Furniture repair and refinishing often involves disassembly, and that can be a headache with glued joints. If you simply try to force them apart, you're just as likely to break the wood as you are the glue, sometimes even more so. The best course of action is to soften the glue with a solvent first. Water or white vinegar will do the job on familiar white carpenter's glue, and vinegar will dissolve animal-based hide glue that you're likely to find on older furniture. Use acetone or denatured alcohol if you suspect the joint was glued with epoxy or urethane.
Drill evenly spaced holes into the joint with a 1/8-inch or smaller drill bit. For chair legs or spindles, drill three or four holes around the leg or spindle about 3/4 inch into the wood. For flat or square joints, drill holes along each glued edge. The holes should penetrate the glue to be effective.
Fill a syringe with warm water, white vinegar, acetone or denatured alcohol, depending on the type of glue you are trying to soften. If you're not sure, excavate a little around the joint with an awl. White glue breaks apart more readily than epoxy or urethane, while hide glue has a softer, more pliable texture than the other types.
Orient the piece you are disassembling on the work table so that the holes are facing down. Inject the solvent into each hole and wipe off the excess that spills out with a rag. Let it work for 10 to 20 minutes.
Twist or rock the wood gently to loosen the joint. When it has enough play, pull the joint apart. Inject more solvent if the joint won't move, wait another 10 or 20 minutes and try again. If you are disassembling a through peg, tap lightly on the other end of the peg with a small hammer.
Use a heat gun if you don't make any progress with the solvent. Point the gun directly at the joint and rock the wood as the joint is heating up. When it becomes pliable, remove the heat and pull the joint apart. Sand the edges of the holes after disassembly to smooth the gouges you made with the drill.
Tips & Warnings
- You can soften carpenter's glue without drilling holes by wrapping a damp rag around the joint and leaving it overnight.
- Using heat to separate glue joints is risky, because you can scorch the wood. Do it only as a last resort.
Things You'll Need:
- 1/8-inch or smaller drill bit
- Warm water
- White vinegar
- Acetone or denatured alcohol
- Small hammer
- Heat gun
- Sanding tool
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