Furniture legs - where have we been, where are we now?
Older furniture design was centered around the leg design to a high degree.
Is it today?
What were legs made of back then? This has evolved and what are they made of today.
Styles have changed as well ---- several were used in the past........now? You don't hear
a discussion regarding styles anymore. Why is all this?
Is it all centered around cost?
Legs can offer an analytical aspect also in terms of strength and durability. Depending - older
furniture they did just that but not so much on the newer (imported) stuff.
About the only time the subject of legs come up is when they break/can't keep them on/or how
are they attached when the hardware seems to be screwed up (pun not intended)?
If you were around back when and are aware of where we have evolved to; it is clear that
leg (design/construction/quality/content) content has really changed.
As mentioned above, is this fact all about cost?
What ever the history, nature, style, etc - a major amount of repair work is due to loose or broken legs. Even the ones that are meant to be detached for shipping somehow get left on and broken. Another income source is from legs of furniture damaging door jams by delivery folks.
Antique legs that were attached with hide glue frequently fail. How many times you have to scrape off that crystalized glue before regluing on detached legs,
Think of how many repairs from dogs chewing the bottom of the legs - or folks who alter the height - whatever the style or cost - legs seem to have problems from time to time and require repair - customers always say to me when you have it in the shop for whatever's being done - check the legs -
The point regarding leg damage from handling is prevalent. Brand new furniture is seen with problems
after delivery. There is hardware in the leg and mating hardware inside the frame. The later is also
prone to damage and/or loss. Not always an easy problem for some of the specific hardware is not always available at hardware.
So, the search goes on, often the customer is referred to the seller to order the hardware from - I guess
their supplier. So, that takes time, frustrates the new owner and of course the repair people need
to get it fixed and move on.
The internal hardware is not always a tee-nut common in hardware, thread size on foreign made
furniture can be a little difficult to find locally. Plus, installation is difficult, the upholstery is in the way
when trying to install the hardware the factory way - that is large staples are added before upholstery
goes on. Plus trying to use screws instead of staples is difficult when the upholstery and framing has
That's about par for the course on new furniture but an exception has been noted on the newest of
furniture frames. What I am bringing up is that furniture has an internal receptacle (not a simple T- nut
with additional large staple ) which is affixed similar to a canvas eyelet - yes secured right on the
wood frame. Now, imagine repairing one of these damaged from some cause! It isn't easy because
invariably part of the wood is broken away which leads to really making a problem if the repair person
tries to revert back to a conventional T-nut. There simply not enough wood left.
The factory had a decent idea going to the compressed (like the eyelet mentioned above) but bigger
job exist when the wood is damaged. Working space in the areas is tight even with the immediate
All said, the past days when legs were show wood incorporated into the frame during design/construction.
There is always something to learn in any profession!
Years ago when furniture was built to last legs were a component of the fram members not a screwed on or added to the bottom of a piece of furniture. One hardwood rail comprised the frame member and the leg. Front and back. When a screw in leg is not tight it is going to fail. Any movement makes the matter worse. Just like a loose joint with a dowel any movement make the dowel make the hole larger as the movement moves. Put on top of all this the customer trying to fix anything and making matters worse because they use super glue or some other concoction that is uncalled for. but I digress.
As for the old hide glue failing. It last for like 50 years before it fails and is reusable. But the gluepot stinks so no-one wants to use it anymore.
This is fact that recent furniture related interior trend is changing as days go on. Experts gives best furniture suitable to your location and existing house or workplace.
Conservators have recovered utilitarian items in the pyramid's that are over three thousand years old - assembled with hide glue and still firmly held together.
The smell is a sweet aroma and not unwelcomed by restorers. If they don't add water to the glue as it evaporates or let it drip down onto the hot plate it will burn and smell bad. With the modern glues today you don't see much use of heated animal glue except by gilders. Hide glue has special qualities but modern glues - ready to use in an instant - are too easy to not substitute for. For legs assembled previously with hide glue you can't reactivate the glue because the lumber is too thick. Scrape it off and apply yellow glue - it will hold up as good and in some instances better than hide glue. Yellow glue has better shock resistance, better adherence for connections not closely joined together, and tolerance to climatic issues.
I appreciate your recommendation on repairing wood with yellow glue. I buy three tubes at a time
and they last a short while. The older furniture and the brand new stuff both respond well when using
Now, I need to review a post you made on "finishing" that talked about two liquids you use - it was
a toner and a shellac. I will keep reading to find your professional points.
I have a Windsor wood kitchen chair (a number of them) that needs your assistance. Basically touch
is all that is required, a couple of the chairs the inside backs look like the person's belt wore off the
finish(that is the kind of requirement, it is. Chairs are fine- Windsor backs and vertical rungs in the back.
