How to Fix Wooden Furniture

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Home Improvement

How to Repair Loose or Broken Chair Parts


© To repair loose or broken chair parts, you can follow these steps. Start by inserting a piece of thin cardboard under one side of an angle brace, and then remove the cardboard before final-tightening the screws on that side. This will pull the joint together and repair it.

Every type of wooden furniture has its own unique structural problems. However, with common sense and specific techniques, you can maintain your wooden chairs in good condition. Here is how to replace loose or broken chair parts:

Loose Joints

Seat frames are held together by mortise-and-tenon joints (a prong or tongue of wood secured in a hole in the joining piece) or doweled joints (pegs of wood hold the pieces together) that are supported by triangular glue blocks notched to fit the legs. If you catch a loose joint in time, repair it with glue. If the joint is broken, you’ll need to disassemble it and replace the dowels. The triangular glue blocks will probably be glued and screwed to the frame, and the dowel joint might even be supported with hidden nail or screw fasteners. Carefully separate the joint with an old screwdriver or a stiff-bladed putty knife, replace the dowels, and make sure that the joint is clean and dry before you reassemble it.

Sometimes, you can use a mechanical fastener, such as an angle brace or a chair leg brace, to mend the frame. However, this depends on the value of the furniture. If you have an antique piece, do not lower its value with a piece of metal. Metal reinforcements are useless unless the joint is tightly fitted together, but they can be used to make a firm joint even tighter. Fasten the braces with brass screws, and make sure the screws are long enough.

Attach the metal angle to one side of the chair frame, predrill the screw holes, and then insert a piece of thin cardboard under the opposite part of the angle before drilling the screw holes for that side. Drive in the screws fairly tightly, remove the cardboard, and finish tightening the screws. When the screws are final-tightened, the angle will pull the joint tightly together to bridge the gap left by the cardboard.

Loose Legs, Rungs, and Spindles

Loose legs, rungs, and spindles can sometimes become loose on wooden chairs that are frequently used. However, these problems can often be repaired. Loose rungs or spindles, and where no bracing is used, loose legs, can sometimes be mended by forcing glue into the joints. But a part mended this way may work loose again. For a more permanent repair, carefully separate the part from the frame. If both ends are loose, remove the entire piece. For very stubborn joints, twist the part slightly to break the glue bond, and if necessary, use self-locking pliers. Pad the part to prevent damage to the wood from the pliers.


© If the tenon is damaged or not tight enough, apply glue on it and wrap it with silk thread. Let the glue dry and then put the tenon back into its socket.

Remove the entire old adhesive from the part and its socket. The old glue doesn’t stick well to the new one. Make sure not to damage the wood at the end of the part, or it will not fit properly. After removing the old glue, check if both ends of the part fit tightly into the socket. If they do, apply glue on the socket and reinsert the part that was loose. Clamp the joint and wait for it to dry fully.

In case the part is still loose inside the socket, you will need to make it bigger to form a secure joint. If the tenon end is broken, you will have to reinforce it. Apply a thin layer of glue on the tenon and wrap it with silk thread firmly. If necessary, add more glue and wrap another layer of thread around it. Let the tenon dry for a day, and then glue the reinforced end into the socket securely. Insert it carefully to avoid disturbing the thread. Clamp the joint and wait for it to dry completely.

If the legs or rungs are very loose, and the tenon is still good, you can use a wedge to make it fit. Clamp the part in a vise or ask someone to hold it, then saw carefully into the center of the tenon end. The cut must be square and centered, and the depth should be equal to the part’s size that fits into the socket, which is around 3/4 inch. For small parts, use a coping saw or hacksaw to make the cut. For thicker parts, use a backsaw or a combination saw.

From a softwood piece, like pine quarter-round, cut a thin wedge that fits the width and depth of the saw cut on the tenon. The goal is to slightly spread the saw cut with the wedge, making the tenon bigger to fit the socket. When you are sure that the wedge is the correct size, carefully tap it into the saw cut. When the tenon is a little larger, stop pounding, and trim any extra wood from the wedge using a utility knife or pocketknife. Don’t pound the wedge too far, or it will break the tenon.

