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Our beautiful old table has taken some damage the last two times we moved. As a result its legs are now somewhat wobbly.

It is a teak table and it is entirely held together by wooden pins. I intend to use metal L-profiles to give the legs the stability they now lack.

Table with wooden pins showing

Is there anything wrong with this plan, and should I do this with the table standing on its legs or should I turn it belly-up?

And if so, how do I ensure it is level?

This is what it looks like under the apron: Under the apron

  • You might want to provide a picture of how the legs meet the apron on the inside. – jdv Jan 20 at 19:22
  • @jdv I've added that picture. – Ivana Jan 20 at 21:05
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    Welcome to WSE. Clearly either the wooden pin has failed or the hole it fits through has been compromised. As a woodworker I would be inclined to remove the pin and attempt to restore the original connection rather than screwing in metal corner plates. Do you have any woodworking experience or inclination? If you modify your question this site could help provide answers on how to go about that approach as well. – Ashlar Jan 20 at 22:09
  • Hi, welcome to SE. Do you have access to any woodworking tools, and if so what tools? A better fix is something along the lines of what @jdv has provided, but obviously it does require a certain amount of woodworking skill and some tools to execute. Steel L-shaped plates do provide for a possible fix here, but as the table is hardwood it's important to drill pilot holes for the screws (to prevent both screw breakage and splitting of the wood). And, the top of the legs/apron area needs to be clamped firmly back to its original orientation before these are fixed. [contd] – Graphus Jan 21 at 8:22
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    You likely don't have clamps suitable and long clamps tend to be expensive so you wouldn't want to buy them just for this repair, so do a search for a Spanish windlass which you can use instead. This is a primitive/old fashioned, but effective, way to provide clamping force for table and chair repairs. – Graphus Jan 21 at 8:24
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Those are some pretty badly fitted mortise and tenons. Ideally, the mortises and tenons are tight enough to require taps from a mallet to seat them. Though, I wonder if the maker did this to allow for radical expansion in the tenons? (Even so, this amount of slop is overkill.)

Do you happen to live in a very humid place?

This table is built such that racking forces stress the pins in exactly the right way for them to fail, and as a comment suggests, you probably have a case where one or more of those pins are very weak, or are snapped completely.

A proper carpentry fix would be to remove the pins completely, assess the voids to make sure they are still viable, and go from there with new pins (which may actually be cone-shaped). If the holes aren't good anymore, and cone or straight pins don't tighten things up it may be necessary to close up the holes in the tenon and refit them using the mortise holes as guides. Or add another hole for a new pin.

Maybe some wedges for the tenons, as well, to keep racking forces moving those leg tenons, causing the same failure again.

As pointed out in the comments, there is nothing wrong with using metal brackets or mending plates (or wooden cleats, if that is easier). I'd recommend seeing if you can find some of those Ikea-style brackets that connect adjacent legs, as that will really stiffen things up. But if all you can find is 90-degree plates, make sure they have quite a few offset holes for wood screws.

The screws will eventually pull themselves out from racking forces, but as a stop-gap it'll be fine.

  • Flip the table upside-down.
  • Cut the ends of those dowels flush on inside. They should not be proud (sticking out) at all, ideally.
  • Using a mallet (or a hammer and a piece of scrap) tap the outside of the legs so the tenons are jammed as closely into those mortises as possible.
  • Screw the mending plates in, but only on one side so the leg is allowed to move.
  • Using a tape measure, find the distance on the diagonal between the outside edge of each set of two legs. We want this to be the same so that the legs form a reasonable square.
  • I don't know if these legs are intended to be square (at 90 degrees) to the table top, but the idea is that you adjust the legs so that they agree with each other in terms of the angle to the table-top, and the diagonals you measured above are as close as you can make them.
  • Drill your pilot holes, using the plates as a guide, and the drive the screws in snug, going around from leg to leg to snug things up evenly.

Some other notes:

  • Try to find quality wood screws. A real wood screw has a shank that has a gap where there are no threads near the head, and rounded shoulders. This ensures that they snug fully down to the shoulder for maximum grip.
  • Drill pilot holes for the screws.
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    Yeah, sloppy much?! My Answer would have touched on many of the same points, but I did want to point out that you actually didn't address the main thrust of the OP's Question, can they use L-brackets to repair or at least stiffen up the table? Little debate that this is the better fix for the long term, but mending plates as they're called over here are a viable option and while they may not be a repair for the ages they could give years of service, and they won't prevent a proper repair (this, or something even more comprehensive) further down the line. – Graphus Jan 21 at 8:15
  • Thank you @jdv. We do not live in a humid place but that table has been with us for at least 10 years, and it took some bumps carrying it up 4 flights of stairs. And it was 2nd hand when we got it. – Ivana Jan 21 at 14:22
  • @jdv is tehre any reason why mending the table with just wood is a better and more long-lived solution to mending it with metal and screws? – Ivana Jan 21 at 14:23
  • @Thanks Graphus, this is good to know because i'm willing to try to fix it with screws and plates myself (now) but i would definitely bring in a professional to fix it with wooden pins (at some point). – Ivana Jan 21 at 14:24
  • I've tried to answer the question as posed more fully. – jdv Jan 21 at 14:57

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