The Nasty Truth About Repairing Furniture With Nails

It has happened to all of us. After a huge Thanksgiving meal, Uncle Albert leans back in one of your antique Chippendale dining chairs, and there is an audible crack and pop. One of the back seat joints has separated under the force of too much turkey.
Then a well-meaning relative comes to the rescue, exclaiming that he has Gorilla glue and nails in his truck. The ensuing slaughter of an antique commences.
Although tempting, a quick nail and Gorilla glue fix is temporary and detrimental to any quality piece of furniture. When you drive a nail into a piece of wood, the wood fibers are forcibly displaced; they have to go somewhere, and where they go is outward. This creates outward tension on the joint, almost always resulting in a crack expanding in line with where the nail was placed. This creates two problems. Firstly, the crack compromises the joint’s strength, encouraging future joint failure. Secondly, the crack inevitably shows up on the finished surface of the chair or case piece.

At Trefler’s, when we repair a dislocated joint, we take it apart, remove old glue from the joint surfaces, re-glue, and clamp. If needed, we insert a wood pin with glue into a pre-drilled hole. The wood pin, unlike the nail, does not risk creating a crack because it becomes one with the structure of the joint. A nail will dislocate during the natural expansion and contraction of the wood, whereas a wood pin will not. Have you ever seen a nail popping out above the surface of a piece of wood furniture? This is why.
So, please, save the nails for two by fours and don’t even think of using Gorilla glue. The next time your well-meaning relative offers to fix your antique, thank them and bring it immediately to Trefler’s.

Written by Bernard Murphy, Lead Furniture Conservator

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