Make my chair back four or five inches taller?
February 25, 2008 5:42 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to add an extension to a chair back to make it four or five inches taller?

I have cervical dystonia, which means that a muscle or muscles in my neck contract continuously, pulling my head forward and to the right. I'm receiving medical treatment, but it'll probably be at least a few more months before we make a lot of progress on that front.

In the meantime, I've found a simple apparatus that helps quite a bit. It consists of an elastic headband connected to a nylon strap. The strap wraps around the back of my desk chair and the headband attaches to the strap. This rig holds my head up so that I don't have to, giving the muscles in the back of my neck some much needed rest. I've significantly reduced the frequency of my headaches.

The problem is that the chair in question isn't really tall enough. The seat back, at 28 inches, doesn't come all the way up to the top of my head. Consequently, the strap sits at about shoulder height and I have to slump down in my seat to use it. This is pretty rough on my lower back, an area where I've already had plenty of problems.

I need a seatback that's 32 to 34 inches in height. However, few office chairs can match this spec. I've found some with 30 or 31 inch backs, but they're obscenely expensive (300 to 1500 bucks.) The aforelinked web page does sell a sort of portable seat-back that straps to your chair, providing extra height. However, it's only about 30 inches tall. If all else fails, I'll try it and hope it does the job. But if it doesn't, I'm going to end up paying about forty bucks in shipping just to try it and then return it.

(Note: If you're googling up office chairs and checking the specs to see whether I'm high on crack, keep in mind that "back height," which we're discussing here, is different than "seat height" or "overall height." Sometimes, "back height" isn't listed and you have to subtract the seat height from the overall height to yield an approximation.)

I found an old wing-back living room chair that's tall enough but can't get it into my bedroom. And even if I could, I'm not sure about the feasibility of using something like that as a desk chair. I've googled for ergonomic chairs, wheelchair accessories, back support doodads, and everything else I thought might possibly help. A few items were interesting, but none took home the cupie doll.

However, I'm hoping there's another solution. I'm hoping I can make my own seat-back extension. It turns out the back on my current chair (a standard issue desk chair bought at Office Depot on sale for about 50 bucks) is made of a curved sheet of plywood with a little bit of cushioning and a fabric cover. Remember, the idea here is to add a net of about 4 or 5 inches in height. So suppose I got another piece of plywood about 18 inches long, positioned it about 13 inches below the top of the chair (allowing it to stick up about 5 inches), and then nailed it in place? I'd need to add some padding, of course, and it would look ugly as home made sin, but I think it would serve my purpose, provided it could take the strain I'd put on it.

From an engineering/carpentry standpoint, is this just a ridiculous idea? If the plywood-n-nails approach wouldn't work, is there anything else that would? We're talking about adding four or five inches. It just seems to me that there ought to be a way to do this. (I have someone who can help me with the physical labor). Just keep in mind that this hypothetical extension is going to be supporting the weight of my head, so it would have to be sturdy.

All suggestions are welcome, but I ask that if you're going to post to say that I should just get the portable seat back mentioned above, just save your keystrokes. If the modification attempt falls through, that'll be my plan B.

Thanks for reading.
posted by Clay201 to Grab Bag (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sure -- I'd try adding the plywood (or maybe even just a piece of 2x4 or similar wood, or even a round piece of birch dowel or pvc or metal pipe -- I'm not sure it what you need is a wide extension of the seat back or just the height), because it is basically free and might work. If it doesn't work, you are no worse off than you are right now. I would experiment with free or ultra-cheap scraps of wood, and if that works then you can rework it to make it look good (even just painting the raw wood black might help).

I wouldn't suggest using nails, because there are cleaner options -- screws (and don't use ones that are too long and will poke through), C-clamps, little brackets, and so on. Poke around at a good hardware store and see what looks like it will work.
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2008

Seems like simple DIY.

You won't want to use nails though, you'll need screws for a more solid fix-- remember to drill some pilot holes for them to decrease the chance of splitting the wood (although ply is generally very forgiving).

Padding can just be done with some dense foam and some fabric (just cover the padding with the fabric and staple it to the ply to keep everything in place), sponges might do the trick too if you can't find largish pieces of foam.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:18 AM on February 25, 2008

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