Introduction: DIY Chair Repair - How to Problem-Solve

I'll take you through the process of fixing my chairs as you fix yours - let's do it together!

Step 1: General: Find Chairs to Fix

Get out there and look! The world is your oyster. You can often find chairs on the side of the road on garbage day, as well as at thrift stores and dumps. Or maybe you already have a chair that's waiting to be fixed. What is your motivation for fixing your chair? Is it to put in your own home, to help out a friend, or maybe to donate to a person in need of comfy seating? An important step to fixing anything is determining the identity of your recipient and why you are fixing the object in question

Step 2: Specific: I Find My Chairs

This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375: Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo. One of my peers brought two chairs into class after picking them up from the side of the road on garbage day. I am interested in figuring out how to fix something I do not currently know how to fix, and hope that this will help me to develop good problem-solving skills for the future. I intend to fix the chairs and find them a good home - perhaps a charity or a friend in need of furniture for their apartment.

Step 3: General: Evaluate What Needs to Be Fixed

Every project is different, but chairs tend to involve four areas of problem-solving evaluation:

- missing parts (screws, parts of structure)

- viability of structure (broken or unstable; loose screws)

- upholstery and foam (stains, damage)

- rust

Ask yourself why this chair was discarded. How is it supposed to work? What is now wrong with it, and how can that be fixed?

Note: I would not recommend sitting on your chair until you are sure it can bear your weight!

Step 4: Specific: I Find Problems With My Chairs

The two chairs I am working on are similar but not of a matching set (they have different back patterns and seat colours). Each chair is probably meant for an island or other high table surface. Each should have a stable base and chair back, and a seat that is intact, comfortable, and can spin. I expect both chairs were discarded because they are dirty and unstable.

Beige chair:

Missing parts:

- three screws from the top rounded part missing

- one screw missing from the bottom of the seat

- one screw missing from the ring attached to the chair legs

- one end of the rounded part of the back of the chair has no "plug" - you can see inside the tube

- one washer missing from the bottom of the chair seat

Viability of structure:

- many screws are loose

- seat doesn't turn well

- whole structure (including seat and legs) is unstable

Upholstery and foam:

- upholstery is dirty but intact


- ring on the outside of the seat is slightly damaged, as well as one rod of the back of the chair

Black chair:

Missing parts: N/A

Viability of structure:

- screws on the seat bottom are loose, making the seat unstable/rickety

Upholstery and foam:

- upholstery is significantly cracked;

- foam looks intact from the outside, but I am not sure what it will look like when I take off the upholstery


- legs and ring are slightly rusted

Step 5: General: Replace Missing Parts

When looking for screws, you do not need the heads of the new screws to be the same thickness as the old ones; also, you do not need the holes to be the same type, except for aesthetic purposes (e.g., hexagon vs. Philips). However, you DO need the thread (the spiral part) to be the same thickness and length. The same theory applies to washers: they need to fit, not match.

You can use longer screws instead of shorter ones if there is extra room on the other side of whatever you are screwing in. This means you may need fewer varieties of screws.

To replace missing parts, you can go trash-picking (which is ideal in terms of removing items from the waste stream), you can ask around to see if anyone has what you need, or you can bring a sample of what you require to the hardware store. You may be able to repurpose something else, or, if all else fails and the part is small, you can 3D print what you need.

Step 6: Specific: I Find Screws

By looking at all the screws in each chair, I can determine that there are two different types present, all of the same thread. Five screws and one washer are required for the first (beige-seated) chair, and none for the second (black-seated) chair. Using a socket set (see the first image), I can find the right attachment, and use it as a screwdriver to remove the screws (see the second image). The washer simply falls off once its corresponding screw has been removed.

I asked my dad for extra screws and washers, and my instructor Paul used my samples to buy some from the hardware store.

Step 7: General: Viability of Structure

If we take into consideration missing pieces, can we figure out what is causing any instability in the chair structure? Are the missing parts the problem, are screws or washers loose, or are the parts not fitted together properly? Make sure to check all parts of the chair for hints as to what is causing instability. If the chair is wiggling, screws may be loose or missing, or parts of the chair may not have been assembled properly. If the chair sits unevenly, it may be that the screws were tightened at different times and caused asymmetry in the chair structure; one piece may be more worn down than another; or maybe the floor on which you are testing the chair is uneven.

Remember not to try sitting on the chair right away - it might fall out from under you!

Step 8: Specific: I Use Screws to Make My Chair Stable

Using the socket set (see the first image), I can put all the new washer and screws into their proper places in the first chair. First, I put them all in loosely to make sure all the parts of the chair fit together nicely. I take each screw out on its own and paint one or two brush strokes of clear nail polish (see the second and third images) on the thread of the screw; I then put the screw back in tightly. The nail polish is used to keep the screw from loosening and falling out. Considering this chair was found missing screws, they may have fallen out. I do not want the next owner of this chair to have to deal with that issue.

Step 9: Specific: I Discover Another Problem (yay)

I found masking tape wedged into the screw hole for one of the legs of the first chair (see the first image), where the leg connects to the ring (see the second image). Someone probably did not have another screw to put into this hole, so made do with the materials at their disposal (or maybe they were just lazy - who knows). To get the masking tape out, I can disassemble this part of the chair leg, wash off the masking tape (see the third image), and reassemble the chair. Then, I can screw in a new screw (using a bit of nail polish in the process) and make sure it is nice and tight (see the fourth image).

