The Winter Parker has made a hobby out of repairing and caning old chairs.
If you ask this Winter Park resident to pull up a chair, he won’t kick back and relax. He’s more likely to roll up his sleeves and go to work. Mayflower resident Ken Hubble is carrying on the old art form of caning, repairing the seats and backs of chairs made from strips of rattan — a bamboo-like material grown in Thailand and China.
From a workshop inside A&T Furniture & Antiques off Orange Avenue, Hubble, 83, twists and weaves strips of the flexible fiber over and under to create the densely wrapped surfaces that make up many old-fashioned chairs.
It’s a long, careful process of horizontal, vertical and diagonal threading, but the retired aerospace engineer loves the challenge and the time the hobby takes. He puts as many as 100 to 150 hours of work into a single chair.
“These all present challenges, which for an engineer is all part of the fun,” Hubble said. “If you were to look at the nature of the beast, so to speak, one size doesn’t fit all. When you get to the final finish, there’s a little tight grouping of cane. … When it’s all done with correct-size cane, this grouping is all very tight. The pleasure in doing it is knowing you picked the right size so they all become very tight.”
Hubble has repaired a couple thousand chairs — from small chairs with round seats to large benches for two — since his retirement in 1995. It’s an art that dates back hundreds of years. One spindle chair in Hubble’s room at the Mayflower dates back to 1780.
Over the years, people have contacted Hubble with hopes he could repair a precious family heirloom made from the flexible strands. He has never advertised his work — it’s just a hobby that’s spread through word of mouth, Hubble said.
“I had a few chairs myself up in my apartment – I started refurbishing those and neighbors would ask me to do that,” Hubble said. “In 20 years and that number of months, you can do a lot of chairs in that time.”
Hubble had grown up Worthing, England, working with wood and repairing furniture. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that his brother-in-law showed him the craft of caning.
“I eventually got him to show me how to do it and got interested in it,” Hubble said. “I like woodwork and things, and so I picked it up from there.”
Someday, Hubble hopes to pass on the canning craft to someone younger. Fewer people know how to repair the caned chairs. If no one knows the craft, old chairs and family heirlooms that break could remain broken, Hubble said.
“There are still some seats caned, but that’s not as common,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there that dates back, and it’s been in families since their grandparents and that sort of thing and they just want to keep it.
“I do believe there are still going to be pieces of furniture requiring work going on into the future,” he said. “It’s not one of those things over the 20 years I’ve been messing around with that I’ve seen a decline. It’s got its ups and downs, but it just seems to go on and on and on. I’m not going to be around on and on and on, so it would be nice to know that there’s somebody around that could do it.”
The Mayflower resident said he’s eager to pass on his skills. Recovering veterans at local VA organizations may hopefully have a desire to pick up the art form and do something with their hands, Hubble said.
In the meantime, Hubble doesn’t show any signs of stopping his caning passion.
“It’s one of those hobbies that you can stop at any point and go off, then come back a month later and carry on,” he said. “I’ll keep going as long as I’m capable.”