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Fix a Wobbly Chair: Reglue a Wooden Chair

How to disassemble a wobbly chair and reglue it

FH03NOV_WOBCHA_01-2Family Handyman
Knock a wobbly wooden chair apart, clean up the joints and then reglue and clamp it to make it solid and sound again. It's an easy process if you follow our step-by-step instructions.

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Step 1: Disassemble the wobbly chair

Photo 1: Label the parts

Label all parts with masking tape and a marker. Number the rungs in an ascending pattern. Mark left and right as you face the front of the chair.

Photo 2: Disassemble the back

Hold chair upright about 1/2 in. off a padded workbench. Firmly strike seat downward, near each joint, with a deadblow hammer.

Photo 3: Remove screws and nails

Examine the legs closely and remove all screws and nails before hammering the legs apart. Save the screws for reassembly.

Photo 4: Dig out tough nails

File a groove in a flat screwdriver blade to dig out deeply driven nails. Repair the chisel damage later with matching wood filler.

Photo 5: Remove the legs

Hold chair upside down. Strike the seat firmly with a dead-blow hammer. Work around the chair, slowly loosening each joint.

A wobbly wooden chair means one thing: Joints between the legs and the rungs have broken free. Not just one—several. The only fix is to completely disassemble the legs and reglue them.

You’ll save time and avoid frustration if you label every part to make it easier to put them back together (Photo 1). Use a simple numbering and lettering pattern on the rungs, with all numbers and letters facing forward. Left and right are determined as you face the front of the chair.

A deadblow hammer (from a home center; Photo 2) is a must for easy chair disassembly. A rubber mallet bounces too much and a wooden mallet mars the surface. Some joints easily fly apart. Others refuse to let loose. Always start hammering lightly and increase the force as needed. You’ll clearly see, and feel, the joint move when the glue bond breaks.

Many chair legs have screws holding them to the seat. Not all are obvious; look for small screw or nail holes filled to match the chair finish. You’re likely to chip a rung when you miss a well-hidden nail or screw. (See “Oops!” below). You may have to dig out small nails (Photo 4).

Once in a while the seat may split or crack apart. But this only adds an extra glue and clamp step (plus 24 hours) before reassembly.

Oops!

If you miss a nail, you’ll probably split a rung when you knock the chair apart. Don’t worry. This “disaster” is easily repaired. The damage is more cosmetic than structural. Pull the nail with a locking pliers and then finish disassembling the chair. Save all wood chips for regluing and clamping later, at reassembly.

Step 2: Reglue, assemble and clamp the chair

Photo 6: Scrape out old glue

Remove all traces of old glue from the mortise-and-tenon joints using sandpaper (100-grit) or a plumber’s pipe-cleaning brush.

Photo 7: Apply new glue

Apply a light coating of yellow carpenter’s glue to the seat and leg joints. Coat mortise holes using a small brush. Reassemble quickly.

Photo 8: Clamp the legs and seat

Clamp the legs, rungs and seat all at once. Draw joints tight and wipe off glue drips with a damp cloth. Check its alignment on a flat surface.

Photo 9: Glue and clamp the back

Apply glue to the back and spindle parts and assemble. Align the back, positioning it with padded bar clamps. Allow 24 hours to dry.

Once in a while the seat may split or crack apart. But this only adds an extra glue and clamp step (plus 24 hours) before reassembly.

Your new glue won’t bond with the old glue. Sand down to bare wood to ensure a strong bond and a solid joint that will last (Photo 6). Our expert recommended a standard yellow carpenter’s glue. The key to reassembly is to work quickly, because the glue begins to dry in a few minutes. Lay out seat and leg parts in a clear order according to your labels.

We recommend using bar clamps because they have the power to draw stubborn joints together (Photo 9). Use as many as needed to pull all joints tightly together. When you’re finished, your chair should sit as solid as new.

Special problem: Tighten a badly worn joint

Apply epoxy

Clean the old glue from the mortise and tenon. Then fill the mortise about halfway with epoxy. Set chair leg (tenon) into mortise, align and clamp.

Some joints are just too damaged to allow for a tight glue joint, especially when repairing areas that have broken several times. One way to save the chair is to use 24-hour epoxy as both a filler and a bonding agent. Keep the joint upside down so the epoxy doesn’t run out. Scrape off excess epoxy while it’s still soft.

Special problem: Glue a split rung

Photo 1: Apply glue to the split

Wedge open a split rung with a wood wedge. Apply carpenter’s glue to split pieces using a small brush.

Photo 2: Clamp the split

Clamp the joint using padded clamps. Remove excess glue, first with a damp cloth and then with a sharp chisel 20 minutes later.

Split rungs can be repaired without disassembling the chair. Wedge open each split and apply ample glue to each split piece. Get glue as far down the split as possible without actually splitting the rung further.

Securely clamp the repair with padded clamps. Tighten until the glue oozes out and the split edges realign and pull tight. But don’t crank down too hard and squeeze all the glue out of the joint. Clean up excess glue with a damp cloth but don’t get moisture into joint. Wait about 20 minutes until the excess glue looks like soft licorice, then lift it off by gently scraping with a chisel or utility knife. For a completely invisible fix, you’ll have to sand the area with fine sandpaper, color-match the stain and revarnish.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Chisel
  • Clamps
  • Deadblow hammer
  • Hammer
  • Locking pliers

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 100-grit sandpaper
  • Epoxy
  • Wood filler
  • Wood glue