Repair Wood Furniture: Dismantle and Reassemble Chairs

Make necessary repairs to antique wooden chairs with these step-by-step instructions for dismantling and reassembling chairs.

By Jeff Jewitt

Old furniture, whether a family heirloom or consignment shop find, is often better made than anything you can buy today. Transform your old or new-to-you furniture into beautiful, functional pieces with Refinishing Furniture Made Simple (The Taunton Press, 2012) by Jeff Jewitt. The following excerpt will teach you how to take apart and reassemble a mortise-and-tenon constructed chair.

How to Dismantle a Chair

This wobbly, old chair was made using mortise-and-tenon construction. There were nails in almost every joint. Always look for hidden nails if a joint doesn’t come apart easily, otherwise you’ll damage the piece even further.

label chair parts
Mark all the parts using masking tape. Make sure you use “left,” “right,” “top,” etc.

remove fasteners from chair
2. Remove all visible fasteners
such as screws from the glue blocks. If you see a screw-hole cover like the one here, pry it off to expose the screw.

loosen stubborn parts for removal
Gently tap stubborn parts with a rubber-faced mallet. Glue blocks may need a gentle whack with a hammer to break the glue joint.

take chair apart at joints
Try to take the joints apart by hand, wiggling a little. If necessary, use a rubber hammer.

remove hidden fasteners and hardware
Check for hidden fasteners if the joints don’t release, especially hidden nails. You may have to remove some wood around the nail to pry it out.

dismantle chair piece by piece
6. Take the chair apart in stages;
for example, take the front legs and stretchers off first, then the side rails. After that, you can take apart the back legs, seat rail, the crest, the splat, and so on.

How to Assemble a Chair

Reassemble the chair in the reverse order in which you took it apart, creating subassemblies. Get your clamps, glue, and other materials ready in advance so you don’t have to look for them after the glue is spread.

repair cracks
Repair any cracks or splits, whether the result of hard use or from the dismantling process.

clean off glue residue
Clean off the glue you can see on the wood surfaces and then wipe well around the joints using a rag and water.

begin reassembling chair
Put the piece back together using logical subassemblies. In this case, I reassembled the back legs, seat rail, crest, and back splat first. Then I reassembled the front legs and stretcher.

allow new glue to set
4. Allow the glue in the subassemblies to set
for an hour or longer. Then remove the clamps and assemble the chair. Attach the front to the back using the side rails. Make sure you do this on a level surface and check that the chair doesn’t wobble. If it does, you can correct the wobble by angling the clamps to compensate.

install glue blocks with original screws
Install the glue blocks last, using glue and the original screws.

More from Refinishing Furniture

Repair Wood Furniture: Regluing a Tabletop
Repair Wood Furniture: How to Steam Out Dents

Refinishing Furniture Made Simple book cover

Cover courtesy The Taunton Press

Reprinted with permission from Refinishing Furniture Made Simple by Jeff Jewitt and published by The Taunton Press, 2012. Photographs by Gary Junken.

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