To test the wedge, insert it into the saw cut and tap it with a screwdriver handle. If you see the wood on either side of the cut spreading, the wedge is too wide. Finally, apply glue and reassemble the joint as mentioned earlier.


If the tenon is too loose, you can make it larger using a small wedge. Saw the tenon straight (left) and create a thin wedge to fit the saw cut. Carefully tap the wedge into the cut (right) to slightly increase the size of the tenon. Be cautious not to crack the tenon. After that, trim off any extra wood and glue the enlarged tenon back into its socket.

You may not be able to take apart the furniture for this wedging process. In this instance, there are two more ways to do it. If the joint is very loose and appearance isn’t important, get rid of as much adhesive as possible. Make a few thin wedges from molding, and dip the ends of the wedges in adhesive. Drive the wedges with a hammer around the loose part between the part and the socket. Then, use a utility knife to trim the ends of the wedges flush with the surrounding wood surface. As you hammer them in, equalize the pressure from the wedges. If you don’t place them carefully, the wedges can throw the part out of alignment, further weakening the joint.

If appearance is more important, drill a 1/16-inch hole through the side of the joint and the loose part. Then create a metal pin from a 10d common or finishing nail. Cut off the head of the nail with a hacksaw. Apply a drop or two of glue to the drilled hole and drive in the nail. Countersink the pin with a nail set or another 10d nail, and fill the hole with wood filler.


Where appearance is important, drill through the side of the joint into the loose part. Pin the joint with a nail through the drilled hole.

Broken Back Rails, Spindles, and Slats

Chairs with horizontal rails across the back have rails mortised into the side posts, while chairs with vertical spindles or slats have these parts mortised into a curved or straight top rail. Rails, spindles, and slats can all be replaced easily, but replacement may be fairly expensive – don’t bother if the chair isn’t worth the investment. To replace a broken or missing part, have a millwork or woodworking shop custom-make a new part.

First, disassemble the chair back. It will likely be joined at the legs, seat, and rail. Carefully pry the joints apart, removing any nails or screws. You only need to disassemble the joints that require repair. It’s usually not necessary to completely disassemble the piece to access the part. If you’re unsure if you’ll be able to reassemble the chair, number the parts as you take them apart.

Take the broken part and a similar undamaged part to the millwork or woodworking shop for duplication. Carefully remove the old adhesive from the joints. Then reassemble the chair with the new part, gluing each joint. Clamp the chair with strap clamps until the adhesive dries, and then refinish the chair completely.

For outdoor chairs with wooden slats, replacing a broken slat can be done by cutting and shaping a piece of wide molding or a board to fit the frame. If the slats are fastened with screws, drill screw holes in the new slat and attach it with the old screws or matching new ones. If they’re fastened with rivets, drill the old rivets out and replace them with self-tapping or panhead sheet metal screws. In the case of broken nonstructural rungs and spindles, apply glue to each piece and join them carefully. A piece of wax paper should be wrapped around the glued part and bound with cord to keep the part aligned properly. Clamp the chair firmly with a strap clamp or a rope and let the glue dry completely. For broken arms, legs, and other structural parts, a dowel (wooden peg) can be used to reinforce the broken pieces together. A 1-inch-deep hole is drilled in the center of one end and at a right angle to the break to mark the dowel location. A 16d nail with the head cut off is inserted in the hole, point out. The point of the nail should protrude only slightly above the broken surface. The dowel is then inserted and glued into the hole in one end, and then glued to the protruding dowel and the face of the break before pushing the other piece of the broken part onto the dowel. Mending plates can be used to reinforce the break where doweling isn’t possible or extra strength is needed.

