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Ideas from Ed: Chair scare (Volume 6, Issue 7)

My son Brian is a comedian. He told me “Dad, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that I nearly fell over when a leg on the old desk chair broke. The good news is that fixing it might be a good ‘Ideas from Ed’ column.” Ha, ha!

Well, I imagine he got a good fright when the chair collapsed, and that’s really no laughing matter because he could have been injured. Here’s the chair he was sitting on, an old one that my grandfather used (many!) years ago:

Here’s what happened:

Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that improper repairs were made to a previous break using a screw and a grouping of nails. There’s no way that I’d trust a re-glue, or even an insertion of a steel rod, which I briefly considered. I decided to make a whole new leg.

Remember, these “Ideas” columns are not meant to be woodworking, plumbing, or electrical lessons! They are just meant to encourage you to try to do things on your own, and if you learn a little along the way, that’s great!

I did glue the pieces back together enough that I’d be able to trace the leg outline onto new wood.

The original leg is oak, so that’s what the replacement needed to be. I don’t expect that many of you will have exactly what I used on hand, but here it is:

This is a scrap of a church pew! Many years ago, I acquired one that was being discarded, and I built a nightstand for my daughter out of it. This is one of the leftover pieces. Most likely you’d need to glue something up from over-the counter boards, as the needed thickness was substantial. I actually measured it at 1.29”, so as you can see, I used a surface planer to get the sacrificial lumber to the same thickness.

Using the insert from a ballpoint pen, I traced the old leg onto the new wood. Using just the pen insert helped the tracing to be as accurate as possible and not thrown off by the thickness of the pen body.

I used a bandsaw to cut the rough shape, and then a strip sander to smooth the edges down to the outline.

Each leg slips down a groove into a strong metal support, and is “located” when a pin on the metal engages a hole in the leg. Then a cross-support is screwed in place to lock the legs in position. The upper part of the leg is shaped so the slipped-in leg fully engages that groove.

I used my table saw to cut the notches to shape:

The “inside” of the curve on the leg is just slightly rounded over, while the outside has a much more pronounced rounding. I used a rounding-over bit in a router to get the needed results. (I forgot to take a picture! I had the router mounted to the underside of a router table, and used a bit with a ball-bearing on the arbor. I then adjusted the depth of cut as needed and carefully passed the leg against the bit.)

To get the hole for the locating pin exactly where it needed to be, I used a doweling (centering) device. I drilled the 3/8” hole using the aligning mark on the device, and let it maintain the center and vertical alignment as I drilled.

I pulled off all the casters and pried their mounts from the ends of each leg. I drilled a new hole in the replacement leg using that same doweling jig, and then installed new casters on all legs.

Here’s the test fitting. I assembled everything and used new (longer) screws through the leg retainer so that it would all be nice and tight:

I used stain that I had on hand, which was English Chestnut. It’s just a tiny bit lighter than the other legs, but not so much that you’d notice without it being pointed out. The new leg is the front left in this photo.

Here’s the final product, which hopefully will last for many years!

I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!


If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here:

Ideas from Ed 2023_July_chair_scare
Download PDF • 1.61MB

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