Q&A OF THE WEEK: Repairing Wooden Chairs

Repairing old chairQ: What’s the best glue for restoring teak dining room chairs? I’ve dismantled a couple of teak chairs that were originally assembled with old-time hide glue. I cleaned the joints and reassembled with wood glue, but the joints failed. I’ve bought more hide glue to use again, but perhaps you can suggest something else.

A: That sounds like an interesting restoration you’re doing. How tight are the joints after you’ve cleaned and prepared them? Ordinary PVA wood glue can be quite strong, but it does require fairly tight joints for strength. I wonder if the reason your PVA approach failed because the joints weren’t tight enough?

Wood Glue

The thing about using hide glue for the restoration is that it can be fragile. Too much moisture and especially too much heat after it has dried will soften the hide glue bond. Have you considered epoxy for this repair? Besides being very strong, epoxy is also quite good at filling gaps. I believe that a slow-cure, industrial strength epoxy will do a good job for you. Have you every used anything like this? Also, teak is a naturally oily wood, and this oil can interfere with the bonding of any glue. As a final step before re-assembling the parts, wash the joints with a light, volatile solvent such as lacquer thinner. Flood the joint areas, then wipe the wood and let it dry completely before glue application. Don’t wait more than a few hours after the solvent dries to glue the joints because the natural oils of teak would reappear on the joints again. If the joints on some chairs are loose but still together, try a product called Chair Doctor. It seeps right into loose joints, swells the wood and locks the connection. I buy mine from Lee Valley Tools.

Chair Doctor is quite watery, so it soaks into assembled joints well. In fact, I sometimes use it to glue long sections of dovetail joints in new construction. Applying regular glue before joint assembly can cause dovetails to swell and fail to come together. The photo above shows dovetail joints I’ve assembled dry, before applying Chair Doctor to the assembled joints.