Furniture Tips and Tricks

July 1998


Got the chairs apart, did we? No mashed fingers or broken parts? Good! Now let’s make ‘em like new again.

You’ll need a pocket knife with a small blade; an 8 ounce bottle of Elmer’s Carpenters Wood glue; the shortest coil available of sash cord (ask for it by name). This looks like clothes line, but it isn’t. Sash cord is the woven cotton rope that was used to hold sash weights in old fashioned windows. If you have a choice, get the larger diameter. Get 3 feet of 5/8" dowel rod. Cut this into 1 foot lengths. You’ll also need an old cotton T shirt cut up into small rags, a section of newspaper, some Q-tips, and a small pan of water.

Hold the knife at a right angle to the dowel/tenon and scrape the old glue off. Don’t cut - scrape. Get it off all the dowels and the tenon ends of the stretchers. Using the small blade, scrape the glue out of the holes that held the dowels and tenons. Again, scrape. You don’t want to cut the wood down, just remove the old glue. If the joints are not cleaned properly, the new glue will not adhere.

Using your masking tape markers as guides, put the chair back together. No glue, yet. This is a dry fit, to make certain you’ve thoroughly cleaned the holes and not left any burrs elsewhere that will hinder the assembly when you do glue it. Correct anything that doesn’t fit.

Whether you’re working with formal chairs (cushion seat) or dinette chairs (legs attach directly to the seat) here’s the assembly process. Fold the newspaper to get a square 4 or more layers thick. Put a puddle of glue on it about the size of a silver dollar (ask your grandfather).

For dinette chairs: using a Q-tip, spread the glue (you want to get a film of glue. If the glue runs at all, you’ve got too much.) over the tenons of the stretcher and into the holes the tenons go into. If there is a left to right stretcher, fit it into the two side stretchers first, then insert them into the legs. Spread the glue over the leg tenons and their matching holes in the seat, and insert them. On a chair that was just slightly loose before, you may have to use the mallet to drive them in. You should give them a good tap, anyway, just to make certain you drive them home. Set the chair upright on a flat surface. Take a length of sash cord long enough to go around the chair at the feet, and tie a knot in it. The cord should be slightly loose. Insert a section of dowel rod between the cord and the chair, and turn it clockwise to form a tourniquet. Keep turning it to tighten the cord and drive the tenons completely into place. Angle the dowel so it catches on the chair seat (or a stretcher) and can’t unwind. Dip a rag in the water and wipe off the squeezed out glue. Dry the joints with another rag. Set it aside overnight.

For formal chairs, spread the glue as before to attach the front rail to the two front legs. Assemble stretchers as above, then put the side stretchers into the front legs. Put the side rails into the front legs. Lay the chair on its back on the floor. Position the stretchers and side rails over the holes and drive them into place with the mallet. Set the chair upright on a flat surface. Take two sections of sash cord; one around the rails, the other around the legs at the stretchers. Wind up both with dowel rods uniformly to tighten the joints. Wipe off glue as before and leave to dry. Corner blocks can be replaced after the frame has set up.

Be sure to put the chairs on a flat surface while tightening. This insures that all four feet meet the floor. As always, if you have any questions, just drop a line to me at the Enterprise. Next time we’ll tackle something a little less ambitious, but useful, nevertheless.


George Utley has about 20 years experience in furniture
repair/refinishing/manufacturing. His last full-time job in the industry was
as quality control supervisor for a Virginia mfg. producing solid walnut and
cherry period pieces (Queen Anne & Hepplewhite).

George Utley