Q: I inherited my parents' mahogany bedroom set, made by the Rway Furniture Co. I have the brochure where my mother circled the pieces she wanted and noted how much they cost: $536 for a headboard, double dresser, mirror, chest of drawers and two night tables. At the time, my father made about $3,400 a year with the federal government. This set was a major investment! The set survived five moves, finally to my father's assisted-living residence in Silver Spring, Md. A drawer broke during that move, and the moving company did a poor repair, using Gorilla Glue. In addition, a leg on a night table snapped. Can the damage be fixed?
A: Yes, these pieces can be repaired. And given the price of mid-century modern furniture these days, the cost probably would be worthwhile even if these pieces didn’t have sentimental value, which clearly they do. The website Chairish (chairish.com) lists an Rway dresser for $520, and other Rway dressers much higher, depending on the style.
Repairing the drawer is probably the simpler job, said Yasser Haridi, owner of Antiques & Furniture Restoration (703-437-7446; refinishing.org), a company in Sterling, Va., that does repairs throughout the Washington area. The old glue would need to be removed. Then the drawer front could be reglued, using ordinary yellow wood glue, also known as PVA or polyvinyl acetate glue, and plenty of clamps. Haridi uses Titebond Interior Original Wood Glue ($3.98 for a 16-ounce bottle at Lowe’s).
The biggest challenge is getting out all of the old glue, which is in the drawer front’s inner core, probably a type of particleboard, with veneers of solid wood on the front and back. It will be tough to get out the glue without also excavating the wood fibers.
Acetone (or acetone-based nail polish remover) dissolves Gorilla Glue, but it wouldn’t be smart to use that solvent on your drawer. Acetone would almost certainly ruin the finish. Instead, the best method is to scrape off the glue. Haridi said he would use a razor blade and dentist’s tools. He estimated the total job, including glue removal, regluing and touching up the finish would cost $150, his minimum charge. Of the two repairs, this is the one that a novice could probably tackle on their own, he said. “It’s a simple fix, if someone has the patience to clean out all the glue.”
Repairing the broken leg is trickier because the break didn’t make a clean cut. Haridi said he’d trim the broken end and splice on a new section of leg, assuming you don’t have the piece that broke off. But just gluing it on wouldn’t be enough because the two pieces both have what woodworkers call “end grain.” Wood fibers are like straws, and glue holds well when a joint involves gluing the sides of the straws together, but it has little strength if you are trying to glue the ends of straws together. He’d get around this problem by drilling into the ends of both the leg stub and the patch piece and then fitting a sturdy dowel made of oak or walnut into the mating holes. Glued in place, that dowel would give the joint plenty of strength. This repair involves more woodworking skill and would probably take more time. He estimated the price at $475, including replacement wood, a metal tip and finish touch-up.
To make a leg repair even more secure, especially on chairs or other furniture that might be subjected to more force, some furniture repairers make angled cuts on both the leg stub and the add-on piece, in addition to inserting a dowel at the center of the joint. But it’s very difficult to line up holes cut into angled ends. So the trick with this approach is to first cut both pieces straight across but overly long, drill into those cuts, then make the angled cuts. The drilled holes can then be lengthened, if necessary.
If you have good woodworking skills and want to tackle the leg repair on your own, the website TableLegs.com is a source for replacement legs to use for patching and for metal tips.