the attics and basements of homes are usually well furnished with a half-dozen or more broken chairs, tables, beds and bureaus. Most of these discarded odds and ends have been used until they broke down, and then have been stored out of sight and forgotten. The breaking-down started in every case with a small weakness which prompt attention would have remedied, and the piece might still be in use. Instead of that, the weakness or defect, which must have been perfectly obvious for some time, was neglected until it developed into a definite break.
When you see a broken-down chair, the chances are that either of two things is wrong with it. First, a leg is broken; and second the seat is out of it.
No matter how cheap or inferior furniture may be, it is usually put together id more or less of a standard manner. The legs of a chair usually form four corner-posts which go right up to the seat, and the frame beneath the seat is doweled, glued, nailed, or screwed through corner-blocks into the legs. If you take an average dining-room chair and turn it upside-down, and remove the cloth cover which hides the webbing and the springs, you will see the whole picture clearly.
Repairs to chairs are quite simple after you are familiar with the construction.
When the leg of a chair starts to loosen up or creak when the chair is in use, it is time to look it over. If you attend to it then, you will save the chair or save an upholsterer's bill. Usually you can up-end the chair, remove the bottom covering, and tighten up the screws in the corner-blocks which hold the legs and frame together. This is about a fifteen minute job, and you will be rather surprised at how firm the chair seems to be after you have done it.
If a chair leg is split, you should bore two or more small holes through the broken-off piece, apply good glue to both sides of the split, place the pieces together, and drive small thin brass screws through the holes and into the other section of the leg. We advise the boring of the holes first, so as not to split the loose piece. The chair should not be used for a week, so as to give the glue a good chance to set up hard. There are a hundred ways in which a chair-leg might split, so you may have to do a bit of figuring to cover your particular problem; but the main rule is to put the screws through the smallest or thinnest piece and into the larger section.
The average homeowner can manage most furniture repairs with ease if he studies the necessary work and uses common sense.
Re-webbing is not difficult, because you need only follow the manner in which the original webbing has been done.
Some very cheap chairs have corner-blocks which are simply nailed and glued into place, instead of being screwed to the frame. In this case you pry them out, scrape off all old glue, apply fresh glue, and re-nail them in place; taking care not to use the same nail-holes but being sure to use the same size nails.
Re-webbing a chair is an easy job while only one or two of the webs is broken or pulled out of the frame. You simply up-end the chair, seat-down on a table or bench, and remove the web covering. Sometimes, just the tacks which hold the webbing have pulled out, and you can re-tack the web. If the web is broken or faryed, you have to buy new material and tack a new web in place. You should study the manner in which the old webbing has been tacked to the frame, and do your job in exactly the same manner.
When all the webs are broken or in generally bad condition, you must do a complete job. For this operation you will need some help, as some one has to bear down and compress the springs, while you stretch and tack the new webs in place.
At times you will find a chair that has been re-webbed so often that the bottom edge of the frame is pitted with holes and it is hard to find any place in which to drive a new tack. Some excellent jobs have been done in conditions such as this, by cutting out a square of quarter-inch thick plywood exactly the size of the bottom of the seat, and screwing it to the bottom of the frame instead of using webbing. This job is good for a lifetime, if you do it properly by using long, thin screws, boring holes for them first so as not to split the frame, and soaping the screws so that they drive in easily.
Recovering dining-room chairs is a job that requires hardly any skill or imagination whatever, because when you remove the old covering you have a perfect pattern from which to cut your new material. The creases in the old covering also show you exactly how it should be folded to fit in place before it is fastened to the frame. Most dining-room furniture has seat-covering which is studded with large-headed ornamental upholsterer's tacks. You should lift these out with care and save them, as you may have difficulty getting new ones of the same color or pattern, and you will not want one chair to be trimmed differently than the others.
There are many types of small chairs found in bedrooms. Often these have a rather heavily upholstered seat which begins to show wear and has to be recovered. We have seen many which were fitted with a new seat instead of trying to re-tie springs or fluff-up the wadding. This job is done by removing all of the old seat so that nothing remains except the frame. A plywood seat is cut that will just cover the frame to the edges. Over this is laid several thicknesess of old blanket material or wadding, until the desired amount of padding is reached. The new covering is then laid over the padding, and turned over and under the edge of the plywood and tacked lightly with very small tacks. The new seat is then placed on the frame and fastened by driving fine wire nails through the edge and into the frame, sinking the heads through the outside covering.
