How to Fix a Table or Chairs with Wobbly Legs
We asked a skilled woodworker for her best solutions.
Wood tables and chairs are among the most beautiful types of furniture you can own. With their natural elegance and warm tones, these furnishings are often passed down from generation to generation and become much-beloved and used family heirlooms. Eventually normal wear-and-tear may leave the legs wobbly. Placing a matchbook underneath the loose leg is only a temporary solution; instead, fix it so the wobble is eliminated. (Keep in mind that chairs are constructed in a variety of ways and some may not be right for a DIY project.) Here, we explain how a leg becomes unsteady in the first place and how to fix it.
Why the Problem Happens
One of the most common causes of a wobbly table or chair leg is poor construction. When a wood piece of furniture like a table or chair is built, the woodworker must allow for fluctuations in temperature in the environment. When the weather is humid, the wood expands, and when the air is dry, the wood shrinks—these changes could measure up to one-half of an inch. If the builder doesn't construct the legs with expansion and contraction fluctuations in mind, the legs become loose.
Another common reason for a shaky leg, says Anne Briggs, a woodworker who also teaches at Skillshare, an online learning community for creatives, is that there's "not enough long-grain gluing surface on the interior joinery." (This refers to all of a chair's interior wood components that work together.) "It's common when power-tool joinery is used on mass-produced furniture."
A third reason for wobbly legs is the furniture maker joined with metal fasteners like screws or threaded inserts rather than solid wood joinery, which are stronger and more flexible. "If there isn't any wiggle room in the joint," says Briggs, "the joint will start to loosen. Repeated wiggling will make it loosen more and more, and eventually, the wood fibers will give way and you will be left with a stripped hole, no longer held by the fastener."
How to Fix It
According to Briggs, the easiest method of fixing a wobbly leg is to first remove the leg entirely and address the root problem. If the issue is that a dowel came loose, the fix is fairly straightforward. "A great fix is using a two-part epoxy to just re-glue it back together," says Briggs. This repair will work best if you can wiggle the leg fully loose first so you can access more gluing surface. Her go-to product: Gorilla Two-Part Epoxy ($5.47, homedepot.com). "Take a piece of cardboard to squish the glue into, and use a Popsicle stick to stir the two parts together," says Briggs. "Use that same stick to apply the glue to every available surface of the chair." You'll need to work quickly because the glue completely dries in about five minutes. "If you have wood clamps, great, the tighter you can clamp while gluing anything, the better. "
If the issue is that a threaded screw or insert has gotten loose, the approach will be somewhat different. "You can sometimes use that same epoxy trick as above, but just coat the screw or bolt with epoxy and reinsert it," says Briggs, "though this will be a temporary fix." Similarly, you can use matchsticks and epoxy to fill the hole, essentially recreating the interior wood fibers and re-screwing it together. Another method is to insert a wider screw into the original hole. "This, again, is also a temporary fix because the problem is likely due to seasonal wood movement or the chair flexing in a way it's not designed to."