Rocking Chair Repair 101 (aka Amateur Hour)

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During my third year of college, I acquired a nice rocking chair from a Russian grad student for about $10 or $15. It was my favorite piece of furniture, and it has become a favorite of Elizabeth, as well, since it is uncommonly low to the ground (her short legs appreciate it).

During my first year of teaching I thought it would be nice to have a comfortable rocking chair from which to instruct. Shortsighted I was, since a student with little self-discipline had to be repeatedly reminded how to sit in the chair properly when I was not sitting there myself. The chair suffered from it, and I vowed to take it home and leave it there as soon as the year had ended.

At home it was treated well and sat upon by dwellers and visitors alike, but it was clear that something was amiss in its structural integrity, and I wished I knew how to repair it. After a cursory, unsuccessful search on the Internet, it seemed I would let it be.

Flash forward several months, and just last week I sat upon the chair to discover joints actually coming loose. Before I discovered this myself, Elizabeth told me visitors had complained (or rather worried) that they had broken the chair by sitting in it.

img_0811 <– (Me sitting in chair just before realizing its latest condition)

I did a little more research, but this time it was about regluing rather than disassembly, and my results were more helpful. I went to the hardware store to procure a rubber mallet and some Titebond glue, as well as two band clamps.

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I then proceeded to take it apart, piece by piece, aided by the rubber mallet. Since the base was where the loosest joint was found, it was the first place to separate.

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Without having all of the pieces completely disassembled, I began regluing the base.

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(wide hammer strokes and odd head angles for humorous effect only…)

With the base completely reassembled and glued,

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I then turned my attention to the seat, arm rests, and back.

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I took every single piece apart, but there were about three spindles that would not be removed from the seat. Some pieces had been quite easy to separate with my hands, showing me how necessary this repair really was. Others were more stubborn, making me think that they had structural integrity that I should leave alone. However, I read from one of my online sources that, if possible, one should separate all of the pieces so that a weak joint won’t appear later on and be inaccessible. So, the rubber mallet aided me in dislodging many a spindle, but I had to work hard on those last three… Wham, Wham, and CRACK!

“Oh no…” I said quietly to myself. I had split the seat clear in half. Thoughts rushed through my head, wondering if the project and chair were finished or whether it could somehow be salvaged. I remembered that the Titebond glue is supposed to be stronger than wood once it has dried, though I realized that the wood immediately touching the glue would be weaker because of the split. After some odd finagling with the clamps and the glued pieces, I finally got the seat clamped up for the (previously unnecessary) repair.

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While it dried sufficiently, I ran back to the hardware store for some mending braces for the underside of the seat, as well.

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Whew! Crisis averted.

I continued, then, gluing the spindles, arm rests, and crest rail back to the seat. After it had all dried, I was ready to attach the completed seat with the completed base, and then I would have a repaired rocker!

Crisis #2: the holes under the seat did not match up with the legs of the base. It occurred to me (only too late) that the looseness of joints on the base allowed me to pull the legs out easily, but with all the joints being as tight as they were with Titebond, there was no way of getting the legs to stretch so that they could be inserted at such opposing angles:

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Thoughts again swam through my head: I have a complete top and a complete bottom and no way to get them to go together. I cannot access the glue to soften it. I will have to throw these two pieces out or do something drastic.

I read online about how to soften Titebond. I found two main suggestions: 1) Raise the temperature by way of heat gun, blow dryer, or oven (at 180°); or 2) Dissolve the glue with hot water or vinegar.

With no heat gun, blow dryer, and an oven too small for a rocking chair base, I decided to take route #2. I first tried wrapping the joints with wet rags, but that seemed to be getting me nowhere, and I could think of no way to insert vinegar into the joints. So, I went back to option #1. We looked up prices of heat guns, but it seemed like a wasteful investment. I tried using steam directly on the joint from a tea kettle, but that only served to discolor the paint on the runners.

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I called a neighbor, and ran over to borrow a regular hair dryer. After trying that for a few minutes, it became clear that it would not get hot enough to even burn my hand. I sat and thought about what I could do instead. The thought occurred that I could cut off part of the leg and use screws to secure it once the rest was in, but this seemed very risky and unappealing. Then, Elizabeth asked, “Have you tried to see if it will fit in the oven?”

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I removed the shelves and stuck it in. It certainly did not fit, but we decided I could try it with the door open, keeping an eye on the oven thermometer. I set the oven at 200° and the timer for 20 minutes (the man online had gone 30 min, and he had received instructions from Titebond customer service). At about 10 minutes, Elizabeth mentioned to me that she smelled something, and so I pulled it out and went at the most important joints with the mallet. One of the joints gave way, but the other was solid. Hey, this just might work! (forget the fact that the tips of both legs furthest in had been cooked just a bit ashy, as well as bubbling paint on the sides)

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I turned it around and stuck the other end into the oven for another 10 minutes, and when I pulled it out, I was successful in hammering that joint loose, as well.
I then reglued the loosened joints, glued the insert holes on the bottom of the seat, and clamped the base of the chair with the top.

And the finished product:

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Neither of us have sat in it yet because the glue is supposed to be given 24 hours before being stressed, but I’m sure it will be quite sturdy for nursing and rocking a baby to sleep. When he’s old enough, we’ll tell him that we cooked that chair in the oven.

~Eric

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3 Responses to “Rocking Chair Repair 101 (aka Amateur Hour)”

  1. Evan Saathoff Says:

    That chair ROCKS!!!

  2. bacho Says:

    that’s kinda amazing.

  3. vagueperson Says:

    It’s rocking without a sound now, like Led Zeppelin on mute!

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