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Chair repair 101

There are those who believe that repairing a wooden chair is a task that requires a barrel full of exotic tools, special glues and adhesives and, most of all, special expertise. Not so. The entire cost to repair a set of six dining room chairs would be under $15. In fact, you would probably spend less than $50 to repair every chair in your home. Mind you, a broken part can cause the repair cost to rise exponentially. That being said, we will only discuss how to repair a loose, wobbly chair.

Informal dining chairs have legs that are not perpendicular to the floor and all the joints are usually bonded together with glue. This includes the point where the legs join the bottom of the seat. Formal dining room chairs usually have legs that are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor. Also, the cushioned seat is attached with screws, and the corners of the frame immediately below the seat are held together with a block that is screwed and/or glued in place. Most chairs will fit into one or the other of these two categories, or perhaps combine features of both.

To dismantle a chair you will need the following: a one-pound rubber mallet, a roll of 1-inch masking tape, a pencil and a screwdriver.

The masking tape is used to identify each of the parts being removed so that they can be correctly reassembled (For example: RR = right rear, LF = left front, etc.). Mark all pieces: the legs, the stretchers are the horizontal pieces that connect the legs to each other (front to back and side and stretcher to stretcher). Remember to mark everything so that its position and direction are clear. Mark the stretchers so you can tell its location, which surface faces front, back, left or right. Also, which end of the stretcher faces left (or right). The pieces may look the same at both ends, but often they aren't.

With a formal chair, remove the upholstered seat and the screws that hold the wooden corner blocks. Remember to first mark each block (RR, LF, etc.).

Once every part has been marked, you can begin to pull apart each component. Begin with the stretchers. Gently wiggle and pull at the same time to facilitate a removal that will not damage the connection. The mallet should only be used if wiggling doesn't work, but, when the mallet is needed it should be used gently. It is important to strike as close to the joint as possible.

Next, remove the legs. They will loosen as the stretchers are removed and may even fall out. On an informal chair, turn the seat upside down, striking the seat bottom while holding the leg to be removed. Remember to strike at the joint. Have a helper ready to catch the seat.

*Special note: Any joint that requires more than a firm tap should be left alone. You don't need to fix something that isn't broken. Tools for reassembly are: small pocket knife, cotton rope, carpenter's glue, cotton rags, several sheets of newspaper or a couple of paper plates, cotton swabs and water.

Use the knife to scrape off the glue from each part and to clean the glue from within the holes that receive each part. The new glue will not stick unless all joints are bare wood. Next, dry fit all parts to make sure that they have been properly cleaned and that they are burr free. Then, place a dab of glue on the paper -- about an inch-and-a-half in diameter. Use the cotton swabs to spread the glue on/into all male and female joints and quickly reassemble the pieces tapping them snugly into place with the mallet. Once fully assembled use the rope to snugly lash the legs together. Finally, use a wet rag to clean each connection and then use a fresh rag to thoroughly dry. Place the chair, legs down, onto the floor and place about 15 pounds of weight onto the seat. Wait at least 24 hours for the glue to dry. Ensure that the chair legs are not on a wavy surface. A flat surface will ensure that all four legs will meet the floor evenly.

A chair that's in good repair looks prettier than "a glob of butter melting on a stack of wheat cakes!"


James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.