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I have a chair that had it's back broken off (both stiles and two spindles, pic below). Everything broke just above the seat. It's no loss to us if it cannot be fixed, but I enjoy repairing things. Can this be fixed without replacing the stiles or spindles?

A major problem is one of the stiles is missing a piece (right side in pic). They were made with a slit at the bottom, wherein a wedge was inserted after the back was joined to the seat.

Here is what I've considered.

  1. Just glue everything. I know wood glue is really strong, but the joints will be under severe torque here, so I dislike this option.
  2. Glue the two spindles and one stile back together, drill down the center of each and glue an oak dowel in. I like this option because the oak will add support with some flexibility. The problem I see here is the spindles are only 1/2" diameter...so I cannot put a very big dowel in there (maybe 1/4" max?).

Regarding the stile with a missing piece: I don't know how to tackle that. Can I just cut the stile flush, glue a bit of dowel onto the end, drill out the middle and glue in a smaller dowel for additional support?

chair back

chair seat

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    It would be helpful to view a picture of the seat assembly as well to understand how this seat back attaches. Using dowels seems like a good idea, but I would recommend 1/4" steel rods as dowels for added strength rather than wood at the outside posts and extend them several inches into the posts. Use 1/4" rods because it is important to keep the thickness of the post walls as thick as possible to keep the dowels from ripping out of thee sides when someone's weight causes the back to rotate. – Ashlar Jan 31 at 0:26
  • Oof, this is a much harder repair than it might at first appear. It's not that *a* repair is not possible, or even particularly hard, it's that in regular use every break is put under strain, again and again, every time the chair is sat in. And erring on the side of caution as necessary with a chair it must be considered that down the road they could be subjected to significant strain if (when?) someone unknowingly leans back in it, whereupon a repair that isn't up to snuff could fail in one go. – Graphus Jan 31 at 1:29
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    Would it be bad if the back was a little shorter? Tenon cutters in various sizes are readily available, or you could make new tenons by hand. – Aloysius Defenestrate Jan 31 at 21:20
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    It looks like there's a crack in the seat going through the hole for the right-hand most spindle. You may consider splitting that all the way through then regluing before attaching the back again. May as well fix the whole thing in one go. – FreeMan Feb 1 at 17:12
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    @FreeMan Good observation. That crack was already glued and repaired. Poor chair has had a rough life. – tnknepp Feb 1 at 18:22
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While it alters the height of the back, a reasonably simple repair would be to cut new tenons on the existing spindles.

Commercial tenon cutters exist (for instance, see Lee Valley), but they're an expensive proposition for a one-off repair like this. A bit of work with a knife and a rasp should get you pretty close to a fit. A bit of sanding and you should be nice and snug. If you trim too much off, I'd suggest epoxy instead of regular wood glue to fill the voids.

It looks like the three middle spindles are stub tenons and that the sides go all the way through. That means you'll cut the middle spindles a bit shorter than the sides before you form the tenons.

The original might have had a wedge in the bottom of the main spindles. It probably wouldn't hurt to do this, but two caveats: modern adhesives are pretty good (especially if you use the epoxy), and over-enthusiastic wedging can break the seat apart. There are plenty of chair/stool making resources that'll talk about wedges if you're so inclined.

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I think you're on the right track with using dowels to reinforce the joints, but I'd go further and use steel rods. Cut the styles and spindles at the paint line, and then drill them to receive steel rods. You could use 1/4" rod for the spindles and 3/8" or 1/2" rod for the stiles. I'd drill deep into the stiles, maybe 4" or 5", and use a drill press so the holes are clean and straight. The spindles don't need to go as deep -- 1" should be fine. Cut the rods so that they'll protrude enough to reach to the bottom of the seat, and glue them in with epoxy. Position the back in the holes, clamp, flip the chair over, and fill the holes in the seat with epoxy thickened with enough fine sawdust/wood flour to make a thick paste.

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