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Chairs

This is divided in the following Chapters and you may skip to those Chapters by clicking them, or read the text from the start to finish.
The Chapters are;

The Order
The Order in which the work on Chairs should proceed.
Examining
The way in which we examine the work, before we proceed.
Pieces
Tips on how to glue or replace pieces
Gluing Chairs
Discusses the re gluing of different constructions.
Stripping
How to strip polished chairs efficiently.
Polishing
How to apply different types of stains and polishes.
Upholstery
How to Repair, Recover or Reupholster Chairs
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The Order

The first thing to remember when you are working on chairs is the ORDER in which to work, as without this one can go round and round on a chair without ever doing al the work.
First put the chair "back down" on your bench or table, this allows you to work on the front of the back up close. Then stand the chair up and facing you with the "right hand side" do the work required there. Now turn the chair so you face the front and do the work on the front section. The "left hand side" is next. Lastly lay the chair "facing down" to work on the back section, it is easy now to slip the back over the edge of your bench to do the underside, now you have been around the chair without fail. Thus having done the whole chair without going twice over the same place.
This seems a simple statement but without this order you will find that you are all over the chair but will always find places you had forgotten.
Do not forget that some chairs can get quiet damaged, when turned upside down, by the edge of your bench, so put a blanket over it.
Using this order will speed the work up immensely as you don't have to do things twice. I use this "rhythm" for years now for any work on chairs.
Of course there is also the order of things to do;

Examining
The way in which we examine the work, before we proceed.
Pieces
Tips on how to glue or replace pieces
Gluing Chairs
Discusses the re gluing of different constructions.
Stripping
How to strip polished chairs efficiently.
Polishing
How to apply different types of stains and polishes.
Upholstery
How to Repair, Recover or Reupholster Chairs

 
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Gluing Chairs

There are three main types of constructions in chairs namely;

Mortise and Tenon
Regluing of Chairs with Mortise and Tenon construction without removing the Tenons from their Mortise.
Regluing broken Chair rails without removing them.

 
Balloonback Chair Toprail Construction
The Repair and Regluing of Balloonback Chair Toprails.

 
Dowel Construction
The Redowelling of Chairs with out the removal of Upholstery.
The Removal of old dowels

 
Turned Construction
Regluing Chairs with turned spindles, such as Windsor, & Captains, -Chairs
Repair of broken Spindles

Each Construction requires a complete different approach so we will handle them each separately.
The sub-subjects are handled within their relative area.
 

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Mortise and Tenon

Most mortise and tenon constructions are easy to reglue and, when using the method described below, should be as strong or stronger than original.
A small hole, approx. 9/64" or 3.5 mm. is drilled diagonally along each side of the tenon, half trough the tenon side, half trough the mortise side, to the gap between the mortise bottom and the tenons end.
This is called a Glue-Channel.



Mortise and Tenon showing diagonally drilled hole (Glue-Channel)
Join.gif

Where is the Tenon?

Sometimes it is hard to find out where the tenons are, but there are some tell tale signs which are easy to follow.
Firstly look at all the constructions, there is bound to be one which is easy to spot and most times the others are at the same measurement.
Often there are scribe marks left by the marking gauge when the tenons where made, or the Tenons have shrunk and you can see where the Mortise are.
 
After all the holes are drilled in the chair's constructions, they must be cleaned.
Air, preferably from a compressor but hand bellows can do the trick, is now blown in each hole and if done properly, will exit trough the other holes thus cleaning it.
If the hole is considered very dirty methylated spirits may be washed trough the construction, by use of a syringe (without needle), I always use 5ml center nozzle syringes, and air is then used to remove the excess methylated spirits. Watch out for spilled methylated spirits as it can damage the polish.
Having done all the constructions in all the chair(s) makes us ready for gluing.


