Chair Repair Options

A quick discussion of different approaches to re-fastening or reinforcing a loose chair leg. July 20, 2011

I do a lot of furniture repairs; very often, loose chair legs which are not easily removed. I drill a hole at an angle between the leg and frame (like toe-nailing), then glue in a dowel, usually 1/4". This works well (no returns after lots of these). But would Kreg screws work better? It would be faster, but I've always thought screws would eventually loosen. I would sometimes have to drill without the jig, where the frames/legs are curved. But I do that anyway with the dowels.

By the way, how loose can that dowel be? If I drill 1/64 oversize it seems a little loose. If I use 1/4" drill for 1/4" dowels, I often can't knock them in all the way.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor N:
Ever try a stepped dowel? We use them a lot and have great results. As for drilling on a curve, we use a block cut on an angle for a guide clamped to the piece. Stepped dowels do cost money. So we only use them where necessary.

From contributor U:
I've repaired dozens and dozens of chairs, from 150 year old antiques to brand new ones right of the box. Probably 4 out of 5 failed because of inadequately glued dowel joints and/or a lack of corner blocks. I fix most of these by scraping off as much glue residue as possible and regluing the joint with 5 minute epoxy. Then I drill through the parts at an angle as you have been doing, but I use a 9/64 taper point bit with a countersink, and then use a pan head pocket screw, like you'd use for a face frame. These are less likely to split small stretchers or aprons. If the chair parts are too small, or the screw head might be visible because there wasn't a concealed location to drill, I'll use a small trim head screw with a #1 square drive head. I fill any exposed holes with epoxy tinted to match the finish. If the chair is lacking corner blocks, I'll make and install some. I've never had a callback on any of these repairs (but I've had a lot of calls to fix more chairs).

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I've never tried step dowels. It seemed to me they're better used when visible from the finished side. Also, I could see that I'd maybe never get the expensive bit sharpened. And they are costly. I don't get how you use the angled block. I appreciate knowing that you use those dowels. I'll have to take another look at them.

From the original questioner:
I agree that a principle cause for loose legs is bad gluing; having no corner blocks is ridiculous. But also, I think it's in the nature of chairs to loosen because of the heavy stresses put on the joints, especially when people slide them around while sitting in them. And chairs without any bracing or rungs lower down on the legs (like most modern chairs) are especially prone to having the legs come loose or break.

If you're using the epoxy to re-glue the joint, then you must have taken it apart, something I'm reluctant to do, unless it's pretty much coming apart anyway. I think 5 minute epoxy is really more like 24 hour epoxy (total cure). I guess your method is pretty much using pocket screws - do you think that's as good as using 1/4" wood dowels? I got a Kreg kit recently. I guess I'll try it out soon.