How to paint cane back chairs

Here’s where the magic happened! Since my only option was to paint over the existing cane webbing, I decided to go ahead and tape it off to test out a few paint color choices.

Cane back dining chair makeover

I ended up settling for a black spray paint in a satin finish. It gave just a hint of gloss without looking overly tacky and shiny.

Cane back dining chair makeover

I removed the painters tape while the paint was still wet to avoid it from peeling off the chairs.

Cane back dining chair makeover

Isn’t it gorgeous?!

I’m so glad I pushed through this project despite a lot of its challenges. It gave our dining room that perfect mix of vintage and modern that I was going for.

Neutral Dining Room

Be sure to check out how I reupholstered the seat cushions to give them a fresh clean look and match our linen slipcovered chairs.

Have a question? Leave me a comment below, I love hearing from you!

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  1. Did the chairs have any sort of poly coat on them when you started? I have some old chairs with cane that has been stained and clearly has a coat of poly on it. I’m afraid to paint it, but afraid to sand it. Any ideas on removing the poly or otherwise prepping the cane surface before the primer?

    1. Hi Reagan! These chairs were caked with what looked to be gel stain and the cane had a very bad coat of paint on it already. Cane is delicate so I wouldn’t recommend trying to strip it with anything harsh, which is why I chose to just paint over it.

  2. Thank you for all the details on painting your chairs. I’m in the process of trying to give my cane back dining chairs an updated look. My favorite color is black, and most of the examples I see online did not use black, so I was happy to see how yours turned out. I was planning on using Krylon black satin spray paint. As soon as the weather is warm, I will be heading outside to finish my project. Thank you for the pictures. I hope mine turn out as nice as yours. I also have a China hutch to match my dining set and I will be replacing the hardware to black to help match the table and chairs.

  3. Hi, awesome project there and done beautifully. I also own cane chairs and haven’t gathered the courage to start painting them. Not sure to do white or black.Like others, I am also concerned about paint cracking up when painted on the cane web. Anyway ur chairs look amazing!

  4. Hi, so it’s been about 10 months since you posted your project. Nice job, by the way! Beautiful!
    How is the spray paint holding up on the cane? I have a chair I want to paint the caneing on, but I’ve heard the paint will crack because the cane moves when you sit on the chair.

    1. Thanks so much Diane! So far so good, no issues at all. Whoever owned them previously had painted the cane as well. These were pretty old and worn in so that might have helped as well.

    1. Hi Alan, unfortunately the previous owner had already painted the cane and stripping it wasn’t an option. I was doing the best with what I had to work with 🙂

    1. Hi Julianne! These were actually a Facebook marketplace find and are vintage, but I’d keep your eyes peeled online for “can chairs”.

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