The average bed receives pretty rough treatment. Every time you take hold of the head or foot of a bed and drag it this way or that way, you warp it badly. A bed of the usual kind is simply a box-like frame supported on four legs. It is quite light, and does not have any crossbracing worth mentioning. The slats are merely to hold the box-spring and mattress. Of course the right way to move a bed is to take hold of the foot, and pull it toward you or push it from you; or to stand at either side and move it squarely away from you; but nobody does that, they grab it by one corner and drag it obliquely, wrenching every joint. Before long, they have a well-loosened piece of furniture.
The best thing to do with a bed that shows signs of loosening up, is to cut two pieces of shelving, ten inches wide and long enough to be a tight fit between the sides, and place them on the strips which hold the bed-slats, and put two screws through each end into the strip. Set one at the head and one at the foot. These will act as braces, and if you cut them truly square so that each end fits snug against the sides, you will have a strong assembly.
When it comes to polishing furniture, we believe that good furniture-oil makes the best job. When wax is used continuously it may build up a skin which may turn slightly grey, while oil brings out the grain in wood and is actually a food for it. When varnished furniture is involved, we believe that oil is better for the finish than heavy waxing. Naturally the oil should be used sparingly, and elbow-grease substituted for generosity.
Painted furniture, which we see more and more of every day, does not have to be polished as a rule, but it does have to be cleaned occasionally. The best method is warm water, a good mild soap, and a soft sponge. First apply the soapy sponge, rinse it out, and wipe the wood with clear water and rub dry immediately. Never permit the surface to be wet long, because furniture paint is not the kind used on the outside of the house. Do not rub too hard when drying, as that will gradually change the color of the paint.
Glass tops on furniture save it tremendously, and the few dollars that it may cost you to buy them is well spent. There are two ways of putting on glass tops. You frequently see small round felt discs at the corners and in the center of a table-top under the glass. We think that these should be omitted, because they hold the glass away from the surface just enough to permit plenty of dust to get underneath, and thus require the removal of the glass frequently in order to clean under it. The less you have to handle glass tops, the better. The surface of the table or dresser should receive a good, high polish, and the glass should be slid into place right on top of it. You may not have to remove it for a year. The other way, you may have a weekly job.
A lot of the furniture we have is known as "veneered furniture." This means that the bulk of the piece is made of white-wood or other inexpensive wood, and the surface is covered with a paper-thin thickness of a precious wood such as mahogany. This thin veneer is glued or cemented on, and with time it may split and start to peel off. It is absolutely fatal to allow this to go without attention, as once the splitting starts it will go fast. You can remedy this trouble in a few minutes. Take a toothpick and run glue into the split, getting it under both sides of the crack as well as you possibly can. Then press the split flat so as to squeeze out the excess glue, and wipe it off. Now pass a piece of clothes-line or rope around the piece of furniture, using cloths at the corners so as not to mar it, and make a tourniquet over a flat block of wood covering the split. Turn this up good and tight, and let it alone for about a week. If there is any glue, dried on the surface around the split, it will come off with warm water.
Much of the trouble with bureaus, chests of drawers, desks and draw-tables, is caused by the fact that the drawers stick, and you have to tug so hard to open them, that eventually you strain every joint in the piece. It is child's play to take the drawer out, and sand down the bottom or sides where it rubs against the runners. In any hardware store you can buy a stick of paraffin-like compound, which you rub on the bottom edges of the drawer and on the top of the runners. This may do the trick even without the sanding off process; and you will save the furniture, and incidentally your temper.
When the handles or knobs on old furniture are broken or missing, the piece promptly takes on an air of dilapidation. Usually it is hard to match such items, so the best thing to do is buy a complete new set. If a knob is involved, you will have no trouble whatever, but if it is a handle with two posts, you must be sure that the new set has posts which will fit into the two holes left when you take the old handles off.
The stitch-in-time proverb applies to all household furniture; better probably, than it applies to anything else around the home. Most of us have spent a considerable sum of money on it. If you want it to last as it should, you have to watch it. Take care of defects as soon as you are aware of them, and the furniture itself will do the rest.