A scrap of paper on my desk at home contains four handwritten words: reduce, reuse, recycle, restore.
In life they’ve been my North Star, prompting me to buy old houses — including the 88-year-old home I have now in the Northeast area — and restore them to their original beauty, keep old vehicles and buy and renew old furniture. As human beings, we waste so much so needlessly.
So it made no sense to discard an old oak office chair I had restored more than 30 years ago when it again became too unstable to use. The chair had endured years of my daughters using it as they worked on a home computer. But sitting still is not in kids’ DNA. They wiggle, and it was more than the glue in the old chair could accommodate. A fix 15 years ago involved wood putty and wire to more securely rope the legs to the cross pieces at the bottom.
That got the chair through the girls’ childhood, teen years and college. The chair moved with me from my house near Martin City to a downtown apartment and then to my Northeast home. My partner, Bette, joined me three years ago and became the primary chair user after we’d built a desk in my basement wood shop to match it. But the old fix was no match for Bette’s often animated telecommuting work.
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Oak as a hard wood gets brittle as it ages. This chair probably accompanied a teacher’s desk decades ago. The last two years of use caused one of the brittle stabilizing cross pieces at the bottom to snap.
Wire, wood putty and glue wouldn’t be good enough for the needed repair. I used duct tape just to hold the chair together.
I replaced my stalwart friend with an unattractive, metal folding chair and put the broken chair to the basement until I could figure out how to fix it.
It sat in the basement for weeks, allowing me to see it as I exercised and devise the best way to make it functional again. A stop at hardware store after church enabled me to get a 24-inch long, 6-inch wide and half-inch deep red oak board.
I also got some dowel rods and 2-inch long wood screws. I moved the chair to my wood shop, and then took apart my old friend.
The H-shaped, leg-stabilizing cross piece crumbled in my hands. It couldn’t be braced or stabilized. The brittle four legs couldn’t support any user without it.
I removed the legs from underneath the seat, cleaned them up, added fresh glue and put them back in place with the added pressure of the clamps that I have used for years to make and repair furniture. But I had to make sure that the legs were lined up correctly.
While the glue was drying, I wanted to use a makeshift table saw to cut the oak board into three, half-inch square, 2-foot long cross pieces. But I realized that I had used the board I had bought to help stabilize the legs of the chair in the gluing process.
So after the glue was dry, I was able to cut the wood on the table saw. That generated a ton of sawdust.
Using the vice and an electronic planer and sanding generated even more dust. But it made the wood ready to create a new H-shaped brace for the lower part of the legs for the chair.
However, the broken brace had been made to bow in toward the middle. I just wanted something straight. But instead of dowels and a straight cut at the end, the new 15-inch pieces required an angled cut and long wood screws for anchors.
Getting the angle just right required some eyeball estimating, but it worked. However, I first had to drill 4-inch long holes into each stick for the H-shaped cross piece.
Once the holes were drilled and the pieces cut, I could drill larger holes through each leg to add the stabilizing bar. Afterward, a dark cherry stain went on so the chair would still match the desk Bette and I built.
The next day the first coat of polyurethane went on. Steel wool followed and then the final finishing coats went on days later.
I returned the chair to Bette’s desk. Renewed, it’s stronger than ever for reuse.