How to date an old chair.

Hiddy Hi all you lawn chair cats!

I see today the weather folks all have just one thing to talk about. HEAT! Yeah, well, its summer and we all knew it was bound to happen. A heat wave has settled in on most of our Nation and Lordy me it is hot but here in Texas its just another day to us. If you’re in an area of the country that’s not used to this I surely hope it doesn’t last long before getting back to y’all’s normal. When folks ask me about Texas summers, I tell them it’s not for the uninitiated! You need to either be born here or get used to it by gradual degrees.

I had a call from very nice lady just this week and she was in the process of redoing her family’s old steel chairs. She had read my blog on finishing and they had chosen the powder coat route but needed a couple of questions answered about age. Before long, she had described for me chairs that were without question first generation Ed Warmack. They contained all the ingrediants I look for in dating a vintage chair. So the thought occured to me to give a slight lesson on how to date old stamped metal lawn chairs.

One of the first things to look for is in the frame. Almost all early lawn chairs utilized a one piece frame. This means the tube frame was made from a single length of pipe with no joints. This made a very strong frame and rust was not an issue for many years IF the tube frame did not receive too much water inside. However, once water entered the frame, it had no way to escape and corrosion began in earnest. A well kept vintage one piece frame chair used undercover should have a very solid frame but you still need to be cautious.

The next thing I look for in dating is the seat. If the seat has drain holes then you’ve surely got an early model. Again, most all early lawn chairs had certain tells and factory installed drain holes is one you can hang your hat on. Ed Warmack used holes in his early chair seats because he was just following behind the others. But, he soon learned those small holes designed to allow rain water to drain out with the idea of slowing down rust did exactly the opposite. You see, a hole by its very nature has a very sharp edge and these little guys just don’t hold paint worth a darn. So when you go to sit in your chair you’re wearing the paint off the holes from the very first. The paint just rubs off right at the hole and before long rust has gotten a foothold right where we don’t want it!

Ed designed what we call the “Tractor” seat about 1947. This is a seat with a slight dish molded to fit the sit’n area of a person. Then he formed in a little channel or canal which directs the water to the back of the chair and it just sort of seeps out between the back and the seat. This is why its so important to keep your lawn chairs washed out and free of leaves, pine straw and dirt. If allowed to accumulate, moisture can linger and rust moves in to help itself to our furniture.

Ed Warmack also changed the way we packaged lawn chairs in about 1949 when he developed the slip together three piece frame. Now he could put a whole chair in a box not much larger than a good sized briefcase and that meant more chairs in a rail car. Other chair makers used multi piece frames as well. Ed’s nemesis, Alvin Shott who at one time billed himself as the world’s largest manufacture of steel lawn furniture went to a three piece design but it had to be bolted together. Bolted style frames were inherently prone to rust and not as solid feeling when you were sitting in them.

So now you can look at a vintage chair and judge for yourself if its’s a true oldy or not. Drain hole chairs were made by various manufacterers up into the late 50’s but the numbers were gettin’ small. And the one piece frame didn’t last much past about 1955 from anybody.

Everyone have a happy and safe 4th!

Louis Torrans

What is the best finish and most popular color for metal lawn chairs and gliders?

Howdy all you fine folks of the lawn chair nation!

I don’t think anyone needs to be told this but y’all do know June 20th was the offical start of summer. Of course summer weather has been in place for a while now in most locals of our great Nation but the clock is now running so make the most of it!

In getting ready for our yard sitting and outdoor enjoyment season we often times look upon our scraggily and sometimes neglected vintage lawn chairs and gliders only to discover they need some extra attention in the paint deparment. That old finish you put on a few seasons ago is looking a bit worn and starting to flake off. Now you’re wondering what to do to maybe make the new finish last longer and go a few more seasons between tasks.

To begin, the lowest cost method is to simply take a wire brush and a healthy amount of good ole’ elbow grease and worry off the old finish as much as possible. Then the tried and true method of attack is to prime and paint either with spray on or brush applied finishes from the hardware store or maybe just whatever is on the shelf out in the garage. This is how it’s been done for years and years so if you choose this method you’re in good company.

The next method is basically the same except it involves a bit more work but we do have another option to make it a little easier. In this case we take the whole afair apart which sometimes presents its own challenges. Rusty bolts being the number one trouble spot. Old bolts just don’t like coming loose without a struggle. Try some light oil, WD-40, “Rust Buster” or the equivalent on the nuts and threads and let time do the work for you. After a few hours or an over night soak, most old hardware will come off easier and you just might get to recylce it. Now you can sand the old finsih off by hand but I like random orbit electric sanders for this. Once the old finish is off your at the prime and paint stage once again.