To fix a broken part, apply glue to the break and let it dry completely. Then, add a mending plate that is long enough to cover the break and narrow enough to be inconspicuous. Use a plate with screw holes beveled to fit flathead screws. Place the plate on the inside or least noticeable part of the mended area. If appearance is not important, secure the plate directly over the break with flathead brass screws. For a more discreet repair, mortise the plate into the wood. Trace the outline of the plate onto the wood with a scratch awl or sharp nail and score the wood along the outline with a series of straight chisel cuts. The mortise should be about 1/4 inch for most plates. Cross-score the wood at right angles to the outline, then remove the excess wood with a chisel, working with the grain of the wood and removing only a little wood at a time. For extra strength, reinforce the break with a steel mending plate. Mortise out the plate area with a chisel, score the outline first, then cut out the excess wood. When the mortise is smooth and level, glue the mending plate into place, and pre-drill the screw holes. Test the plate for fit and make any necessary adjustments. Drill pilot holes for the screws and coat the mortise with a thin layer of glue. Dip the screws in glue, position the plate in the mortise, and drive the screws firmly in. Let the glue dry for several days, and then cover the mending plate evenly with wood filler or a veneer patch. Finish the filler to match the wood. Seat repairs will be covered in the next section, as it is the part of a chair that undergoes the most wear and tear.

FAQ

1. What are some common problems with wooden furniture?

Common problems with wooden furniture include scratches, dents, water damage, stains, and loose joints. These issues can make furniture look unsightly and reduce its functionality.

2. How can I fix scratches on wooden furniture?

Minor scratches can be fixed by using a wood filler or a wax stick. Simply apply the filler or wax to the scratch and smooth it out with a putty knife or cloth. For deeper scratches, sand the area and apply a matching stain or paint to blend it in.

3. What should I do if my wooden furniture is water damaged?

If your wooden furniture is water damaged, first remove any excess moisture with a dry cloth. Then, lightly sand the affected area and apply a wood conditioner to restore the wood’s natural oils. If the damage is severe, you may need to replace the affected piece.

4. How can I fix loose joints on wooden furniture?

To fix loose joints, first disassemble the affected area and clean any old glue or debris. Apply wood glue to the joint and clamp it together until the glue dries. Once dry, sand the joint and reassemble the furniture.

5. Can I repair a split or cracked piece of wood on my furniture?

Yes, you can repair a split or cracked piece of wood on your furniture. First, clean the area and apply wood glue to the split or crack. Use a clamp to hold the wood together until the glue dries. Once dry, sand the area and apply a matching stain or paint to the wood.

6. How can I remove stains from wooden furniture?

For surface stains, mix equal parts vinegar and olive oil and apply the mixture to the affected area. Let it sit for several hours before wiping it off with a clean cloth. For deeper stains, use a wood bleach and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

7. What can I do if my furniture has a bad odor?

If your furniture has a bad odor, first remove any debris or dust. Then, sprinkle baking soda on the affected area and let it sit for several hours. Vacuum up the baking soda and repeat as needed. You can also use a fabric freshener spray to mask the odor.

8. How can I prevent future damage to my wooden furniture?

To prevent future damage to your wooden furniture, avoid placing it in direct sunlight or near sources of heat and moisture. Use coasters and placemats to protect the surface from scratches and spills. Regularly dust and clean the furniture with a soft cloth.

9. Can I paint or refinish my wooden furniture?

Yes, you can paint or refinish your wooden furniture. First, clean and sand the surface to remove any old finish or paint. Then, apply a primer and paint or stain as desired. Allow the furniture to dry completely before using it.

10. How can I maintain my wooden furniture?

To maintain your wooden furniture, regularly dust and clean it with a soft cloth. Use a wood conditioner to prevent the wood from drying out or cracking. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners.

11. When should I consider hiring a professional to repair my wooden furniture?

If your wooden furniture has significant damage or requires complex repairs, it is best to hire a professional. A professional can assess the damage and provide the necessary repairs to restore your furniture to its original condition.

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