Repairing Furniture If The Joints Are Loose
Introduce about repairing Furniture
FOR those with more than passing interest in furniture, the professional dismantling or cannibalizing of old pieces – whether for spare parts or for the creation of a new antique – can be an impressive spectacle. This is particularly so when observing a demonstration of how to lift veneer by using a putty knife and blowtorch.
Step by step to repair
Disassembling good pieces requires a knowledge of cabinetmaking and patience galore, and it involves the removal of hardware, fittings, moldings and whatever else may come away. But more important, joints that have not budged since the piece was made may also need to be parted. When the wood is irreplaceable, care must be taken to insure that none is lost to damage, including where possible the finish.
Although the caretaker of the family furniture may never need to have such skills tested in a dramatic way, there are common repairs that to be effective and lasting call for the separating of loose joints – but only where practical. Obviously one would be hindered trying to separate the parts of the seat frame in an upholstered chair.
Before attempting such a job, examine the wood around the joint to see if the finish has been disturbed by the head of a nail or some sort of filler that may conceal one. The nail must be removed by using a one-sixteenth-inch bit. Drill down closely around the nail as many holes as needed to loosen its hold in the wood. Then withdraw the nail with a pair of thin-nosed pliers. If the head is quite small, use a suitable nail set and try to drive the nail through and out the other side far enough to grasp and draw it through. Look also for plugged holes that may be covering screws or dowels. On no account should more nails be introduced to make a joint rigid, which is but an unrewarding short cut.
When all seems clear, try moving the joint by striking it a short, sharp blow with a heavy household hammer. This usually does the trick. To protect the furniture wood from bruising, a softwood block at least one-half inch thick should come between the work and the hammer head. Even if you use a rubber or rawhide mallet, or a hammer wrapped in a cloth, never do so without the block because the blow will be too local to be effective.
Once apart, the joints can be cleaned by brushing on warm water to soften the glue, which can then be scraped off with the blade of a knife. Try not to remove any wood that would decrease the gluing area and thus hinder good contact once the two halves are back together.
If after a couple of hammer blows nothing moves, stop: you may be up against a method of permanent joinery. With country chairs – likely Windsors – green and seasoned woods were sometimes used for opposing parts. When the green wood dried and shrank, it gripped its opposite number and held on tenaciously. Such joints, no matter how loose they are through wear, behave like a ball and socket joint and cannot be parted unless the surrounding wood splits open.
Another but rarer system of joining – or repairing a worn tenon – is called fox-wedging. Here the tenon -the part that fits into the slot or cavity cut into another piece of material -is slotted with a saw and then one or two small wedges are inserted. When the joint is reassembled, the wedges hitting up against the end of the mortise are forced into the tenon and spread it apart.
The only reasonable method of repairing a joint that puts up too much resistance is to force glue into it and hold it in a clamp until dry. This is done with a glue injector rather like a hypodermic syringe. A fine hole wide enough for the nozzle is drilled into the joint and the glue is injected under pressure. Ideally, if the joint can be eased apart, no matter how slightly, before gluing and the glue inserted, then when the joint is clamped together the glue can also be forced around the adjoining parts.
Whatever you are working on, before attempting this type of gluing, the piece should be kept in a warm living area for at least 24 hours. The glue and the injector should be warmed in a bowl of hot water for several minutes. If these measures are not taken and the wood is cold, then the glue will gel before it has a chance to spread around. Glue injectors are made either in plastic or metal; whichever type you use, wash it out afterward in hot water, making sure the nozzle is cleared with a pin before drying. They are available from woodworkers’ supply houses.