Tips for loose furniture joints

Repairing wooden joints, and the styles of joint you might encounter.

The first thing Earthwood does when we receive an item for restoration is to put it squarely on the ground, apply medium pressure, and attempt to ‘sway’ the item. If there is any sway, we know joints require attention and look to see which ones.

It’s very tempting to overlook a loose joint which isn’t too bad yet, but it can be frustrating to have spent a lot of time refurbishing a lovely chair, table, or other item only to find that six months later it requires attention again, this time for repairs to the structure. Only now it requires polishing all over again which isn’t in anyone’s favour.

Chair and table leg joints tend to be the most susceptible, and in many cases a simple tapping apart of the questionable joint with a rubber hammer, before cleaning up the joint itself and re-gluing is all that might be required. These are the easy ones.

It can get slightly more complicated when you need to break timbers to get to the root of a sloppy joint problem. This won’t matter if you are confident with woodwork because broken timber is relatively easy to repair, and the advantage is that once an item has been reduced to its constituent parts, you can start afresh with a full restoration of the entire item and have truly sturdy furniture. An example of this kind of joint problem might be on an older upholstered couch leg where the material and/or webbing attaches to the seat rail.

Sometimes in chairs it will appear that only one leg is loose, yet on closer inspection it will usually be found that all the legs are loose. Typically, legs are held to a chair frame by dowel-joints and these can be restored to proper function with some gentle rubber hammer tapping and polyurethane glue.

Table legs typically loosen at the point where the rails are attached to the table-top and joined to the legs. If one joint loosens the whole table wobbles. The best thing to do in this instance is to take the entire rail/top/legs system apart, clean all the joints, and re-glue them. In these images of a hundred year old table you can see a very old style of joint. Take a look at the close-up images of the pegs used to fix the rails to the legs.

Earthwood drilled the pegs out in order to weaken the structure and enable their removal.

The image below of the top of the table leg shows how the pegs extend right through the leg,  the tongue on the rail, and then out through the other leg. We removed the dowels (peg) so we could pull the rail free from its slot into the leg, and properly repair the joints. Unfortunately in this case someone had attempted to repair the very wobbly table by nailing it it together to make it stronger. Instead it made it more difficult to repair since we also had to repair most of the rails.

But the table is now far stronger and doesn’t wobble.

Theresa Sjoquist