Rebuilding Chairs

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Mark Marks

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7 Apr 2024
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I have a set of oak ladderback chairs to rebuild as the brown glue has given up.
Upon stripping the rush seat I find that the seat rails appear to have had no glue applied, so the dowel-shaped ends of the oak rails are free to move (rotate) slightly in the leg.
It occurs to me that when load (ie a bum) is applied to a rush seat thus depressing it the rail may need to rotate slightly to accommodate the new angle of the seat.
Is this a reason for no glue? Is no glue on rush-seated chair rails a common/usual/required practice?
Am I right to reassemble as found - with no glue?
And as an afterthought, my research seems to suggest tightbond hide glue is favoured rather than modern alternatives (Gorilla glue was my initial thought). Is that the best option?
I renovated an old rush, nursing chair a few years ago. In my case the rails that held the seating material were glued. Your theory could well be correct, but if so I would expect there to be additional rails holding the chair together that are in fact glued.

Funnily enough, this might help explain the design of the chair I worked on, which had double rails to the sides and front of the chair, and therefore was not reliant on a third rail, holding the seat, to ensure the integrity of the structure.

One thing I remember was that the rails holding the seat material were flat with round tenons to their ends. These rails had to be rotated in their mortises so that the front of the rail was slightly higher than the back, so that the rush did not catch on the back edge and leave a fold line.

As for glue - I would go with hide glue - if only to make it easier for future restorers. :giggle:

I've attached an image of the chair I worked on, for reference


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