I have dabbled in home improvement projects and like giving advice to others on what not to do.
Trash Day Treasure
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 article, I’ll show you how to do the most common repair, which is the replacement of a broken brace.
Wooden Chairs and Stool Design
Most wooden chairs, and nearly all bar stools, have legs that 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.
Spotting the Difference
The chairs illustrated in this article are particularly easy, for a couple of reasons. (I've fixed two of them now.) First, the braces are simple, plain wooden bars that 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.
How to Repair Wooden Chairs and Fix Broken Stools
- Remove what remains of the old brace.
- Use a good woodworker's glue.
- Make the replacement brace.
- Drill pilot holes for the screws.
- ‘Countersink’ the screws in the legs.
- Finish and stain it.
1. Remove What Remains of the Old Brace
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.
2. Use a Good Woodworker’s Glue
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.
3. Make the Replacement Brace
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!
4. Drill Pilot Holes for the Screws
With the brace cut to size—and the glue on the leg repair fully cured, of course!—you are ready to proceed with the 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 the 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.
5. ‘Countersink’ the Screws in the Legs
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.
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!)
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!
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?
6. Finish and Stain
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!)
Have a Seat!
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!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on April 16, 2018:
Thanks for the tip, Antonetta! (Hope I've correctly inferred your given name, there!)
antonettakowalewski on April 15, 2018:
I've found awesome plans on Stodoys website. just check that out on google
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on November 30, 2017:
You are welcome, shannon! Thanks for taking a moment to comment.
shannon on November 30, 2017:
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 19, 2015:
You're welcome Doc Snow. No worries.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on October 19, 2015:
Thanks, Kristen! I may have an update soon, if I can find the time to get to it...
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 18, 2015:
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 (author) from Camden, South Carolina on April 11, 2014:
Hey, thanks! Hope it's helpful. And good luck with the repairs!
ToriM from Atlanta on April 11, 2014:
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 (author) from Camden, South Carolina on April 25, 2011:
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.
Lyn.Stewart from Auckland, New Zealand on April 24, 2011:
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 (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 16, 2011:
Thanks, webreview! I'm pleased to "meet" you, and look forward to reading your Hubs, too!
webreview on March 15, 2011:
Great Hub! I love how you used pictures to explain how to fix a chair. Very well done!
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 13, 2011:
Thanks in turn, "Hello!" You are always such a gracious Hubber!
Hello, hello, from London, UK on March 13, 2011:
A very helpful and informaive hub. Thank you.
Doc Snow (author) from Camden, South Carolina on March 12, 2011:
crysotolite, thanks for dropping by to check this Hub out! I appreciate the kind words.
See you 'round!
Emma from Houston TX on March 11, 2011:
i actually liked this post!! very well written and very informative. keep up the good work. Nice pic posted here.