Using T-88 Structural Epoxy is best as this is a Strong deep bonding structural glue Specially designed to hold up in high stress as well as against water, gasoline and most chemicals.
It can be colored using iron oxide pigments to make it suit the color the color of the to be glued material, for Black however DO NOT USE lamp- or carbon black as it will interfere with the catalyst, use styrene black which is available from a boat repair place or fibre glass suppliers.
T-88 Structural Epoxy
T-88 Structural Epoxy

I mix enough epoxy to do all, or up to 12 chairs and if they are differing in color then I make the color matching the lightest and glue them first then change the color of the glue accordingly to the next lot.
If I have a lot of gluing to do than I use a 50 ml center nozzle syringe to fill the 5ml ones which I use for injecting the glue into the constructions.
I have turned a domed disk which fits easily in my hand and has a recess on the other side so that the syringe plunger won't slide this I use for pressing the plunger home this gives me more pressure and prevents blisters forming in my hand, those domes or a pattern for those domes, are available just E-mail.
Now with the syringes loaded, we put the chair upside down on the bench and inject the glue in the lowest furthest away place to reduce the change of getting glue all over you.
If a corner construction is drilled properly then keep injecting in one hole until the glue pops up out of the other three holes is de way to go.If it does not pop up then those holes should be separately injected, making sure that all the hole and preferably the whole construction is filled with glue.
When the construction is very loose than wriggling it while the glue is injected will help spread the glue all trough the construction.
If, by accident, a hole is drilled to deep and comes out trough the other side then tape should be put over the hole and a finger put on top of that while the glue is injected, so one can feel when the glue is reaching the other side, and one can stop before the whole chair is smeared under with glue.
To prevent the glue from running out the chair can be left upside down until the glue is hard. Make sure that no glue runs on the upholstery as it is impossible to remove once hard. While the Glue is soft it can be washed away with methylated spirits. This can also be used to clean the tools and hands.
Masking tape is the best to prevent the glue from running out, but as it will not stick on areas where glue is one should put tape on clean areas closest to the place to be covered and then one can put another row of masking tape closer to the area to be covered but still at least for one quarter on the clean last row of masking tape, until the area is completely sealed.
Masking tape can also be used to keep pieces in place, or backs and legs in the right position while the glue is hardening.
 
To use Masking tape as a clamp;
Stretch the tape when you stick it on and apply layer over layer until enough pressure is applied to keep the construction in place, put cross pieces of tape across the tape where it sticks to the wood, to prevent it from curling up and loosen, due to the pull of the stretched tape.


Using T-88 Structural Epoxy is best as this is a Strong deep bonding structural glue Specially designed to hold up in high stress as well as against water, gasoline and most chemicals.
It can be colored using iron oxide pigments to make it suit the color the color of the to be glued material, for Black however DO NOT USE lamp- or carbon black as it will interfere with the catalyst, use styrene black which is available from a boat repair place or fibre glass suppliers.
T-88 Structural Epoxy
T-88 Structural Epoxy

T-88 Structural Epoxyis a gap filling glue and doesn't need the same pressure that older type glues need and is therefore very good for old constructions whom don't fit properly anymore.
As a matter of fact if joints are very exact fits and to much pressure is applied then the expulsion of excess glue during the clamping stage will prevent the joint from bonding to full strength, as the epoxy in between the joint will get sucked into the timber and thereby actually starve the joint of epoxy.
It is therefore better to just clamp the joint tight enough to fit properly and be held in place.
 


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Balloon Back Chair Top Rails

The weakest area on a balloon back chair is without doubt the toprail. Where it joints the styles the wood grain runs virtually across the timber.
This results in many breakages especially there where the dowels finish as the gap of the dowel holes lessens the sectional area.
In my experience there is only one way to improve this and that is by replacing the wooden dowels with longer steel ones which penetrate as far as possible into the top rail angled towards the center and are sunk deeper into the styles. (See drawing below.)
For this construction ONLY use;


Using T-88 Structural Epoxy is best as this is a Strong deep bonding structural glue Specially designed to hold up in high stress as well as against water, gasoline and most chemicals.
It can be colored using iron oxide pigments to make it suit the color the color of the to be glued material, for Black however DO NOT USE lamp- or carbon black as it will interfere with the catalyst, use styrene black which is available from a boat repair place or fibre glass suppliers.
T-88 Structural Epoxy
T-88 Structural Epoxy

