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How to Repair Wooden Chairs and Fix Broken Stools

Updated on April 05, 2016

If you look at the discards out by the curb on trash pick-up day, you’ve probably noticed broken wooden chairs and stools awaiting their one-way trip to the municipal landfill.  It’s a shame how frequent this sight is, since in many cases a simple, basic repair could put these items back in service for many years.  In this Hub, I’ll show you how to do the most common repair, which is the replacement of a broken brace.

Busted!  This chair needs a brace.
Busted! This chair needs a brace.

Most wooden chairs, and nearly all bar stools, have legs which are connected by braces to form a rigid structure strong enough to support us safely. These braces are vulnerable—they are exposed to all sorts of accidental impacts, and it’s easy for people to put their full weight on them.  They are not designed to withstand that! But if a brace does break, the legs will soon follow suit unless the brace is repaired or replaced--the legs by themselves are not strong enough, nor rigid enough, to withstand sideways stress.

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Without the brace, sideways stress on the free leg has split it at the top.Similarly this chair.  This joint was reglued.
Without the brace, sideways stress on the free leg has split it at the top.
Without the brace, sideways stress on the free leg has split it at the top.
Similarly this chair.  This joint was reglued.
Similarly this chair. This joint was reglued.

The chairs illustrated in this Hub are particularly easy, for a couple of reasons.  (I've fixed two of them now.)  First, the braces are simple, plain wooden bars which are easily replicated by the home handyman. The finish helps, too; the black paint is easy to match and covers up wood filler and screw heads admirably.

Conversely, ‘spindle’ braces need a wood lathe to duplicate, and stain finishes can be harder to match, as well as requiring more refined woodworking to achieve 'invisible' joinery.

Even these relatively clean-lined and simple Swedish Windsor chairs would be harder to repair.  Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Even these relatively clean-lined and simple Swedish Windsor chairs would be harder to repair. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Begin by removing the remains of the old brace. In this case, simply sawing them off flush with the leg was sufficient. I had decided that for such a utilitarian chair there was no need to attempt an exact repair, which would involve crafting a brace with peg ends to insert into the legs. Rather, I planned to use deck screws to make a simple yet strong joint.

Closeup of sawn brace end at leg.
Closeup of sawn brace end at leg.

Unfortunately, the chair had been used for some time after the brace broke, so the leg itself was also damaged, as shown earlier. This damage was addressed by gluing the split wood at the top of the leg. I used a good woodworker’s glue, fitting the damaged areas carefully back together and clamping the leg back in the correct position.

Glued portion of chair leg.
Glued portion of chair leg.

The next step was to make the replacement brace. I used a scrap piece of pine, already the correct width and thickness. The undamaged brace on the other side of the chair provided a handy template, allowing me to simply trace the necessary cut lines for correct length and angles for the ends. No measuring required!

Replacement piece, cut to length and ready to go.
Replacement piece, cut to length and ready to go.

With the brace cut to size—and the glue on the leg repair fully cured, of course!—you are ready to proceed with installation of the new brace. Start by drilling pilot holes for the screws. It’s best to drill from the inside of the leg out. That lets you accurately match the location of the holes in leg and brace, even if you drill the hole in the leg at an angle that's less than perpendicular—and if you don’t match those holes, the brace won’t be centered in the leg.

Drilling a pilot hole from the inside surface out.
Drilling a pilot hole from the inside surface out.

(By the way, if you haven’t done this before, a good rule of thumb is that the pilot holes should be roughly the width of the shank of your screws—that way, the hole is small enough that the threads of the screw have wood to ‘grab,’ but the large enough that the solid central part of the screw won’t have too much wood to ‘push aside.’ Pilot holes increase accuracy of placement, decrease the effort to drive the screw, and greatly decrease the risk of splitting the wood.)

Screw roughly fit into the leg.  I haven't yet countersunk this surface--though I should have, as now the screw will have to be completely removed to countersink!
Screw roughly fit into the leg. I haven't yet countersunk this surface--though I should have, as now the screw will have to be completely removed to countersink!

You may also wish to ‘countersink’ the screws in the legs.  If you countersink them deeply, so that the screw heads are, say, a quarter-inch or more below the surface of the leg, you can fill the hole with wood filler.  When sanded and painted, this is basically an invisible repair.  In the case of this basic utilitarian chair, I was content to countersink so that the head of the screw was flush with the surface and simply paint the screw head.

