The original Eames fiberglass chairs were, of course, groundbreaking in many ways: an innovative uses of materials, an interjection of color into businesses and homes, the creation of a "system" of shells and bases... and doing it, originally, at a fairly modest cost. Today, the irony is that these original examples are quite sought after and carry a high price tag. Our friends have a few "rope edge" chairs that are even more sought after, so scour your grandparents' basements, kids.
Avery contacted me to restore a few of her Eames fiberglass shell chairs. She had picked them up at her old University... undoubtedly bound for the skip. Being commercial chairs, they were originally fitted with stacking bases which are the least covetable of the variants. To use other bases, the shock mounts need to be relocated. We've done that before, so we took on the job.
These came to us in fairly rough shape. Someone had tried to relocate the original mounts unsuccessfully and in the process did a bit of damage to the fiberglass. They had used a variety of glues to try to adhere and re-adhere the mounts, but — as I mentioned to Avery: no worries — it's all part of the restoration process and price.
In short: We took the chairs in, (1) removed the old mounts, (2) ground off the original and re-applied glues, (3) affixed new mounts, (4) rejuvenated the surface, (5) fixed the damaged fiberglass spots, (6) balanced the bases, and (7) gave them a final polish... all in all giving new life to the chairs.
(1) Removing the old mounts: Many of the old mounts were actually already off of the chairs, but a few remained. When removing them you have to be careful to not take chunks of fiberglass with the mounts. If you're lucky, a swift whack with a chisel can knock them loose. Otherwise, a careful removal with a thin bladed hand saw — at least enough to get under the mount — itself is necessary. In this case, it was a bit of both as some mounts were easier to remove than others.
The old mounts after removal... they were in pretty rough shape.
(2) Grinding off the old glue: The original adhesive used was pretty tough and sometimes there was a good bit of it used. A careful application of the belt sander, then the orbital sander at varying grits will clear the area of adhesive. You have to be very careful, however, so as not to damage the fiberglass — once you pull up the fibers, it's a bit of a process to re-heal that surface.
(3) Affix new mounts: There are replacement parts available from several vendors around the globe (all with great instructions and some that come as a kit)... hit up Google to find some near you. I like to apply them before refinishing the chair, but after a good cleaning, to ensure there's a good bond between the sub-surface and the mounts.
(4) Rejuvenate the surface: This is something we've covered before and a tip that's been circulating around the internet for years (the original chairfag.com post is lost to the ether). Penetrol is a paint conditioner — now banned in California — that is a good plastics "rejuvenator". Fortunately, I managed to stock up before it became scarce. Be careful not to apply too thickly or it may never fully cure... a few light coats, some curing time, and then more coats can be better than a single thick coat.
Even after the initial coat of Penetrol, the surface is looking much better. The areas initially damaged will need some more work, though, as the Penetrol isn't able to fill in the removed material — just rejuvenate what's there.
(5) Fix the damaged fiberglass spots: This is one area where I'm purposefully vague... As open as I am to many of my processes, a craftsman has to keep some secrets, right? This is mine. However, after years of working with plastics (and the headaches that accompany it), I've found a few things that can fix damaged areas — from breaks to surface abrasion. If your chairs are damaged, hit me up for an estimate.
With a bit of TLC and special-sauce, the original finish is brought back in the areas that were damaged. Had they been more damaged, we could have gone a bit further and re-built the surface with new material, but in this case, it was unnecessary... especially for the bottom.
(6) Balanced the bases: Since the bases were not original to the chairs and the mounts are new, the four points of the bases aren't exactly even with the new surface of the mounts. This is common. Although there is some give in the mounts, I'm not comfortable with more than 1/16 of an inch variance or you may risk one of the shock mounts receiving an undue amount of stress (and possible delamination/failure). Each of these bases needed to be balanced with washer shims to ensure a good distribution of load over the four shock mounts.
(7) Give them a final polish: Even when letting Penetrol cure for 48 hours, there's still that nagging feeling that one more step is necessary — and your butt gut is right. There are a few things to give your restoration project a final glow. I've used carnauba wax, polymer coatings like Meguiar's Ultimate or Klasse, but one of the easiest is a detailing spray. I picked up some 303 Speed Detailer that has a nice scent to it and leaves the surface smooth, but not greasy. They also have a Quick Wax that has some carnauba wax in it and I'm a fan of their protectant.