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Aluminum GoodForm “Navy Chair” Restoration

aluminum goodform chair 1

I recently won a set of five vintage aluminum GoodForm chairs on eBay from a local consignor.  I’d planned on simply reupholstering the school bus green vinyl seats with something more akin to my tastes.  However, after getting them home, I discovered a few issues that would turn my little reupholstering project into a full-blown chair restoration.

The Damage

The chairs had been exposed to a damp environment because they reeked of mildew from moldy cotton batting. Many of the metal glides were rusted and crumbling. The removable steel seat frames had active rust in places with small hairline cracks at stress points near the front rim. Fortunately, other than a few small dings the tubular aluminum frames were in pretty good shape.

The Restoration

1.  I removed the vinyl upholstery and scraped away the moldy cotton batting.  Unfortunately, the upholsterer who recovered the chairs in school bus green used a ridiculous amount of industrial glue that required a couple hours of steel wool and acetone to loosen and remove before the seats could be bead blasted.

2.  The seats had cool cloth and paper GoodForm labels on the underside.  I was not able to save the paper labels, but I successfully used steam to remove the cloth labels and re adhered them later (see pic).

3.  I had my friend Bill give me a lesson on MIG welding as he kindly repaired the small cracks on the the chair seats.

4.  After bead blasting the seats, I sprayed them with a coat of Rustoleum gray that nicely matched their original finish.

5.  Now for the challenging part… Modern office chairs have a completely hollow tubular leg that uses a chair glide secured with a spring clip.  This method is not how glides are secured on vintage GoodForm and Emeco aluminum chairs.  The GoodForm and Emeco chair have a 1 inch hollow tubular leg, but the base of each leg is closed with a 5/8″ hole drilled in the center.  A slightly over sized rubber compression fitting (which I’ll refer to as a “coupling”) is used to slide over chair glides’ threading (see pic) with a nut on top for tightening.  This rubber coupling is squeezed through the 5/8″ hole until it fully passes through.  Over 60+ years the rubber couplings deteriorate and I could not find a single vendor that offers a comparable replacement.

I had to improvise using rubber stoppers purchased from the local hardware store.  I cut each stopper in half horizontally, drilled a hole in the center, then removed and shaped the excess material with a drum attachment on my drill press (see pic).  Before pushing the rubber couplings through the 5/8″ holes, I rubbed liquid hand soap over them to make the process a bit easier.  Note: Do not lubricate with WD-40 or oil because it will break down the rubber.  Prior to pushing the coupling through hole, I secured the nylon nut on top of the threading.  With the soapy coupling pushed completely through, I pulled firmly on the glide to create tension against the coupling and nut.  I turned the glide clock-wise, thus tightening the nut along the threading to create a snug fit.  Lastly, felt pads were stuck to the glide bottoms to save my wood floors.

5.  Initially, I was going to use firm, mildew resistant 1/2 inch foam rubber pad to cushion the seats, but after a dry fitting, I did not like how the foam obscured the contour of the seat.  I ended up using a 1/2 inch nylon batting that compressed under the vinyl resulting in better looking profile.

6.  I put considerable thought into how I would reupholster the chairs.  I considered using waxed canvas.  I even ordered yards of vintage looking oilcloth in an “aluminum” color only to find the material in hand looked too much like duct tape.  I was fortunate to locally find vinyl auto upholstery in a very nice grayish green that I feel compliments the chairs and their surroundings.

7.  I only used a damp rag to clean off the aluminum chair frames, so as not to disturb their wonderful patina.

The chairs ended up taking more time and money than I had intended, but I am very pleased with the results.

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19 Responses to “Aluminum GoodForm “Navy Chair” Restoration”

  1. Zack says:

    Why is it that nothing is ever easy or straightforward? Ever!! I wonder if a heat gun would have made faster work of all that adhesive? I used it one on the fiberglass/epoxy on my aluminum boat and it helped immensely.

  2. Chris Hughes says:

    The old adage for any project is to factor the time/cost required, then double that amount. I seem to continually forget this!

    I tried a couple other things before resorting to acetone and steel wool to remove the old glue. Did not try a heat gun, but I am curious if it would have worked as well as the acetone.

  3. Kari Gulbrandsen says:

    Wow. I rescued one* of these from the trash one day, hoping that I could do something with it. You have inspired me (but I’m not as handy as you are). Where is the date stamp that you show in your last picture?

    * I actually rescued two chairs, but only one is a Good Form chair — I’m not sure what the other one is.

