Replace or repair
October 25, 2013 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find a Moller model 78 rosewood chair or get one mended?

The chair is part of a dining set of four Niels Moller model 78 rosewood chairs with black leather seats that my parents bought 40 years ago. The chairs have been in use all this time. One of the family dropped a heavy object on the back of one of the chairs, breaking one upright and one of the back slats. We mended it with wood glue, but a big guy broke it again by sitting in it.

I have been looking through and's listings for Danish mid-century furniture (which, of course, is very hot right now) and frankly these sellers, especially European ones, are out of my reach. Buying an entire new dining set is also extravagant; the average set at these sites seems to be US $3,000 to $9,000, not including shipping or insurance. eBay sellers are comparable.

I only need one chair, ideally from a seller in the U.S. or Canada. Any sellers in a 50 mile range of Washington D.C. would be ideal.

Design Within Reach sells a repro of the Moller chair for US $725, but since rosewood is now an endangered species, it's in teak or walnut with a light colored woven seat and would not match the rest of our dining set, which is intact. The seat could be reupholstered to match. Could walnut be stained to look more like rosewood?

Alternatively, could the broken back of the existing chair be repaired more solidly? I would like a reference for a quality furniture repairer, ideally one who works with Danish modern furniture and/or rosewood and in the Eastern U.S..

We will forbid the big guy (a family member) to sit in this chair if it is repaired.

My mother is ill and depressed. I think she feels that everything in the house is falling apart. I would like to do this for her, but not at have-you-lost-your-mind prices. I am willing to spend between 500 and a thousand.
posted by bad grammar to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I'm a woodworker, and while repair is not my specialty and I can't recommend anyone in particular in your area, I might at least be able to give you an idea of how repairable the chair is if we had some pics of the breaks. Sight-unseen, I can only say that gluing broken pieces together often works very well *if* it's done right the first time. Doing it right means, among other things, devising some way to apply quite a lot of clamping force to hold the pieces very tightly together while the glue cures. If that isn't done, the joint will be weak (as your big guy found) and the residue of glue will make a second repair attempt more difficult. On the bright side, the fact that it has a leather seat is helpful in that it's probably easier to remove and replace (if necessary) than a woven seat like the DWR version would be.

Beware, the marketing of wood isn't much regulated, so even though "real" rosewood is basically unavailable, many other species that would not match are now marketed under the name 'rosewood.'
posted by jon1270 at 7:13 PM on October 25, 2013

Research locally for someone to fix it. Proper clamping makes all the difference in a repair and the wood glue you used will need to be cleaned off before it can be re-glued. I'd bet most furniture restorers have access to some rosewood, if it's needed to fabricate a part.

(on hitting the post comment button -2nding jon1270)
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:14 PM on October 25, 2013

"... Could walnut be stained to look more like rosewood? ..."
Not convincingly, especially in close comparison to 3 other period examples of actual rosewood, standing close by.

"... Alternatively, could the broken back of the existing chair be repaired more solidly? ..."
So much depends on the exact nature and position of the break(s), and what repairs may even be mechanically and functionally possible, given the previous repair attempts, the nature and grain of the broken rosewood, and the very minimalist style of these chairs. Photos, if you are able to post them on other image hosting sites, with a link to them back in this thread, would be very helpful. If it's only a back slat that has been broken near an upright, and the remaining broken again pieces are not reasonable candidates for repair, a suitable replacement slat could be fabricated from non-embargoed Indian rosewood, and while the grain might not be a dead match for the original (if the original was, in fact, Brazilian or African rosewood), the overall color and grain density would pass casual notice. Not all rosewood, particularly Indian rosewood, is customs embargoed, by the way, but in repairing a rosewood item, you need to make the inclusion of new rosewood parts, and their provenance, the responsibility of their provider, if you ever hope to sell the stuff, again. You do that by proper paperwork, and paying for it, properly. Consequently, even a simple proper repair like a slat replacement, necessitating new wood and finish match to existing finish may very well push the upper limits of your stated repair budget.

But you're in much tougher and more expensive grounds if a carved back upright/back leg is badly broken. In the case of some splintering of such a wooden piece, nothing really satisfactory to the purpose of the object, as a chair, is really possible, and still economic. It would literally cost more to repair the existing chair convincingly, than to replace it, from similar stock, on an auction site.