The method I use for this is as follows;
Firstly the top rail is removed from the styles. If the break is only on one side then the other is saw trough along the join with a fine Dovetail,-or Gentlemens Saw.
When all repairs are carried out on the toprail and new wooden dowels are glued in the cleaned dowel holes of the toprail and the styles, use epoxy for the bonding as this is necessary to strengthen the cross section of the toprail and styles.
The shoulders of the join are now checked for proper alignment and if necessary made to fit properly.
For the "Improved new construction" we use only one dowel on each side, but this dowel however is a steel one, I prefer 3/8 " WW or 10 mm steel endless thread as this doubles the effective glue area over smooth steel.
The Steel Dowel can be bent, thus allowing us to make an angled and deeper hole following the direction of the grain of the toprail.
The holes however still need to match and we do this by inserting an 1 1/4 " or 32mm nail into the style leaving the head protruding about 3/16 " or 5 mm.
This head is now cut of so that the nail still sticks out at least 3mm. or 1/8 ".
By aligning the toprail with the styles the nails position will be printed over into the toprail, after which the nail is removed from the style.
Using a screw end drill, which can be started in the nail hole, really give you a close fit. Warming the threads up just before gluing eases the glue flow and helps with the bonding of the steel.
Glue is inserted in the holes and allowed to bottom out, after which glue is put all over one half of the thread and after inserting this in the toprail the other half is then covered with glue and the toprail is fitted onto the styles.
I have found masking tape to be the best clamping agent as it can be made to pull in just about any direction. Pulling more then one layer over one another to increase the tension.
I used this method since 1975 on numerous chairs and have never had one back from which the toprail was broken again.
 



Left shows the original construction,
  • with the wooden dowels.


  • and

    Right shows the improved construction,
  • with the bent steel dowel.
  • Balloonback.gif

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    Dowel Construction

    Loose Dowel constructions can only be fixed by regluing the dowels. If the dowels are loose and the construction can be opened up then of course the easiest way is to remove the loose dowels scrape them clean (remove all glue and dirt) or replace them with new ones. The holes also should be cleaned to reveal fresh timber, either by redrilling with a slightly over sized drill or, using a small chisel, grooving the sides.
    As the glue we'll use is
    T-88 Structural Epoxy
    Specially designed to hold up against water, gasoline and most chemicals.

    T-88 Structural Epoxy

    T-88 Structural Epoxy
    an epoxy that has great gapfilling strength, so negating the loss of tightness in the construction.
    If some of the dowels are broken the following procedure should be adopted to prevent many problems later on.
    A hole measuring 1/2 to 3/4 of the dowel's diameter is drilled in the center of the broken dowel trough its full length.
    With a narrow chisel, say 2 to 3 mm. or 3/32" to 1/8" the side of the dowel is now carefully removed to the edge.
    The best way to do this is;
    Make a narrow channel in the dowel al the way to the bottom and remove the debris with longnose pliers.The other piece can then easily be broken into separated fragments from the glue joint, breaking away in full length pieces which are easily removed with longnose pliers.
    Thus removing the old dowel without damaging the hole.
    The hole can now be cleaned by redrilling the hole with the right size drill and the bond to the new dowel improved by making grooves in the side of the hole, thus not only exposing new timber but actually increasing the circumference of the hole.
    This method is much preferred over drilling a full sized hole.
    The difference in hardness of the timber of the dowel and the housing and the difference in grain direction, invariably make the drill travel of its intended path during the boring process.
    This augmented with the inaccuracy of the opposite hole will misalign the joint severely during gluing. Leading to stresses and twisted rails as well as uneven surfaces, requiring planing, sanding, staining and polishing, always leaving an untidy joint.
    Al this will have been avoided as the earlier approach is used.
     