Now for the bullet proof treatment. We’re talking powder coat! This is by far the easiest refinish method at our disposal. However, it is also the one that costs the most. BUT! It is also the one that will last the longest so if you are one of those folks that likes to review your cost vs. payback then this will be your best option. This is not you typical DIY project so you’ll need to source a company near you that specializes in powder coating.Powder coat goes on by a special method using electrostatic paint guns and then is rushed into a curing oven to bake on the finish. With proper care, this finish will easily far out last conventional spray or brush on paints. The powder coat company will advise you on care and tips to increase the life of the finish. If you follow their recommendations, you can expect powder coat finishes to last many, many years. The process is very popular in the motorcycle and car world so you shouldn’t have any problem running a shop down.

The powder coating shop will accept your furniture fully assembled and will perform a complete disassembly job as part of their service. Once fully taken apart, they next sand blast the parts down to the base metal. From here it goes into special bathes which further clean the metal and prepare it for coating. After baking and cooling off, the shop will reassemble your chair or glider with all new hardware. Here’s a little tip for you. You’re paying about $100 to $150 to powder coat a regular lawn chair. Why not opt to buy better protection and spring for stainless steel hardware instead of standard grade stuff. Yes it costs a bit more but you’ll thank yourself in the long run with rust free bolts and nuts.

Now that you’ve choosen your method of refinish, we need to deside on colors! The selection is endless so you can either match your present decor or go the way I prefer which is retro don’t-ca know! Red and white is about the most popular old-fashioned color ever. Yellows, limes, greens and turquoise also rank high on the retro scale so have some fun and be sure to mix and match. That way everyone can have their favorite color to sit in!

Now that we’re all spruced up and fresh looking, it’s time for a backyard party! I think I hear a blender running and I’m pretty sure I smell fresh cut watermelon and charcoal just starting to get hot!

Party on Y’all!

Louis Torrans

Ed Warmack and the Metal Lawn Chair

Greetings and Salutaions lawn chair fans!

Goodness gracious its nearly summer already! Where has the time gone? But, summer is all about being outside and that’s kinda our deal don’t-ca-know! So, grab your favorite lawn chair, wipe out the bird droppings and tree sap and let me tell y’all a tale.

Back in about 1946 when WW II was coming to a close a gentleman by the name of Ed Warmack was thinking about what to do with his factory tucked back in the woods of Arkansas. He had been making all sorts of things for the Government to help with the war and now that it was peace time again he needed to return to domestic work. Mr. Ed knew about stamped porch chairs and how to make molds and tooling so he decided one of the first things he’d turn his attention to would include making his version of our beloved metal lawn chairs.

Ed made several contributions to the metal lawn chair industry. He designed the three piece frame with the slip in cross member. This let him pack more chairs into the rail cars he was shipping in from his plant there in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He also designed what we call the “tractor seat” which is the chair seat with the little channel in the back to allow rain water to drain away. Ed first used a flat seat with holes drilled in the middle to let the water drain but soon discoverd these holes didn’t hold paint too well and rust began quickly forming around them. The tractor seat designed solved his problem.

I meet Ed Warmack several years ago when he and his wife had made a gracious gift to a hospital in Little Rock doing research in extending ones life time by eating right. He didn’t know everything about lawn chairs I was wanting to learn but he knew everything about what he had done. He was a great source of period information and he had plenty of tales to allow about his time as one of the leading metal lawn chair manufacures in the US. Now this next part has been a little difficult for me to wrap my arms around but I’ve come to accpet it. Ed told me his daily production during building season for steel lawn chairs was up to 500 chairs PER HOUR! That is flat out turning and burning chair fans!

So, when you see an old metal chair like the ones we make in our Bellaire style, know that there was a fellow back in the hils of Arkansas in the late 1940s making them as fast as a donut shop makes donut holes! Ed sold his company in 1955 to two cousins that produced until 1970 when again the factory traded hands, selling to Flanders Industries which later became Lloyd Flanders. Flanders made steel lawn chairs until 1996, ending a 50 year run from the same factory with only 3 owners.

This and more tales and history is covered in my new book “The History of the Metal Lawn Chair….Here’s what we know now!”. Publishing is planned for later this summer so please check back for the announcement. If you have any history questions, please drop me a line.

Bye for now,

Louis Torrans