Wood is fine, I just could use a step by step instruction on touching up. Hope I can find your related post.
Does the liquid containers give a lot of "how to" when using their products?
Thanks for your professional help. I see my problem as doing what ever to get the wood to take the
stain (belt wear I listed above) and touch up from there. The major part of the oak chair is fine.
1 - Is it the seat or the inside back spindles that have the loss.
2- It's more color missing than gouging ?
Yes, to the color on the spindles is wearing off.
Nice chairs, really could use the color restored.
Thanks for your reply Steve.
A product like Qualasole works well here. Pad the spindle to seal over the unstained area. Than using earth pigments .... with the tip of your finger pick up some color similar to the stain you need - rub it on the unstained area and pad again. After 3-4 times you should be getting close to the finished color. When you have the color you can further disguise the void using colored aerosols and finish with a clear aerosol of the same luster. A light steel wool with 4-0 after one day drying
Another topic with furniture legs is being able to remove skirts.
I've had a lot of chairs and sofas where the customer wanted the skirts removed. Making the feet look great now that they are exposed or replacing the feet with new ones gives this option to the customer.
Exposed legs seam to be the style lately. We have had a lot of customers ask to leave the skirt off which is okay with me.
I had a customer last year who asked me to remove the old block type legs on two chairs and a sofa. I replace them with turned and finished legs she found online. The old legs were glued to the frame with a 1" dowel. This presented a bit of a challenge to remove. I covered the leg with cloth and used a plumbers wrench to twist the leg off and break the dowel.
I doweled the new legs but did not use glue. Instead I used wood screws to hold them in place so next time they would be removable. She gave the old legs to me, 14 all together. I suppose someday another customer will want them.
Restoring the finish to the Oak Spindles:
Thanks Steve, sounds very effective.
I wrote it all down to get the materials and make the spindles look nice.
Again, thanks a bunch Steve.
Quote from Kody = "I covered the leg with cloth and used a plumbers wrench to twist the leg off and break the dowel "
Whatever works and doesn't harm the leg is fine. Another thing you can try if you have time is working some vinegar into the joint and let it soak for a while. This may loosen the glue enough so that the leg will detach with mild pressure and there's no need to drill out a broken dowel.
I did not know about vinegar. I will keep that in mind for future jobs, thanks. I think with these legs this method would be difficult seeing the leg was about 4" wide and the dowel was in the center. How to get the vinegar to soak that far in? Syringe perhaps?
You're right - 4 inches deep could take forever for the vinegar to soak in. I use putty knives and screw drivers to pry the leg off by tapping them into the small opening - let the vinegar work - tap in a larger tool - little by little - more vinegar - bigger tool -
The other option is after you create a hairline opening you could just saw off the leg without risking damage by twisting dry.
I have a set of hypodermic needles that are used for gluing leg joints. You drill a hole into the joint and then use a needle to insect glue into the joint. All this without taking the joint apart.
I don't use this much because it's more like guess work than actually taking the joint apart, cleaning it, and re gluing.
Have you ever using these needles with the vinegar? I wonder if drilling a hole and injecting vinegar into the joint would speed things up?
Injection of vinegar for disassembly would work better than injecting glue into a joint for repair. The dowels or mortise take up most of the space so even if you inject glue it won't coat the tenon or dowel that well but in a pinch it helps just not as good as taking the joint apart and cleaning off the old glue.
Here's one method for injection ......
In the example for repairing a leg to a rail and the joint is held together by glue and two dowels. The joint is loose but can't be disassembled because of some stubborn glue, webbing, or fabric making disassembly not worth the effort. If you can estimate the thickness of the side rail before the dowel pocket than add 1/2 of 3/8ths the thickness of the dowel - so the center point of the dowel pocket is about 3/8ths deep on 3/4 lumber.
Now estimate the depth of the dowel into the rail and what you're looking for is that 1/4 - 3/8 inch space that's empty at the end of the pocket when the dowel is fully inserted. Mark a tiny 1/16th drill bit with a piece of tape at the 7/16th mark and drill a test hole (in the side of the rail that doesn't show if possible) to find that open space assuming the length of the dowel is approx. 1-1/2 inches deep. You will feel the drill bit lurch forward when t finds the empty space like drilling through sheet rock. When you have the right spot drill a slightly bigger hole up to 1/8 for your glue injector. Mixing a little water with the glue to make it more liquid. Inject until the glue backs out - plug the hole with a tiny dowel and clamp the joint tightly this should force glue like a piston around a portion of the dowel -
Sounds like a lot of trouble that way - and I'm guilty of taking my pneumatic brad nailer and just shooting through the dowels after clamping the joint. What matters to me is if it is an antique piece of something less quality