  4. Chris Hughes says:

    I have been enjoying my chairs and have been looking for a 6th chair to complete my set. Finding one in the trash is a real score!

    —Chris

  5. T Kayes says:

    Wow, they look great! I recently scored 10 or so Good Form chairs ranging from the 1950’s to the 70’s. Do you have any photos or details about how you actually accomplished the reupholstering? You did a very clean job and I’ld like to replicate your efforts.
    Thanks for posting this, and fantastic work.

  6. Chris Hughes says:

    Ted,

    Thanks for the compliment on the restoration. My GoodForm chairs are holding up well with daily use, including occasional abuse from my 2 yr old son. I did not get shots of the reupholstering process, but here are some pointers:

    1. I used medium weight vinyl typically used to reupholster classic cars. Initially, I ordered vintage looking oilskin, but it felt too thin and the color was not right. There is thicker vinyl available with a felt-like backing and I didn’t use that because it would not fold as clean as medium weight vinyl.

    2. I adhered the vinyl to the underside of the seat with contact cement. I didn’t glop the adhesive on like the previous owner and it really helped with the process. If I were to do it again, I would use Barge cement because the fumes from the contact cement were overwhelming and Barge is an excellent product.

    3. You can heat the vinyl with a hair dryer as you are folding it to get it a clean profile. I didn’t need to do this because I was happy with the results when working the room temperature vinyl.

    Getting the folds right is a matter of taking your time and experimenting. I bought more material than I needed in case of future repairs. My first attempt ended up being a practice run because I redid it. By my second attempt I had my technique down and there were no further issues.

    Good luck in your GoodForm restoration!

    Best,

    Chris Hughes

  7. Fred says:

    Ive reupholstered and repaired a few GoodForm chairs as well. When it comes to the glides on the feet, rubber well nuts work awesome! :)

    –Fred

  8. Chris Hughes says:

    Fred,

    I shaped the rubber stoppers because I was not aware “rubber well nuts” exist. They look like they would work perfectly. Excellent tip!

    Best,

    Chris Hughes

  9. Linda says:

    Chris,
    I have 4 Goodform chairs missing some glides, otherwise great condition. What size rubber well nuts do I need and do I still need the glide? Not sure on the concept here.
    Tx,
    Linda

  10. Chris Hughes says:

    Linda,

    I never used the rubber well nut because at the time, I did not know they existed. I hand carved rubber stoppers which is WAY more labor intensive. I didn’t write down the diameter of the opening at the foot, but I remember it being around 5/8″. Yes – you will still need to purchase glides. The well nut has a threaded channel the glide screws directly into. Good luck with your project!

    Best,
    Chris Hughes

  11. Linda says:

    Chris,
    Tx for your prompt response. I see them online for a 3/8″ hole and for a 5/8″ hole. I guess I’ll get both.
    I love my chairs but my kitchen floor has really taken a beating without glides on them!
    Linda

  12. Chris Hughes says:

    Linda,

    The 3/8″ would be too small. Go with the 5/8″ ones.

    Best,

    Chris Hughes

  13. Linda says:

    Tx Chris.
    Linda

  14. Jon Hatfield says:

    Hi,
    Just a footnote. The original vinyl upholstery on my late 40’s GoodForms is perforated with tiny holes for ventilation. It needs to be replaced, as it’s starting to crack and split. Haven’t researched this type of vinyl yet, but remember seeing it used for car seats.

  15. Chris Hughes says:

    Jon,

    You are correct. The original material had perforated holes. I was confident I was not going to be able to find that material and opted for regular auto upholstery vinyl.

    –Chris

  16. Roderick says:

    Awesome project, Chris!

    Where did you get your glides? Online, by chance? My local hardware store only has the nail-on version.

    Also apparently one can get glides from Emeco directly, but the rep said they don’t work with their vintage chairs, only the newer ones. Do you know anything about this?

    Thanks!

    -R

  17. Chris Hughes says:

    Roderick,

    I was able to find the glides online with a little searching. They were generic. Not Emeco.

    –Chris

  18. Susan Faurl says:

    My husband has a GFC desk chair on wheels. He needs to replace the wheels. Does anyone stock this equipment. He also has one of the gray steel desks which he purchased from Western Electric in Allentown Pa where he worked. At 75 he is very upset that he might have to get a new chair.

  19. Chris Hughes says:

    Susan,

    I do not know any manufactures that offer exact replacements.

    –Chris

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