Repairing a Broken Lathe-Turned Table Leg

There's more than one way to drill out, glue, and splint a busted table leg ó and many opinions on which way is the best. November 14, 2014

I have been asked to repair a tea cart. Three of the turned legs are broken. My initial thoughts are to spline a dowel to joint the leg together, but I am worried how to find the center (a lathe could help). Are there any other methods to achieve a structurally sound joint?

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Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From Contributor G:
West System epoxy would probably hold that together for a long time without the need for doweling. Just make sure you put enough in there that it stops absorbing it into the end grain.

From Contributor H:
I've always doweled the legs in those situations. Tricky work to center by eye but starting with a 1/16" bit and working your way up to around 3/8" makes it a bit easier.

From contributor M:
Call me old fashioned - but for me it's turning three new legs...In the past I've spent as much or more time aligning centers, drilling, cleaning up and gluing together. I found making a new leg is usually easier, stronger and quicker. I have to admit the lathe is my favorite machine in my shop and it doesn't take much of an excuse to find me curling shavings!

From contributor F:
Iíve been doing this routinely for years, (new legs are not an option on antiques and in many situations). Glue the break(s) with PVA and when set saw through the legs at the edge of the bead or other detail. Now you can easily center bore those clean round cut ends. Failing precision, glue dowel in in one segment and bore a slightly oversize hole in the other to facilitate alignment and glue with epoxy.

From contributor I:
I agree with what Contributor F says. You might add some filler to the epoxy if you have to drill too much oversize. In my case, if I agree to fix something like this, I make them swear to never speak my name and furniture repair in the same sentence ever again. Do a good job, and you'll have people coming out of the woodwork asking you to fix chairs at low prices.

From contributor C:
Contributor I is correct! I fix chairs and I usually charge 2/3 of the new price. Once someone has a set they don't really want to go and get new ones so I make a profit and they know my work comes at a premium (expensive chairs). I make sure to do a better than new job if at all possible (usually just a matter of cleaning up and regluing the tennons in). Sometimes there are structural problems and scratches/gouges in the finish or wood that need attention and that is real time consuming. Charge for your time.

From Contributor Y:
Iíve fixed many in the past with a slightly oversized hole, a 100mm piece of 12mm All Thread and epoxy.

From contributor A:
I've repaired several high stress turnings like Contributor Y suggested. Epoxy likes loose joints, so an oversized hole is actually beneficial. You may not like doing it, but you know it will never fail. The other thing to consider is that it stayed together on its own for a long time. Simply gluing it could be enough.

From contributor S:
I would reinforce it with threaded rod and epoxy rather than a dowel.

From Contributor W:
Epoxy is never a good substitute for a properly fitted joint and it will fail. Short of turning a replacement (best, unless it a valuable antique) the above idea to glue-recut-dowel with a reversible glue would be the way to go. Hiding metal in a joint will only serve to mess up someone's saw down the road.

From contributor K:
A poorly fitting wood dowel glued with PVA is destined to fail.

From Contributor W:
You are of course correct Contributor K. A poorly fitted joint glued with anything will fail. However, it's far less work to repair something glued with a reversible glue. I just finished a repair on an 18th century chair that someone used epoxy on. I had to cut it out and replace two tenons.

From Contributor W:
My issue with putting metal inside a wooden joint is from the perspective of someone who has cut into a joint or two over the years with one of my favorite Sandvik handsaws and hit a piece of steel from a previous repair. Obviously there are differences with respect to "the right way" to repair something.

From contributor K:
Epoxy is just fine. I can guarantee you that there were other contributing factors that caused the chair joints you had to repair, to fail. Many chairs are simply going to self-destruct from wood movement alone. There is a time and place for threaded rod. Like it or not I have had great success using it. Now keep in mind I only use it when there is no other choice. I will agree that in the case of a museum quality restoration historically appropriate methods would be called for. However most furniture, and antiques do not meet this description. There is no reason to rule out modern adhesives, materials, methods, and design. If I were cheating my customers, I would have known long ago. Such a blanket accusation is uncalled for.

From Contributor W:
The rule with restoration is "use only materials which were available when the piece was made."

From contributor K:
That is not a rule, but opinion. There certainly is a consensus amongst preservationists that only period materials shall be used in a restoration when it has been decided the strictest standards of conservation will apply. The value and historic significance of a given piece are both important factors in a decision on whether to proceed in such a way and can only be determined by an up close examination in person by qualified persons. There is certainly no excuse for substandard repair work. However strict conservation efforts are not always desired or necessary. It is up to each individual restorer to make that decision and use the best methods, or materials that they deem appropriate in a given situation.

From Contributor W:
I'm of course referring to the upper end of furniture restoration.

From Contributor L:
There are many options in the case. One option is doweling that is really a good option in the particular case. Another option is to fill the space with some wooden powder and fevicol paste. Replacing the leg completely with a new leg is also an option.

From Contributor E:
Contrary to some of the comments above, I don't think you should consider replacing this piece of wood particularly because it's an antique and its value lies in its rustic charm. As someone said earlier, you could try doweling the legs. Start with a 1/16" bit and working your way up to around 3/8".