Having practiced and perfected the age old craft of wooden joinery, and become masters of making furniture that lasts, the people who built your favorite pieces of furniture don’t usually consider how useful knowing how to deal with split seats and wobbly legs is to the consumer. In all honesty, while you hope that your chairs and tables aren’t going to develop cracks and seams that will affect their performance over time, there is a good chance (especially with older wood) that you’ll run into some necessary repair.
Contrary to what you might think, not only a master carpenter can arrest the damage without making your dining room look like Johnny Appleseed’s pants, full of mismatched patchwork and unpleasantly obvious materials that were haphazardly fixed in place to keep pockets, or in this case chairs, from depositing their contents rudely on the ground.
For starters, many, if not most growing cracks that rear their ugly heads don’t have to be doctored from their visible sides. In the cases of tables and countertops, where the pieces that come together at the corners are infamous for separating along their forty-five degree edges, you can directly apply ninety degree metal braces to the undersides.
Drill small lead holes into the wood, and using short wood screws so that the hardware doesn’t create new cracks. This makes for a sturdy fix that will last forever, and won’t be visible (how many of your dinner guests get down on their hands and knees to look at the underside of your tables?).
These braces are cheap and easy to buy at hardware stores, and using them requires no glue, clamps, or other specialized equipment; just flip your table over, hold the bracket in place, and install it! Sure, metal on wood tends to Ikea-ize the aesthetic of things, but if it’s out of sight, it’s worth doing. After all, a little wear adds character, but too much character sends your desk to the dumpster.
And if you should happen to think of a few other things that need work while you’re pondering the options at your local Ace…
Similar tactics are easily applied to furniture that develops a wobble, even on a level floor. Instead of a flat bracket that turns a right angle halfway along the plate, you can pick one up that is bent at the center, forming a crease that sits nicely into the spot where a leg meets a tabletop or seat.
If your leg is cylindrical, use pliers or vice grips to hold one of the bracket’s halves over a metal or concrete edge (roadside curbs work well enough) and hammer that curve into the metal. Even a slightly angled lengthwise crease works, like what can be attained by setting the brace in a vice, and tapping gently enough on the part sticking out to angle the metal strip, but not enough to compromise its strength or integrity.
The dirt cheap version:
With chairs, tables, and bookcases that are built with thick lumber, and bear lots of weight, you won’t ever want to settle for less than good (probably stainless steel) metal braces. They’re extremely stiff, durable, not prone to rusting if you’re in a humid environment, and even have nicely countersunk screw holes, so that your wood screws’ heads don’t stick out and snag eyes and fabric.
In some cases, though, like perhaps a birdhouse or small hanging spice rack, you can make your own metal tape by cutting strips from aluminum soda cans, and folding them over to increase their strength.
Punching through these is easy (drilling less so, but fortunately not necessary)…just set your wood screw to the aluminum, and drive it in! Again, this is not as clean, durable, or in any way as perfect as a drop forged brace, but occasionally it’s worth saving the money and trip to the store.