A little back story to get us started here:
About a month ago I came across another great find on Craigslist. The owner of a music shop nearby was trying to clear out the storage area in his basement under the store. He told me about a guy who used to rent his space as a place to store antique finds and old audio equipment. The guy moved to California without notice and left a few items behind, so up on Craigslist they went. For $125 I walked out with an Eames tandem shell chair bench, a black Saarinen Executive leather/fabric upholstered chair, and the shell you see below along with an H-base I am not using... yet.
Before I get started, I want to thank Morgan at The Brick House, the people at Chairfag, and the guys at Manhattan Nest for posting extremely helpful tutorials on fiberglass chair restoration. Hopefully, I can add a thing or two that can make things easier for anyone else out there about to tackle this project.
So here's what I was working with. Black naugahyde upholstered shell with cream-colored fiberglass. The cover had several scratches, stains, and cigarette burns, and the shock mounts were missing completely.
First step: Rip that shitty upholstery off. Grab a dust mask and go at it like you're pissed. You can be pretty rough on these things with fiberglass being a pretty strong material. Once you get the upholstery off you'll arrive at the smelly, frightening sight below (left).
Mold. Cigarette burns. The smell of 40-year old industrial strength adhesive. As tempting as it may be, don't give up now! To get down to the adhesive, I found once again that simply using your hands is the easiest and quickest way to get results. Forcefully rub the foam with your fingers starting at an edge where there's little to no foam. Once you get the right technique it'll start coming off pretty quick... Then you arrive at the scene above (right). I found that using an orbital sander worked GREAT for getting the dried-up glue off the surface of the chair.
Now, so I don't get sued for some idiot getting cancer: Be sure to where a face mask to protect your lungs, along with long sleeves and pants to keep from getting itchy. Fiberglass isn't something to play around with. Have you ever installed or removed fiberglass insulation? Same stuff floating around in the air here.
NOW, you can start seeing the light at the end of the dusty, smelly tunnel. I found that using 120 grit sand paper seemed to work good for removing the adhesive on the front, and previous finish on the back side. I tested coarser paper, but noticed that the fiberglass was starting to show the patterns of my sanding. Once the first round of sanding was done, I traced my steps with a finer (240 I think?) paper, then again and again with 400 and 600 grit wet sanding.
Since this was an upholstered chair, I needed to decide to either leave the riv-nuts in the seat of the chair, or drill them out and be left with holes. I decided to leave the riv-nuts to keep more of a finished look. This decision required me to get rid of the nubs you can see below in order to attach the shock mounts to the chair.
I used my battery-powered Dremel (I really need to trade this thing in for a corded version) with a sanding wheel attached to knock these down level with the bottom surface of the chair.
Next comes the Penetrol! You can find it at almost any hardware store. Try to apply it in a dust-free area. Once you put some gloves on, soak a lint-free rag in the Penetrol and wipe down the surface of the chair. After a few coats, you'll be left with this:
Once it's completely dry, you can use a fine grade (#0000) steel wool to knock down and smooth out any imperfections in the finish without getting rid of the shine.
Now for the shock mounts.
Shock mounts are pretty easy to find on eBay and run right at $20 for a set of four. JB Kwik Weld seems to be the popular choice for mounting these to the chair. If you attach these after applying Penetrol, be sure to roughen up the small area where you're mounting each one with some sand paper. As the name says, this stuff sets quick, so don't lolly-gag around during this step. Get them on and make small adjustments if necessary by holding the base to the mounts and making sure things align. Another way to mount them would be to attach the mounts to the base, then stick the entire thing onto the bottom of the chair, and remove the base. Either way should work fine.
Now even though the epoxy sets in four minutes, don't go tightening the base on just yet. The pressure on those shocks would probably still pull them off the chair if the base isn't perfectly fitted for the chair.
I gave a full day for the epoxy to harden, then attached the base. I got the base from Modern Conscience. I've heard mixed things about them, but their price was unbeatable. It would have cost $65 more to order the same base from Modernica. I went with the black painted base with walnut rockers. I thought the cream-colored fiberglass along with the black steel, and darker wood would have a nice warm vintage feel to it. Here's the final product!
Hopefully, this was helpful to anyone out there about to restore an Eames. The final product is well worth the time!