Restoring Wobbly Chairs - Advice needed


Recommended Posts

I'm back for more help! My wife and I were given a dining table and chair set as a wedding gift a few years ago. My wife grew up eating at this dining set, and it is all in remarkably good shape considering she had 4 siblings. While all the wood is in decent shape and structurally sound, a couple of the chairs have a bit of wobble in the joints. In taking one apart, they are held together with some screws and dowel joints. As far as I can tell, on each of the dowel joints, it looks like only one side of the dowel was glued. In most of the joints held together with screws, no glue was used and the mating faces have finish on them.

My thought is to clean up all of the mating faces for both the dowel and screw joints, then glue all of the joints. Or should I only glue the dowel joints? I'd probably use epoxy for more working time so I can fully reassemble the chair to ensure everything is properly aligned and fitted before clamping and letting it set.

Most of the dowel joints that you see taken apart below were easily taken apart by hand. Some seem to be held together pretty solid, maybe these were glued at some point. I'm not sure how hard I should try to take these apart to re-glue.




As always, I really appreciate your thoughts and input.

Edit: I did do a search to see if a similar topic had been covered, but didn't see anything. I've always wanted to make a chair (or set of chairs), but for now I'll stick with restoring these.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If the dowels weren't glued originally i'd try plugging the holes and re-drilling to remove the slop. Make a drill guide from a piece of hardwood that could be clamped in place to ensure the holes go back where they need to be. Another option could be to take some hand plane shavings and wrap them around the dowels to see if that removes some slop.

If you go the route of gluing the whole chair back together my initial thought was hide glue so a repair could be made in the future if needed. Otherwise i'd go epoxy for gap filling properties. I'd be concerned about getting glue on the chair that would cause me to have to refinish them. I'm not keen on refinishing entire pieces, i prefer touch up work which would be hard considering you might not know what the finish is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Each of the dowels is glued into one side of the joint (in the 3rd picture, that dowel is solidly attached to the piece shown, but the exposed dowel just slides into the other part of the chair arm). There doesn't seem to be much play at each dowel, but added up it creates an overall wobble. Even overall, there isn't a ton of play and they are far from falling apart or collapsing, but I figured it would be best to fix them before it gets worse. I think that normal wood glue would probably have enough gap filling properties. Not that I'd use it, because I don't want to refinish the chairs. And you're right, I have no idea what the finish is. I don't even know what type of wood they are :unsure:

I'm leaning toward epoxy, but am concerned about being able to make future repairs. I have zero experience with hide glue and that is at least partially influencing my decision making.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I expect the dowels would have been glued to start with, on both ends.  That glue was probably the weak point, and gave way.  If they were mine, I'd use epoxy.  Mask close to each joint, where it will show, to cut down on the amount of cleanup needed.  Take the tape off before the epoxy kicks, but only after you've gotten off all the runs you can.  First, buy a box of these wipes for first cleanup.

Wipe off what you can get after clamping, and then babysit it to catch it before it sets up completely, and trim any squeezeout that came after the initial wipe down with single edge razor blades, and finish with these wipes.

If you don't already have epoxy that you want to use, buy some from Golfworks while you're ordering the wipes.   Be careful to order clear, to be sure you don't get black, which is more normal for golf club work.  I use their epoxy, and West Systems, and both are equal to each other in quality.   Don't get quick setting epoxy from any source.

I don't recognize the wood, or finish either, so be careful with those wipes.   I've never ruined anything with those wipes, and they're nothing like as cutting as acetone, but that doesn't mean it's not possible to screw up some finish with them.

Those aren't the strongest joints for a chair anyway, but epoxy should make them stronger than they've ever been.   I would get the dowels out of the side that stayed glued in.   If you epoxy one side only, the other side will break down, and you'll have to do it all over again.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I managed to get all of the dowel joints apart. Two of the dowels split, looks like they had some angled grain. I’ll clean those up and drill out for new dowels. 

Looking back at the dowels closely, some of them look like there was a bit of glue at the end of the dowel, but that’s about it. Definitely not spectacular joints. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I decided to go with West Systems for this one. There are 6 chairs total, and this was one of the two with arms which we rarely use. I figured it would be a good one to start with. I cleaned up all of the mating surfaces and applied epoxy for the dowel joints and the screw joints (except for holding the seat cushion in place). I glued it up in three separate sessions. Even with the 206 hardener, I didn't have a lot of working time with it being ~90 degrees outside. It came together pretty well, even though clamping it was a struggle. I did end up with a couple runs. I did the last glue session late at night when it was much cooler, and I underestimated how long I needed to watch it. Luckily they easily peeled off of the finished portions of the chair.

This chair is rock solid now, I didn't realize these chairs could actually be this stiff. As I have time, I will repeat the process on the remaining chairs.

I appreciate all the advice and input. I'll try out hide glue on another project.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 11 months later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.