    Skew Doweling

    Dowel constructions which cannot easily be separated, due to cross nailing or because of upholstery are simply redrilled and redowelled from underneath using the skew doweling method;
    A drill-guide is used by clamping it to the underside of the rails.
    An Extra Long Deep Hole Drill, such as Sutton's Tool Item No. 105 215, furnished with a stop ring, so as not to allow the drill to go to deep, is used to make the holes.
    For glue use;


    Using T-88 Structural Epoxy is best as this is a Strong deep bonding structural glue Specially designed to hold up in high stress as well as against water, gasoline and most chemicals.
    It can be colored using iron oxide pigments to make it suit the color the color of the to be glued material, for Black however DO NOT USE lamp- or carbon black as it will interfere with the catalyst, use styrene black which is available from a boat repair place or fibre glass suppliers.
    T-88 Structural Epoxy
    T-88 Structural Epoxy

    The holes are drilled approx. 0.5mm or 1/32" larger than the dowel to be used as this will allow the excess glue to escape therewith ensuring proper gluing of the dowel, this is the advantage of gluing with T-88 Structural Epoxy, it is stronger when the joints are not to tight.
    Glue is placed in the hole smearing the whole side and allowed to bottom out after which the dowel is inserted, if a dowel of a length longer than necessary is used, than the dowel can be pressed down with a clamp if needed.
    Note; It is wise to mark the depth of the hole on the dowel to be used by inseting this dowel into the hole before putting glue in the hole and marking the depth clearly on the dowel.
    Not only can one check the depth of penetration by holding the dowel next to the timber but one can also check its penetration during the actual gluing by referencing the mark.
    The next day after hardening of the glue one can saw the dowel level with the rail and stain if needed.
    Sometimes it is better to drill and glue one dowel first and then the second the following day as this keeps the join together, when there is a risk of disjointing, due to the drilling trough both old dowels.
    With a second Drill Guide a hole can be drilled between the other dowels after the glue is hardened, thus strengthening the construction.
     

    The Drill Guide

    A drill-guide is made, by drilling two parallel holes in a piece of timber, which is then cut to size to form the angle of 300 for the guide holes, and to length to make sure that the holes are drilled to the required depth.
     
    See drawings below.
    Skew Dowel Drill Guide If the picture doesn't show and you want a pattern then, E-mail.
    If you have difficulties with drilling straight holes than the following method is recommended;
    On a piece of timber, approx. 42mm X 19mm or ex 2"x 1" about 600mm or 2 long, this is good for about 3 guides, two half round grooves are made 10mm or 13/32" off the center in the length of the timber.
    Those grooves are easiest made by router using a core box bit, but one could also use the circular saw and simply run one groove 9mm or 3/8" deep and other grooves not as deep but directly along those grooves.
    The piece is cut in half and then are glued together with the grooves meeting one another hereby forming the holes.
    After the glue dried, the piece is squared off and drilled trough the holes using first a slightly smaller and than a proper sized twist drill to form the proper guide holes, whom are perfectly parallel and at the right spacing.
    A piece is now cut off on a 30o angle and the offcut is turned around and glued on with the angled side, so that the out side of the offcut is now parallel to the angled end of the timber.
    The other side of the piece is cut off in length under 60o to the required length so that the drill will penetrate to the right depth without going trough the timber.
    It might be wise to consider making some Drill Guides of differing length at the same time as it takes only a little extra to make say 6 guides and this can negate the necessity of using a stop ring or moving the stop ring as you can use differing guides.

    Drill Guide 2

    If guides are required for drilling a center dowel than those should be made after the outer dowels are glued and finished.
    See drawing below;
    Skew Dowel Drill Guide 2 If the picture doesn't show and you want a pattern then, E-mail.
     
    One good thing about chair restoration is that you can do the work at home in your garage or your backyard. With the right equipment, you can have beautifully restored pieces AND the satisfaction of having restored them yourself, a daily joy for years to come.

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    Turned Construction

    Turned constructions such as in Windsor chairs and the invisible repairs of broken spindles included the invisible adding of new tenons to the original round stretcher, leg or spindle, while retaining full strength, will be handled here. For an advance copy please E-mail.

     


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