Expert advice for fixing wood joints and splits

August 26, 2015

Repairs to joints and splits may look like a job for the professionals, but take heart! Common sense and the following expert advice will take you a long way.

  • Before you start pulling apart a loose joint, see if you can fix it with a simple injection of glue. Drill a small hole into the joint, then use a plastic syringe to force fresh PVA glue into the gap.
  • After you've taken apart a chair for re-gluing, it can be difficult to tell one leg or rung from another. To avoid getting into a hopeless muddle, put masking tape labels on all the different components before you start disassembling the chair. After you've reassembled the piece, you'll be able to peel the tape off without damaging the finish.
  • If you miss one of those little tacks that hold wood parts together, you risk splitting the wood when pulling the piece apart. Scan the joints for small holes plugged with wood filler. To remove a hidden tack, use a flat-bladed screwdriver to dig it out.
  • After taking apart a piece of furniture for re-gluing, dab hot vinegar on the exposed joints to loosen and remove the old glue. This method usually works in a few minutes, but if the glue is particularly thick, it could take up to an hour.
  • To firm up a very loose joint, cut a slot in the tenon (the piece with a protruding tab) and drive in a wedge. The wedged tenon will fit more tightly in the mortice when the joint is reassembled. Make sure you cut the slot at right angles to the grain, and experiment to get the right length and width for the wedge before you proceed.
  • An old paintbrush can make a great glue brush. All you need to do is trim the bristles short — they'll be stiff enough to spread the glue quickly and evenly.
  • Some joints may be too badly damaged to make a tight glue joint — especially those areas that may have been repaired several times already. One solution is to mend the joint with some 24-hour epoxy, which will work as both a filler and a bonding agent. Keep the joint upside down while the epoxy is setting so it doesn't run out.
  • If the damage to a mortice is irreparable, chisel out the affected wood and glue in a wood plug. Then, drill a hole to accept the tenon.
  • You can reinforce loose corner joints in inconspicuous places (at the back of a bookcase, for example) and keep them square with 'ply webs' – small triangular braces made from plywood. Simply glue and screw the braces into place across each corner.
  • Before you glue all the joints of your workpiece, reassemble it and check that you have all the right pieces of wood sitting in all the right places and that everything is sitting as it should. It's better to discover a problem before gluing than to have to undo clamps and remake joints later.
  • Before you reassemble, note where the clamps are going to sit. Tape wood offcuts, corrugated cardboard or pieces of hard rubber at those spots to spread the pressure of the clamp jaws and stop them biting into the wood. Don't over-tighten clamps, otherwise you might force the joints out of being square.
  • Ordinary white PVA wood glue is water-soluble, so it's not suitable for use on any joints likely to be exposed to moisture. If any joints are likely to be exposed to dampness, use waterproof PVA, resorcinol formaldehyde or urea formaldehyde resin adhesive.

Keep this expert advice in mind (and use some common sense) to make repairs to joints and splits with ease.

Expert advice for fixing wood joints and splits
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