Rosewood simply doesn't glue as well as other woods, and it's important to keep it in well hydrated surroundings, as most people who have musical instruments that incorporate rosewood soon come to know. Still, it is generally less fussy about short term changes in local atmospheric humidity than common musical instrument soft woods like spruce and even birch, because it has a relatively high residual oil content. Large musical instruments like dreadnought guitars, especially, typically split their spruce tops well before their rosewood backs fail, when they begin to dry out. Still, whatever your success with repair or replacement of this particular chair, I'd recommend you investigate the use of a humidifier or other reliable humidity solution, in the dining room you keep this set of furniture, to keep a relative humidity in all seasons above 50%, if you expect to use or resell the goods in the long run.
posted by paulsc at 7:35 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I apologize for not giving a fuller and more accurate description of the chair with photos. The second breakage was worse, breaking off the top portions of the two uprights as well as the slats, as you can see here:

Photos of damaged chair
posted by bad grammar at 10:05 AM on October 26, 2013

Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that that's teak, not rosewood, and teak is still quite available. The bad news is that teak is even harder to glue than rosewood.
posted by jon1270 at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2013

Response by poster: Is teak too hard for glue to penetrate well? That would explain why our repair didn't hold up, and a professional repairer would probably insert some additional pegs in the uprights (the pegs attaching the slats are intact).

I sent the same pictures to various furniture repair firms. One replied already with a quote of $175; the other two are higher-end and will probably be more.
posted by bad grammar at 1:56 PM on October 26, 2013

Lots of tropical hard woods are oily and the glue can't get a good grip. Woodworkers brush them with solvents like acetone before gluing.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:09 PM on October 26, 2013

Teak isn't very hard at all, actually, but like btg says, it is very oily. As btg wrote, there are ways to deal with it. There's hope.

$175 sounds low to me, given how many pieces it's in. It would take a lot of time and attention to make the repairs inconspicuous. Fortunately it looks like the chair had a fair number of dings and marks even before the breakage, and I'm guessing the rest of the set does too, so it doesn't need to be perfect to blend in.
posted by jon1270 at 2:34 PM on October 26, 2013

Actually, given the light color of the interior of the wood in your pictures, against the darker finish color, I doubt that the chair is is actually even constructed of real teak. For one thing, teak in thin cross sections, especially when carved or steam bent like your slats must be, is highly subject to checking/cracking in use, as it dries out in home surrounding. Furniture designers specifying woods for production chairs like this, would know this, and select more common kiln dried hardwoods, for such thin sections as this design requires. A lot of 50s and 60s era actual "Danish modern" teak furniture has visible repairs from checking, either gluing, or more extensive patches, just because of this property of the wood, and sometimes, quality repairs of this nature are accepted with little or no detriment to the value of the piece, as visible evidence of genuine teak. But genuine teak has a characteristic smell, so you might be able to use your nose, comparing your furniture to known teak samples at outdoor furniture stores, to help identify the material from which your chair is made.

More likely, your chair is made of poplar or maple, with a teak stained finish. But the original construction was heavily doweled, with what look like synthetic dowels. There is a lot of damage, and minimal glue up surface area on the broken uprights and slats, so even though the hardwood that the chairs are probably made of may be more amenable to glues than tropical woods like teak or rosewood, I think that even if you had the thing repaired, the practicality of its use as a chair is over, "big guy guests" or not. That thing, even well repaired, as a chair, is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

And $175 for such a repair is, I'm afraid, such a minimal price to repair such a lot of damage, that I'd be very hesitant to take such an offer. To have any real chance of success, a repair of this magnitude and geometry, is probably going to have to be based on very strong furniture adhesives, like 300+ gram strength hot hide glue, or modern epoxy adhesives, neither of which are easy to work, as real clamping to hold simple woodworking polymer glues is likely to be both difficult, and unsuccessful. The high tack strength and short open time of high strength hide or advanced epoxy glues means that a skilled repair person can basically dry fit the joint for test, study and make notes of subsequent fill and finish issues, if any, then apply the glue and hand hold the repair for a few minutes until the adhesive sets. It's a very tactile process that depends on skill and sure, strong hands, but it works great. Guys who regularly use hide glue for repairs will be reliable restorers, but they'll likely quote you 2x to 3x the $175 figure at a minimum, to handle such a mess. But you can verify their claims of expertise and capability easily, with a visit to their shops. The smell of a hot hide glue pot cooking away is unmistakeable.
posted by paulsc at 1:40 AM on October 27, 2013

Just chiming in to disagree with some of Paul's assertions. Real teak is actually very common in chairs. I have a half-dozen teak midcentury chairs around my dining table, and while there have been some failures of glued, doweled joints, there are no cracks or checks. The curved back pieces of the OP's chair are simply machined from solid stock, neither carved nor steam-bent. Teak is frequently just as light as the wood seen in the OP's chair. It tends to be paler and greenish initially, and the surface shifts to that warm brown color over time with exposure to sunlight. The color of the interior is relatively stable, so fresh-cut (or recenty broken) surfaces in old teak appear lighter. The color and grain structure visible in the crisper shots of the OP's chair is completely consistent with teak, and not at all with poplar or maple. Poplar, in any case, would not be used in a chair of such delicate proportions because it's too soft and weak.
posted by jon1270 at 4:22 AM on October 27, 2013

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