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Repairing Chairs

Reply: Not to discourage you, but repairing chairs can be frustrating. However, if you exercise care and patience you can return a failing chair back to service.

When repairing chairs the first thing that I do is mark every single joint so that each piece is returned to its original location/position. I use masking tape and number or letter each joint. Next you'll want to disassemble the chair. After disassembling the chairs, examine each tenon. The tenon must be whole. If it is broken, then check the mortise (socket) for the broken part and remove it; then repair the tenon by cutting and glueing a piece of wood to the tenon, followed by reshaping. Then you'll need to remove all existing glue. Hopefully, the existing glue is hide glue which is easy to remove. To test for hide glue, simply apply a little hot water to the glue. If it becomes gummy, then its hide. If it is indeed hide glue, then continue to apply hot water and remove all the glue. I actually fill the sockets with hot water and leave it for several minutes. When using water to remove glue, be sure to allow ample time for the wood to dry. Incidentally, hide glue has a distinct scent to it whereas white or yellow glue does not. If it is not hide glue, then you need to CAREFULLY remove the old glue by scraping, or whatever industrious means you can come up with. If you're really careful, a drill bit of the exact size of the socket can be used. Whether scaping or drilling, you must be very very careful so as to not enlarge the socket, thus producing a loose fit between the tenon and mortise. If the socket becomes enlarged, there are ways to compensate, but thats a differant matter.

When all the glue is removed and the tenons have been repaired, dry fit the chair back together. If you are satisfied with the assembly, then take it apart and begin regluing the joints. If your joints are really tight, you need to use a glue with a long open time and you must work swiftly. White glue works well for this. A super-tight joint has absolutely no play and will squeak when the tenon is rotated within the mortise. Repaired chairs, generally are not as tight as new construction. In this case, hide glue works well. If you don't have a glue pot, then fear not. Liquid hide glue is readily available.

Assemble and generously glue the medial (center) stretcher to the side stretchers first. Be sure to keep the side stretchers in the same plane.  Next, one by one, apply glue to the tenons and sockets for each leg. When the legs and stretchers are glued together, apply glue to the leg tenons and the seat sockets and assemble. If the joints are somewhat loose and you notice the tenons working their way out of the sockets, then you need to hold everything in place until the glue cures. Nylon web clamps work well for this, but bicycle inner tubes can also be used. Incidentally, on new traditionally made chairs, the construction is such that the stretchers keep everything in check while the glue cures. In other words properly made chairs don't need clamps. On repairs, however, anything is possible.

Depending on the fit, you may want to add a little insurance by reinforcing the joinery with wooded pegs. Small diameter dowels work well for this. As for the "good buy", It's difficult to say without seeing the chairs. Good Luck! pta, aka Woodsman. 4/28/99


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