Eastlake Side Chair [ broken seat rail ]

This is a circa 1880 walnut side chair with a cane seat, it has been refinished at some time in the past. The front seat rail has a break that runs through the leg mortise. The rest of the chair is sound and doesn’t need to be re-glued. My customer is a professional seat weaver who will cane the seat and finish the restoration after I repair the rail.

Broken seat rail

This chair was used for some time after the rail was broken, probably until the caning failed. Not repairing it right away caused a build up of dirt and debris in the break, this causes the break not to come together or close, so it needs to be cleaned out before gluing. I was able to spread the break enough to clean it out with dental picks, a small brass bristle brush and compressed air. Once the break closed well I did a dry clamp up to get the clamps ready and make sure every thing was going to line up when glued.

Glue up

You can see that I used a caul covered with packing tape to align the top surface of the rail, a front to back clamp to close the break and a side to side clamp to align the edge of the break. The packing tape keeps the caul from being glued to the chair. All the clamps have plastic guards so they don’t mare the chair.

In this picture you can see my rawhide mallet. When a rawhide mallet is new they are quite hard, but once broke in the face becomes soft and can be used to adjust furniture parts during glue up without marring the surface, unlike a rubber mallet it leave no marks. To break in a new one I repeatedly beat the surface of my anvil until the mallet is soft. Because the rail will be under stress from the caning I decided to reenforce the break with a peg or small dowel.

Peg making

To make the peg I first split a blank off of a piece of walnut, by splinting instead of sawing you get straight grain running through the peg which makes it stronger. I next pre-rounded the peg with a chisel then drove it through a dowel plate.

Dowel plate

I then drilled a hole to house the peg. I drilled at an angle where the hole would be covered by the caning. The angle goes through the break so that it reinforces against the pull of the cane.

reinforcing dowel

In order to start the hole without the drill bit skating across the wood I used a bird cage awl. The awl is sharpened to a square point, the sharp edges cut the fibers of the wood when rotated staring a clean hole at any angle to the surface of the wood.

Bird cage awl

After the peg was glued in place it was pared off level with the surface and the entire repair was cleaned up with a cabinet scraper.

Peg glued in

The last thing I did was seal the repaired area by padding the repaired area with shellac, and it’s off to the weaver.

Finished repair

About millcrek

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