So if you have been following my series on my adventures in upholstery, then you know I had this crazy idea to reupholster three chairs that are currently slated to go into my living room remodel – two garage sale finds for a whopping $12 for the pair and my husband’s old wingback. Besides refusing to being beaten by the industrial strength monster of a sewing machine and the endless task of removing staples, a repair lay in the future for one of my garage sale finds.
My cheap $5 channel back chair promised a repair when I bought it. Despite many on going battles back and forth between my husband and I on its ability to be salvaged, I insisted on trying. It reminded me of a chair my grandmother had and looked like it could be the perfect base for my transitional style blending traditional lines with more modern fabrics.
Boy was this battle one I was so glad I fought. When my teacher saw the chair, she was in love with the old and well loved channel back. The core of the frame was solid strong hardwood – a pain for removing staples but awesome in terms of quality. Repair or no repair, this was no disposable piece of furniture. But once it was stripped to its bones, the break was bad. I really mean bad. Or should I say, they were bad.
There were two breaks. The first break was at a joint (arm to leg and seen in the above photo on the right) and along the leg itself at the midway point. The second break was another joint – the finishing piece of the face of the chair and the arm at the screw (this is the spoke that is broken on the left in the photo). While these were bad, they were not impossible to repair. I had two options. Option one: Take a woodworking class and remake the leg and finished pieces. Option two: use brackets, splints and wood glue to repair the damage. Bring on the brackets and glue!!!
First Step: Fix the Major Break
This was a three part process. Using Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue, I generously lathered the combination break on the leg of the chair. Fitting this piece in place like a jigsaw, I used several clamps to hold the break in place. I’ll admit getting the clamps in the right place so that they held the break together without shifting it was difficult. After 24 hours of drying and curing, on to the next part.
With a small strip of plywood in hand, I was now set to reinforce the leg where the break had occurred. Since you should not screw into a break, I used a piece that was almost the entire length of the upper back portion of the leg. A couple of keys to the right support piece (also called a splint) were to find or cut a piece to be the same width as the leg and to make sure you left gap spaces at the top and the bottom of the splint. If I didn’t allow for both of these key elements, then when it came time to put the fabric back on the chair, I would be left with unnecessary wads of fabric.
In order to add my splint to the chair, I first had to cut the strip to size. Slight confession: When I don’t have the right tool for the job, I improvise, a fact about me that irritates my husband. In this case, my table saw was not set up and doing so was no easy task. Thinking cap on – hubby has a table vice and I have a jigsaw and it doesn’t have to be a prefect cut as it will never be seen…cue the light bulb above my head as an idea struck. So not the best way to cut it to size but using some improvisation, I cut my strip.
Because the chair was still in a fragile state, I wanted to predrill my holes. So first, I aligned the strip on the chair leg and marked its position. I used a sharpie as no one will ever see it. Then I generally marked where I wanted my first two screws – one top and one bottom. The I predrilled holes in the strip of plywood. I screwed the screws in to the plywood until the tips were through, creating a marking tool. Then, I aligned the strip with my guide marks on the chair leg and pressed into the wood of the leg. This left to marks so I knew where to predrill my holes in the leg. Once done, I scratched up the side of the leg and the side of the plywood that would face each other and added glue. I screwed the plywood strip in place, added two more screws for good measure and allowed it to dry another 24 hours.
Tip: Most people think you need to smooth something down before you glue. And that makes logical sense but its not quite right. Actually, you want to do the opposite. By scratching up the two surfaces that will be adjoined, you give the glue something to adhere to.
The last step for fixing the major break was pretty easy. I simple used an L-bracket to stabilize the leg further by attaching it to the leg and the arm of the chair. Most important part was to make sure I didn’t go through the break itself. I did add glue to all my screws to help them have that much more traction and the chair to be that much sturdier.
Next Step: Put the Finishing Piece Back On
So this proved a little tricky only because of the clamps, or rather where to clamp. Part one was to first glue the piece back in place. Again, I scrapped the two adjoining pieces and clamped them in place…or at least I tried, and tried, and tried, and got frustrated and finally I clamped in the right place. Again, I let it sit for 24 hours to full dry.
As for the next portion of my repair, let’s file that part under the Oops category. So in my rush to finish, I applied glue to another location on the finish portion of the chair in hopes of doing two steps in one. When I realized that wasn’t going to work, I wipe the glue off and went back to focusing on the first part. However, after 24 hours I came back to find my not supposed to be glued in place part, glued in place…Oops!
So I carefully chiseled the part off the chair and chiseled off the excess dried glue confident in the knowledge that I had created more work for me than necessary…something I didn’t need that day. I glued it in the right place this time and attached a small bracket to the finished spindle part and the arm of the chair. Only one more thing to do and the repair was finished.
Last Step: Reinforce Joints
Based on the degree and location of the breaks, my teacher and I concluded that someone must had dropped the chair at some point. It was clear that the chair had gone through a previous reupholstering and repairs. It had definitely seen better days. But since it was bare bones and all, I reinforced each joint with the TiteBond III wood glue. The joints were already secured with the proper nails, screws and staples but the glue just gives it that added hold. So after another 24 hour drying period, it was ready for the next step in my on-going upholstery adventures. Refinishing! But that is for another post.