Most furniture and kitchen cabinets can easily be repaired — if you know how. This Fix-It Guide on wood furniture repair tells how wood furniture works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a wood furniture problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives instructions for how to repair a gouge, blister or separated veneer, how to reinforce a wood furniture joint, how to repair a split in wood furniture, how to minimize a minor burn, how to repair a wood furniture scratch or spot, how to service wood furniture door hinges, how to un-stick a door, how to straighten a warped door, how to replace a glass panel in a door, how to modify a sliding door channel, how to shim a wood furniture door hinge, how to reinforce a sagging shelf, how to replace a drawer bottom, how to realign a drawer guide, and how to repair a wood runner in wood furniture.
How Does Wood Furniture Work?
Wood furniture is a broad category of living equipment around your home. It includes chairs, tables, beds, desks, and free-standing cabinets. Because built-in kitchen and bathroom cabinets are similar in design and repair, we’ll cover them here, too.
The components of wood furniture and cabinets include doors, shelves, drawers, frame, and finish. A furniture door is a swinging or sliding barrier that opens or closes to offer access; doors are attached with hinges and some use hardware to make opening them easier. A shelf is a thin, flat component fastened at intervals within the cabinet. A drawer is a sliding box or receptacle opened by pulling out and closed by pushing in; it uses runners or tracks on the bottom or side to allow movement. The furniture frame is functional, holding components together, and the finish is decorative and protective.
What Can Go Wrong with Wood Furniture?
Doors sag, stick, or refuse to close properly. Glass panels in doors get broken. Sliding cabinet and furniture doors stick and bind. Shelves sag. Drawers stick due to humidity or damage, or because glides need fixing. Furniture joints become loose. Cracks and splits appear. Wood surfaces get burned, scratched, gouged, and damaged by moisture. Veneer blisters and separates.
Humidity–moist air–is the enemy of wood, especially fitted wood. Wood absorbs moisture and expands or dries out and contracts. As it does so, furniture doors, drawers, and other surfaces either don’t fit snugly or they fit too snugly. The solution is to live in an area of moderate humidity, to equip your sealed home with humidifiers and dehumidifiers, or to buy plastic furniture. Alternately, you can select furniture that doesn’t have precise fits and uses metal glides, and make sure the surface is well-sealed against moisture.
How Can I Identify a Wood Furniture Problem?
- If a wood cabinet or furniture door sags, sticks, or refuses to close properly, first suspect the hinges (see below).
- If the door still sticks, try the steps for unsticking a door (see below).
- If the door itself is warped, try to straighten it (see below).
- If a hinge is recessed too deeply, you may be able to correct it with a shim (see below).
- If a glass panel is broken, you can replace it (see below).
- If a sliding door binds or sticks, you can widen its channel; if it wobbles in its track, you can shim the channel (see below).
- If a wood furniture shelf sags, reinforce it (see below).
- If a wood furniture drawer bottom is warped, turn the drawer bottom upside down or replace the bottom (see below).
- If you suspect a drawer is out of square, you can resquare it (see below).
- If a drawer seems to stick in a particular spot, it may need lubricating; try running a bar of soap along the cleats and runners.
- If lubrication does not work, try lightly sanding the runners, testing the drawer often. Or you may need to realign the guide or tracks (see below).
- If a wood runner is damaged, you can repair it (see below).
- If a wood furniture joint becomes loose (for example, a leg wobbles), you can reinforce it with glue (see below), or you can add a couple of nails or screws angled into the joint, then cover the holes with wood fill.
- If a split appears in wood furniture, such as in a wood chair seat, you can repair it (see below).
- If the wood surface of a piece of furniture is burned, you can minimize the damage (see below).
- If a piece of wood furniture has a scratch or minor gouge, you may be able to camouflage it with a furniture touch-up stick, or you can repair it (see below).
- If veneer blisters or separates, you can repair it (see below).
What can you do if a drawer sticks so bad that you can’t remove it from the furniture or cabinet? Try removing the drawer below and pressing upward on the bottom of the stuck drawer to slide it forward. You may also be able to grasp the back of the stuck drawer and carefully push it forward.
What Do I Need for Wood Furniture Repair?
Furniture repair is a big business. It’s also a big hobby. You’ll find hundreds of replacement parts, materials, and tools for fixing furniture and cabinets available at hardware stores and home improvement centers.
The tools you will need to fix furniture and cabinets include these:
- Nails, brads, screws
- Nail puller
- Pry bar
- Putty knife
- Carpenter’s square
- Wood wedges
- Wood filler
- Wood glue
- Measuring tape
- Metal braces
- Steel wool
- Furniture polish or wax
- Mineral spirits
- Touch-up stick
- Utility knife
- Heat lamp or high-wattage hair dryer
- Wax paper
What Are the Steps to Wood Furniture Repair?
Repair a gouge in wood furniture:
- Using a putty knife, fill gouges or deep scratches with wood filler, slightly overfilling so you can sand down to a flat surface. Let the filler dry thoroughly.
- Using coarse sandpaper, sand the area nearly flush to the furniture surface. Finish sanding with fine-grit sandpaper.
- Clean away any dust with a tack cloth or clean rag.
- Paint or re-stain the repair as needed.