Step 10: Specific: I Improve Spin Factor

I know any recipients of my work will want chairs that spin easily (because who doesn't like to spin?). The first chair is very stiff and does not spin well. To improve the chair's spin factor, I can use grease (see the first image) and a screwdriver with a flat blade and narrow tip to get close to the ball bearings near the bottom of the seat (see the second image). I can continue to grease the ball bearings, which improves spin, and test the seat until I am satisfied with its spin factor.

Step 11: General: Upholstery and Foam

You can buy upholstery new, ask friends if they have extra fabric lying around, or repurpose some from trash you find. Make sure you clean the upholstery before you use it - you do not always know where it has been. The foam is covered by upholstery, so it does not have to look great; it may be deformed already by how people have been sitting on it up until now. If you reupholster your chair, and therefore take the seat off the chair structure, make sure the foam form is where you want it when you put it back (e.g., if the foam has an imprint towards the front of the chair, make sure the imprint is still at the front when you put the seat back, if you so choose). If required, foam can also be bought at a craft or hardware store (e.g., Canadian Tire, Michaels).

Step 12: Specific: I Find Material to Reupholster My Chair

I obtained upholstery from someone else in class repairing a bench - they didn't need the upholstery anymore so the material is being reused and kept out of the waste stream (see the first image). This material is easily washable; this is good for the recipient, who is probably busy and does not have time for a deep clean or the money to get someone else to do it. I can clean the fabric with soap, warm water, and a Mr. Clean sponge (see the second image). Do not worry if it takes a long time - it is a good arm workout, and produces a fine-looking fabric (see the third image).

Step 13: Specific: I Make a New Seat Cover

For the second chair, with the black and cracked upholstery, I can take off the seat for reupholstery. The seat is not actually connected to the seat via screws - someone had spilled something sticky (maybe pop) and the seat has stuck to the frame. Once the seat has been removed, I can clean the frame. Then, I can use pliers and the same screwdriver as used for greasing (with a flat head and narrow tip) to pry off the staples holding the old upholstery to the seat. Note that it might take a while - I ended this part with 67 staples pried out of the seat!

I can trace the seat on the new upholstery fabric using a permanent marker, then measure two inches out further than the circle and make a larger circle so the fabric wraps around the seat (i.e., I measure two inches further from the traced line at many points around the circle, and then connect all the points). I can cut out the new circle of fabric using scissors.

Step 14: Specific: I Reupholster and Replace My Chair Seat

I place the seat with the foam upside down on the fabric, with the side I want to show on the surface on which I am working (so the unseen side of the fabric is facing towards me and will be closest to the foam). For this part of the project, I use a staple gun and staples; I use 3/8 inch staples, but you can use a different size, depending on the thickness of your fabric and foam.

I pull the fabric to make it tight and staple the fabric over the edge and onto the bottom of the seat (i.e., on the edge of the foam/wooden part of the seat). I then put tension on the opposite side of where I just stapled and do the same thing, making sure the upholstery is tight. I choose a point where I have not yet stapled and do the same thing (tension, staple, opposite side, tension, staple).

I continue doing this for the whole seat, folding the fabric if required. I try to make sure the actual seat (on the other side) and the visible edges are as smooth as possible. Because the screws did not fasten this seat to the structure (it was attached to the rest of the chair only by the stickiness of the pop), I got longer screwdrivers from my instructor Paul to ensure the screws actually connect with and fasten to the wood of the seat. I realign the seat's previous screw holes with the holes in the metal frame, and insert the new screws (all loose at first to ensure the seat was properly placed, then tightened), fastening the seat. I do not use nail polish here because I do not want to possibly mix nail polish with the seat's foam.

Step 15: Specific: I Have So Much Fun That I Decide to Do It Again!

I now know that the chairs are both going to the same place - a peer is using them for a project! This means that they should match, at least in terms of upholstery. Considering I have enough material left after my first upholstery job, I decide to do it again to ensure the recipient is pleased with her chairs. Reupholstering seats gets faster once you get the hang of it. The screws on the second seat worked (in contrast to the original screws on the first seat), so I can just replace the screws after I am done reupholstering (again, without using nail polish).

Step 16: General: Rust

If there is surface rust, you can use white vinegar to scrub it off. You can also choose to ignore the rust if it does not affect the structural integrity of the seat, and/or if it is hard to see. I decide to do this with the first chair, which has a small rusted area (see the second image).

Step 17: Overall: Find a Home for Repaired Chairs

I have finished my chairs, as you can see in the corresponding image. I learned in this project that repairing may require many small touches, but if I ask questions and have the right tools, it is enjoyable and manageable to remove objects from the waste stream. It is also very satisfying to see something change before my eyes and because of my hands. I look forward to hearing about whether other people enjoy the results of my work as much as I enjoyed the process.

Next time, I might take more time for the rust or aesthetic aspects of the chairs, or might just repair more chairs and make a more complete set (apparently, another classmate found even more chairs like these in need of repair).

I will now donate my chairs to my peer. Maybe your chair is for you, a friend, or some random person who needs another seat in their life. Try to find your chair a good home - you worked hard on it!