Discovering the faults of production type chairs

My wife and I were browsing Half Price Books tonight when a wooden chair caught my eye. What I saw was a screw on the top of the chair where the side was mortised into the top.  So I grabbed my phone and took a couple of pics.

I turned the chair around and I saw the tenon and how small it was in relation to the size of the mortise.

The amount of slop on the tenon was astonishing. Seemed like there was a 3/16″ play all around the tenon. I couldn’t tell how much difference there was between the thickness of the tenon and the width of the mortise but there wasn’t any glue residue on the tenon. You would think with all of the stress put on a chair that the manufacturer would be more attentitive to the proper size of the mortise and tenon joints in their furniture. Just another reason why it’s better to buy furniture from craftsmen who care about their work.

When good chairs go bad

So I’m sitting at the table one night with my wife when I hear a loud crack and a thud hit the floor. A look over to my right and my wife is sitting on the floor with a dumbfounded look on her face. Seems the windsor chair I made seven years ago finally gave in and failed. No way was I about to blame it on the cheese cake she ate 30 minutes earlier so I quickly grabbed the chair and noticed where I made my mistake. I turned to her with a red face and apologized. Talk about embarrassing.

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It was the tenon on the leg where it attached to the seat. I made the mistake of not tapering the leg all the way into the seat but rather, I turned a 3/4″ tenon at the end instead. At the time I was building the chair, it was an easier thing to do but that tenon created a weak spot in the joinery and the years of use as well as the changes in humidity in the seasons finally made the joint fail.

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I didn’t want to throw the chair away since the top half of it was still good so I decided to lick my wounds and make new legs for the chair. This time the right way and not the half-ass way.

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I drilled relief holes in top of the seat where the legs popped through and removed the remaining tenons from the seat. Next I took the four holes and tapered them with a tapered auger and some files and rasps.

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Then milling up some stock, I turned four new legs and three stretchers. Using my shaving horse, I trimmed the corners of all the parts before I turned them on the lathe.

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Once the legs were turned, I fitted them into the new tapered holes of the seat for a nice fit. Trial and error was key here as I constantly had to check the hole for the proper taper.

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Once all four legs were dry fitted I measured the distance between the legs and turned three stretchers. Two on the side and one in the middle connecting the two. Then I used hot hide glue and glued all the parts together. Hide glue gives me a lot more open working time than yellow glue and is the glue of choice for a lot of chairmakers.

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The chair was back in business. I just needed to clean up the top of the legs that poked through the seat and drive a wedge on top so they won’t move in the joint.

Then it was time to trim the bottom of the legs flush with the floor. Since the chair rocked a little bit from the unevenness of the legs, I took a piece of sandpaper, laid it on my table saw and sanded the longer leg even to the rest of them.

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All I have to do now is sand and repaint the chair and it’ll be good as new. Oh.. and remake the legs for five other chairs.

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