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Checking the diameter of the drill bit before countersinking.Countersink complete, awaiting screw.
Checking the diameter of the drill bit before countersinking.
Checking the diameter of the drill bit before countersinking.
Countersink complete, awaiting screw.
Countersink complete, awaiting screw.

To countersink deeply, use a regular bit a little larger than the diameter of the screw head—the exact dimension isn’t critical, as you are going to fill the hole anyway.  If you are countersinking flush, you can use a bit specifically made for the purpose, or you can use a regular bit of the same diameter as the screw head.  (If you do the latter, I’d suggest running the drill in reverse to allow a more gradual and controllable rate of wood removal.  Otherwise, you will likely find that you are countersinking deeply after all!)

Countersunk screw holding brace.
Countersunk screw holding brace.

No style points for you if you countersink simply by overtightening the screw so that it digs itself into the wood!  This tactic can work if the wood is soft enough, but runs the risk of splitting the wood, or of stripping the hole so that the screw threads no longer hold.  Trust me on that!

Drilling back into brace end.  Note use of bar clamp to help secure the brace for drilling.
Drilling back into brace end. Note use of bar clamp to help secure the brace for drilling.

Be careful that the brace is solidly against the leg as you screw the joint together.  You don’t want any gap between the two pieces, as it will compromise both appearance and strength.  I like to add a little supplementary strength to the joint by gluing.  I really don’t think it contributes all that much--but the glue should help keep the brace from rotating, and requires nearly no additional effort or expense.  So why not?

New unpainted brace in place.
New unpainted brace in place.

With the new brace in place—and the glue cured, if you’ve chosen to use it—you’re ready to finish the repair.  Sand carefully so you have a good surface to paint or stain, and apply the finish of your choice using a small brush.  (Alternately, you might choose to repaint the whole chair, in which case spray-painting becomes an option.  But that would be a subject for another Hub!)

Ready for painting.
Ready for painting.

Ah, the satisfaction! An hour or less of pleasant work, all told, and you saved yourself maybe twenty to fifty bucks (plus environmental costs.)

And it's not as if you have to tell everybody just how easy it was!

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    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 5 years ago from Houston TX

      i actually liked this post!! very well written and very informative. keep up the good work. Nice pic posted here.

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 5 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      crysotolite, thanks for dropping by to check this Hub out! I appreciate the kind words.

      See you 'round!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      A very helpful and informaive hub. Thank you.

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 5 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks in turn, "Hello!" You are always such a gracious Hubber!

    • webreview 5 years ago

      Great Hub! I love how you used pictures to explain how to fix a chair. Very well done!

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 5 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks, webreview! I'm pleased to "meet" you, and look forward to reading your Hubs, too!

    • Lyn.Stewart profile image

      Lyn.Stewart 5 years ago from Auckland, New Zealand

      Love it thank you ... I like learning how to fix things that others throw away. perhaps because it is all I can normally afford to do.

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 5 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks, Lyn. I so relate to that comment!

      The level of casual waste in our society is quite surprising, if one can 'step outside' for a while to look at what we routinely do with fresh eyes. Paper, for example; there are places in the world where it isn't thrown away unless and until every inch is written upon. (That used to be true everywhere; Google the term 'palimpsest,' to see what I mean.)

      I take a cue from that and reuse our printer paper for note paper by writing on the back, and by making firestarters for our wood stove. (I also reuse household grease of all sorts for this application.) Yet that doesn't come close to accounting for all the paper we throw in the recycle bin.

    • hellovictoria profile image

      ToriM 2 years ago from Atlanta

      I really needed this! I have a few chairs that I need to fix which I bought off Craigslist a while ago. the previous owner did a shoddy job of trying to "fix" them, so now that I have the time I have been looking for the way to do it properly...I really like these chairs but they are so unstable right now because of the bad repair work! I'll definitely be coming back to this tutorial in a few days when I fix mine! Thank you!

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 2 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Hey, thanks! Hope it's helpful. And good luck with the repairs!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub on how to fix wooden chairs and stools and how to not to fix them. This is very detailed with the photos in easy steps to do at home.

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 15 months ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks, Kristen! I may have an update soon, if I can find the time to get to it...

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 15 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're welcome Doc Snow. No worries.

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