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Thursday, June 20, 2019

How to Repair Damaged Dovetail Joints

The easiest and quickest way to repair damaged dovetail joints.

Have you ever found yourself excited about a great piece of used furniture only to be totally bummed that it was damaged?  Furniture damage can be frustrating and overwhelming if you're not handy, but don't let a little damage deter you from buying great quality, used furniture. 

You never have to pass up another great piece of slightly damaged furniture again.  Many repairs like fixing damaged furniture corners, replacing or repairing chipped veneer and tightening or repairing damaged dovetail joints are super easy and require minimal skill and effort.   
Dovetail joints on furniture drawers

It's no surprise that I stalk Facebook Marketplace and frequent flea markets, yard sales and auctions in search of great quality used furniture.  (You can read more about my favorite used furniture sources and what I look for HERE).  Sometimes, I get lucky and minimal or no repairs are needed and other times it takes a little more effort to bring a piece back to life.

Dovetail joints are a type of joinery used in furniture and cabinets that is known for its durability and resistance to being pulled apart.  It consists of a series of "tails and pins" that make the joints nearly impossible to break.  Glue is typically used to reinforce the joints, but screws, nails and other pins are not necessary. 

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The two most common issues that I run into with dovetail joints are loose or improperly repaired joints.  The good news is, both of these issues are easy to fix in just a few simple steps.

If you're dealing with a bad repair job where dovetail joints aren't tight or are covered in hard glue then you'll need to remove the glue and break apart the joints in order to properly repair them.  This can be tricky because you simply can't pry and force them apart.

STEP ONE: Use a sharp chisel to gently remove the dried glue on the outside of the joints. 
STEP TWO: The glue inside the joints will also need to be removed before trying to pop the joints apart.  It's best to use hot vinegar to break down hide glue (a glue made from animal connective tissue and commonly used in antique furniture).  If traditional wood glue has been used then a heat gun and/or denatured alcohol works well to help soften hard and dried glue. 


Dovetail joints are usually very secure and durable, but that doesn't mean they can't come loose if not properly cared for.  The good news is, loose dovetail joints are super easy to repair. 

STEP ONE: If the dovetail joints aren't completely pulled apart then use a rubber mallet to gently tap the inside of the drawer to pop apart the joints.  

             Damaged and pulled apart dovetail joints
STEP TWO: Once the joints are pulled apart clean out any loose or broken wood with a small sharp wood chisel. 

STEP THREE: Apply wood glue along the joints, making sure each individual joint has a generous amount of glue.
Repairing damaged dovetail joints with wood glue
STEP FOUR:  Fit joints back together then clamp with large bar clamps.  Keep joints clamped for about 2 hours.  For maximum hold, allow the glue to cure for a full 24 hours before handling. 
Clamping glued dovetail joints

STEP FIVE: With the joint still clamped, use a wet rag to remove any access glue, making sure to wipe both sides of the glued dovetail joint.

Dovetail joints in furniture
Once the wood glue has fully cured you can prep and refinish or paint your piece of furniture and no one will ever know dovetail joint repairs were made!

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How to easily repair damaged dovetail joints

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