How Not to Break Your Wooden Chairs: A Lesson from the Past

How Not to Break Your Wooden Chairs: A Lesson from the Past

It’s funny how certain admonitions from our past come back to haunt us at the most unexpected times. Take, for instance, the age-old warning: “Don’t lean back in your chair!” As a kid, I heard this from my teachers and grandparents alike, and I never gave it much thought beyond the immediate fear of falling. But the other day, as I glanced at some teak wooden chairs, one with a nasty crack, undoubtedly from someone leaning back on it, I realized there were more reasons behind that warning than just the risk of injury.

The Lesson from School

In school, when a teacher scolded us for leaning back in our chairs, the primary concern was undoubtedly our safety. Toppling over backwards could lead to a nasty fall and a bump on the head. Fortunately, I don’t recall a single wooden chair in any classroom I attended – they were all grey metal designed around WWII probably to withstand the rough and tumble of school life.

Grandmother’s Wisdom

My grandmother, however, was a different story. Her admonishments carried a dual purpose: preventing us from falling and protecting her wooden chairs. I can’t remember them. But wood, even the hardest varieties, has its limits.

The Physics of Leaning Back

Here’s the thing about leaning back in a wooden chair: when you shift all your weight onto the back legs, you’re putting an immense amount of stress on a single point of contact. Over time, this stress can cause the wood to crack, especially if it’s something as brittle as even hardwoods like teak or oak.

Imagine each leg of the chair as a pillar. When you lean back, those two back pillars are bearing all the weight, and they’re not designed to handle that kind of load in such a concentrated manner. This stress can cause the joints to weaken and the wood to crack. Once a crack starts, it can spread, eventually compromising the structural integrity of the entire chair.

What to Tell Your Guests

So, what do you do when you catch someone starting to lean back in one of your cherished wooden chairs? A reminder should work in advance should work when people sit down. Mention why you like the chairs and ask them not to sit back. Because we are all habitual, you may have to remind someone. Try saying, “Hey, could you not lean back? These chairs are a bit delicate, and I’d hate for them to get damaged.” Most people understand and will immediately correct.

When Cracks Appear: Assessing and Repairing

Now, if you’ve already got a chair with a crack (like my poor teak chair), here’s what you can do:

  1. Assess the Damage: Check if the crack is superficial or if it runs deeper. Look at the joints, especially where the leg meets the seat, to see if they’ve been compromised. Joints can be reinforced and cracks filled.
  2. Decide on Repair or Replacement: If the crack is small and superficial, a good wood glue and clamp might do the trick. For deeper or structural cracks, it might be time to call in the experts.

Seattle Wood provides free estimates for wooden furniture repair. We’ll evaluate the damage and give you an honest assessment of whether the chair can be fixed or if it’s time to consider a replacement. Sometimes, a skilled repair can make your chair as good as new, extending its life for many more years to come.


Next time you’re tempted to lean back in a wooden chair, just remember you aren’t in school anymore and that chair could break, even if you don’t hurt yourself falling. It’s not just about avoiding a fall – it’s about preserving the beauty and integrity of your furniture. And if you do find yourself with a cracked chair, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. After all, those chairs have stories and memories embedded in them, and they deserve a little TLC to keep them around for the long haul.


Author Since: March 21, 2023