How to re-glue old wood furniture

Partially assembled chair

When your old wooden furniture begins to creak and sway, it is time to re-glue it.  Do not try temporary fixes.    Do not put finish nails into joints-they won't hold and make a proper repair harder.
            Do not try to force some glue into a loose joint-it won't hurt but it also won't hold.

It's a little scary the first time, mainly because you are afraid you might break something or be unable to put it back together again.  If reassembly is a big concern, you can take several pictures before you knock it apart.

Disassembled chair
Using a rubber mallet one by one knock each joint apart.  The rubber mallet prevents damage to the furniture a normal hammer would do.  Joints that are tight and don't loosen with some hammering and twisting may be left together.  I like to dissemble as much as possible, but joints that withstand efforts to loosen them will most likely hold.   On this particular chair the seat had been upholstered so I worked around it.
Nails that had to be removed from joints
As you work check each joint closely to see if someone before you attempted a finish nail repair.  The nails must be removed carefully.

Tool I made to sand the inside of joints

Once all the joints are taken apart, it is essential that you sand the old glue off.  Using a medium grit sand paper sand both the male and female joints.
Because I always have sore fingers trying to clean out the female joints, this time I made a tool to help.  I whittled a square piece of wood a little smaller than the hole.  I then, wrapped it with a strip of sand paper and stapled the paper in place on the end of the stick.  The sand paper had to be replaced every few joints but it certainly saved on the finger ware.

Slotted back sections
For the slotted back sections I used a file and sand paper to clean out the glue.

Main Back parts are fitted back together
After all the joints are cleaned it is time to reassemble the parts.  Before applying any glue, put the parts together and be certain how they fit.
If they don't fit together easily you need to sand more of the old glue off.  Once you know everything will fit back together coat all the joints thoroughly with wood glue and with as little time as possible reassemble.  Be prepared to clean any excess glue off the surface as it appears.  I use water based glue and wipe it off with a damp cloth.

Wood glue applied to joint
You can see here the excess glue

Glued section is clamped tightly with furniture clamps
You must reassemble in logical sections.  That is why it is important to reassemble sections without glue first.  The way they fit together will lead you to know what parts to glue when.  If gluing a section will not allow another piece to be attached, you will either have to glue fewer or more pieces in the first assembly.   Wood clamps are available at any home improvement store and are worth the investment.  I buy the sizes I need for a particular piece.  Eventually you will have the clamps you need on hand.  On a few early gluing projects I did use a rope tied tightly around the pieces, wound a stick in the middle to tighten the ropes and blocked the stick in place to maintain the pressure.  Trust me the clamps are worth
the investment.  Leave the section clamped for six or
eight hours for the glue to set up.
Another part of the back is glued and clamped

If, after you glue a section, you find it won't fit into the next section as planed; use your rubber mallet and knock enough joints apart to allow you to fit the next section.  It's frustrating, but necessary.
Re-clean the parts of glue and re-glue them at the same time as the part that prevented reassembly.
Re-clamp and wait for the glue to set up.  I probably have this happen once on almost every project.  The only way to prevent it is careful planning and experience.
Back section of chair completed

The back section is glued and attached to the seat section.  Sometimes it is hard to keep the clamps in place on two pieces coming together on an angle.
I use a small clamp on each angled part to prevent the larger clamp from sliding down and coming loose.

Back section is glued and clamped to the seat

Chair arm is glued and clamped
When gluing the arm to the back and the seat
it is necessary to clamp it in both directions.
One clamp holds the vertical section tight into the seat and the joint under the arm piece.
The other clamp holds the arm piece tight into the back fitting.

Male end broken

Earlier I said, if a joint won't loosen after tapping and twisting. It is tight leave it as is.   That advice is a result of my determination to take a tight joint apart on this chair.  You can see what happened.  To my knowledge there are only two ways to fix this.  One is to have an entirely new piece made.  The other is to drill both pieces and glue and insert a dowel to join them together.

End of chair rail is drilled
to accept dowel
Dowel is inserted, glued and clamped

Female is drilled out to same size as
Leg assembly is glued and clamped
to chair bottom 
On this particular chair, after I carefully assembled and attached the leg assembly;  it did not sit squarely on the floor.  I had to knock the leg assembly loose, clean the joints, re-glue and sit the chair on the floor.  I pushed it tight toward the floor to be sure it was square with the floor and let it dry.

In this case I was unable to clamp the leg assembly.  It just shows how you have to be ready to roll with the punches.    The last picture shows how a small clamp is used to keep the larger one from sliding down the leg and coming loose.

I hope this is helpful.  For more "How to " blogs go to

Bill Gantt