How to Fix Broken Chairs Like a Pro

Wood chairs sometimes break. Legs, arms and backs dry out and crack. They usually break along the grain, or a knot will split.

Why discard a broken wood chair when it can be repaired easily and almost invisibly?  A broken chair may be part of a set, so discarding it also breaks up a set. Here’s how to save a chair and save the set.

A good repair can make the chair stronger than the original leg, arm or back.  That may sound ambitious, but it’s possible. 

Start by re-assembling the pieces of the break.  Clamp the two pieces in place firmly so even minor movement is difficult.  Use shims between the clamp jaws and the wood, to prevent damage.

Dowel & Screw

The repair described here involves inserting a hardwood dowel and a long, sturdy screw, so keeping the broken part aligned with the rest of the arm (or leg or back) is essential.

Most breaks are diagonal, i.e., on an angle to the length of the leg, arm or back.  That is a good thing.  Here’s why.

Two holes will be drilled at an angle across the break.  These should be as close to 90 degrees to the break as possible, and parallel to one another, but as far apart as possible.

Before drilling the first hole, measure the distance and find a screw about 3/8 of an inch shorter.  Use a #8 or if possible a #10 screw.

Secure Pieces

Once installed, the screw will hold the two glued pieces firmly together while the hardwood dowel is being installed, as explained below, and provide added strength to the finished job. This is why the two pieces need to be perfectly aligned then firmly clamped to keep them that way.

Drill the first hole into the broken piece at 90 degrees to the break.  The hole should be slightly larger than the diameter of the screw head.  Use a brad-point drill bit to minimize split-out on the surface. 

Make this first hole deep enough to accommodate the head of the screw about 1/8 of an inch below the surface.  The hole should be just slightly larger than the diameter of the head. 

Next drill another hole, going through the first hole, just to the break.  This hole should be the same diameter or just slightly larger than the diameter of the screw.  The screw should turn freely in this hole without biting into the wood.

Drill a third hole through the first two; this hole goes into the other side of the break.  The hole size should be sufficiently smaller than the diameter of the screw so it will grip the wood solidly, but not so small that the screw will split the wood.  It may be necessary to buy an extra-long drill bit to do this job.  It need not be a brad-point bit.

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