Repair a blistered or separated veneer in wood furniture:
- Place a damp cloth over the blister and apply a hot iron to steam-heat the veneer. Smaller blisters typically are removed by this process. If the blister remains, continue with the next step.
- Use a utility knife to carefully slit the veneer.
- Insert wood glue under the edges of the slit veneer, slightly overfilling.
- Use a small roller to force out excess glue and to flatten the area. Clean away any excess glue. Don’t use a weight because it could stick to the veneer.
- Allow the glue to fully dry before reusing the furniture.
Reinforce a wood furniture joint:
- Disassemble the loose joint.
- Clean both parts of the joint of old glue or wood.
- Re-glue the joint and clamp in place, following the glue manufacturer’s recommendations. If the fitting is loose, add a small wedge of wood for additional support.
Repair a split in wood furniture:
- Carefully pry apart the split and use a small wedge of wood to keep it open while you work.
- Clean out any old glue from the opening to make sure that the new glue adheres well.
- Apply ample wood glue to both surfaces using a small brush or toothpick. You can wipe excess glue off once you’re done.
- Remove the wedges.
- Clamp the repair and remove the excess glue. Allow the glue to dry fully (see instructions) before reusing the furniture.
Minimize a minor burn on wood furniture:
- Carefully buff the area with fine steel wool moistened with mineral spirits; the scorch should disappear.
- Wipe the area clean of debris and mineral spirits.
- Polish the surface to renew its sheen and to provide protection.
Repair a scratch or spot on wood furniture:
- Carefully clean the marred area with mineral spirits and a clean rag.
- Use very fine steel wool and high-quality furniture oil to gently rub the marred area, rubbing with the grain.
- Once the damage disappears, remove any residue with a rag or tack cloth.
Service loose, bent, or worn door hinges in wood furniture:
- Tighten the hinge screws. Replace the hinges if they are bent or worn.
- If the door still does not work properly, remove the door.
- Fill the screw holes with wood putty.
- Once the putty is dry, replace the screws.
Un-stick a wood furniture door:
- Open and close the door to determine where it is sticking. To make the sticking point visible, coat the door’s edges with powdered chalk, then close and open the door a few times. The lack of chalk will tell you where the door is sticking.
- Use a plane carefully to remove material where the door sticks. You may also need to remove material from the frame that surrounds the closed door.
- Repeat as needed until the door opens and closes easily.
Straighten a warped wood furniture door:
- Remove the door from the furniture or cabinet.
- Wet the concave (bulging) side of the warp with wet cloths or sponges.
- Heat the opposite side of the warp with a heat lamp or high-wattage hair dryer.
- Apply clamps and scrap wood as needed to force the door straight.
Replace a glass panel in a wood furniture door:
- Carefully remove any loose glass from the door panel.
- Use a putty knife carefully to pry out the molding or other components holding the glass in place. Some glass panels are held in place by screws or brackets.
- Remove the remaining glass and carefully vacuum out the grooves.
- Place a new pane of glass, the same size as the old one, in the door.
- Install new molding or reattach the old molding (depending on condition), being careful not to break the glass.
Modify a sliding door channel in wood furniture:
- If the channel is too narrow, use medium-grit sandpaper to sand the channel, then vacuum to remove any dust and debris.
- If the channel is too wide, remove the door and add a bead of wood glue or filler to the channel as needed.
Shim a wood furniture door hinge:
- Open the door to expose the hinge.
- Unscrew the hinge from the frame.
- Place a piece of solid (not corrugated) cardboard behind the hinge to be shimmed.
- Mark and cut the cardboard to fit under the hinge.
- Install the trimmed cardboard under the hinge and reinstall the hinge.
- Open and close the door several times to test the hinge.
Reinforce a sagging shelf in wood furniture:
- Remove the shelf and reinstall it upside down.
- Install metal braces or glue blocks at the rear center below the shelf.
- Once the shelf is level, fasten screws through the back of the cabinet and in to the shelf to help support it.
Replace a wood furniture drawer bottom:
- Remove the drawer from the furniture or cabinet.
- Carefully remove the back of the drawer by removing nails or other fasteners. If this cannot be done easily, instead carefully pry the bottom from the drawer.
- Turn the old bottom over and reinstall it or replace it with a new one of the same size and thickness.
- Make sure the door is square (measure across to opposite corners; both diagonals should be equal) before fastening the bottom in place.
Realign a wood furniture drawer guide:
- Use a small square to check alignment of the guide; it should be perpendicular to the drawer front.
- Use recessed screws and wood glue to secure the guide. If the screws spin in the holes, use wood filler in the hole before replacing the screw.
Realign a wood furniture metal-drawer track:
- Remove the drawer from the furniture or cabinet.
- Inspect the metal drawer track for adjustment screws.
- Loosen, adjust, and tighten adjustment screws as needed to realign the track.
Repair a wood runner in wood furniture:
- Remove the drawer from the furniture or cabinet.
- Unscrew or cut out the runner.
- Remove excess glue or wood before installing the replacement runner.
- Install the new runner using wood glue and screws as needed.
If you are using glue, make sure you select the best type for the project. See the adhesives section of the Stationary Things Fix-It Guide . Also read the label on the glue bottle to know how long it will take to dry and whether clamping or pressure is needed.