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Eames lounge disaster and revival

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Repair
- 29 Sep 2009 -
54 posts / 0 new
#1

Having repaired dozens of failed Eames shock mounts over the years, I should have been more vigilant to the warning signs. One the original factory glue joints on my 1976 lounge failed while I was sitting in the chair. You can guess what happened next. The chair back, supported entirely by one side, swings back and snaps the beautiful rosewood shell. I felt sick. I looked into 2 possible repair options. Alfie Hume's solution... to replace the lower back panel with a new rosewood shell, color matched to the originals, with new shock mounts, would run about $2500. No slight on Alfie's work, but that's $1000 more than I paid for the chair, and I'd still end up with rosewood from a different flitch than the original. The place that does the wooden shock mount replacements (I forget the name) had a different plan. They'd router the inside of the shell, leaving only the outer rosewood ply, and laminate in new inner plies. That repair was about $900. With their wooden shock mounts, it came to about $1600. I figure that for that price, I can probably find a an original lower back panel. In the meanwhile, I thought I'd take a stab at my own repair. What have I got to lose? I'll post pix of the process. http://i778.photobucket.com/albums/yy66/chrome1000/Eames%20disaster/Pict...

Eames lounge disaster and revival
Designer(s)
Producers
Functions
lounge & easy chairs
Periods
1950 - 1959

Comments

- 29 Sep 2009

Wow- Awesome resto!!
Please do tell,Poach! I am amazed there is no line of demarcation where the break was.Yes,we'd certainly appreciate your info-the chair looked hopeless,and now it looks great!

- 29 Sep 2009

This
lovely chair has become the bread and butter of many repair shops.

I fixed mine like an old wooden boat. It will never need repair.

If it was a car it would have been re-called long ago...

If you have one, it will fail. You will be tossed behind it like a sack of potatoes
against the wall. Don't park it in front of a wall of glass on an upper floor!

Lovely chair. Horribly designed.

- 29 Sep 2009

Surprising
that the revered Doctor Eames would have failed to design this part correctly -- and that it took so long for the fault to become as obvious as it now apparently is ?

Could a metal mesh (?) or similar layer -- glass fiber cloth ? -- have been introduced into the lamination, at this point, to prevent such catastrophic failure ?

- 29 Sep 2009

i have found over the ...
i have found over the years that my Eames lounge chair should be looked at but not sat in. I cringe every time some one comes to the home and sits in the chair.

- 29 Sep 2009

I may come into possession...
I may come into possession of a loungechair, the following days or weeks. An old factory nearby is lavished with niels moller rosewood chairs, MIM-Parisi desks and exceptional commissioned furniture.
There is also this faded lounge-chair, sitting in the sun for many, many years...

I would like to know if I can do anything preventive, something invisible?

- 29 Sep 2009

Would you say this same...
Would you say this same horrible fate is in the cards for a new lounge chair? Do they use a different epoxy now?

- 29 Sep 2009

I thought you were going to post the details
of your restoration-process, Poach. I'm curious--

- 29 Sep 2009

I have to say
I'm SO sorry that you were flipped like a pancake, Poach, but it seems to me that some of the responsibility lies with the owners as well as with the chairs.

Sure - the shockmount design comes with it's own set of issues. We all know that they can come loose and fail - often (as in your case) catastrophically, and sometimes quite suddenly.

But mostly the chair gives some warning signs first - an exaggerated flex is the most ominous. And if you slide your fingers under the wood when sitting in the chair you can feel if the mounts are fraying or splitting, or if they are still solid.

Just like a car this chair needs maintenance - as does most furniture. Nobody hesitates to fault the owners for letting the leather dry out and crack, or for leaving the chair in the sun to fade. The owners should be made aware that the shockmounts should be replaced when they have too much give - either through Herman Miller or a third-party source.

- 29 Sep 2009

I have just purchased a 4...
I have just purchased a 4 year old Herman Miller chair and looking at those pictures makes me shudder.

Like Whitespike, I`d like to know if the shockmounts on the more recent chairs are less likely to suffer a catastophic failure.

I have heard that the more recent chairs have had their shockmounts `beefed` up, can anyone confirm this?

- 29 Sep 2009

mea culpa
Yes... it was bsolutely my own fault. As I stated in the opening of the thread, I should have been more vigilant of the warning signs. In fact, I had noticed a bit of creakiness, and though maybe I should check the mounts, but put it off. Thankfully, I was not flipped. I didn't fall out of the chair. I wasn't hurt in the slightest (broken heart not withstanding).

I didn't mean for this to be a referendum on the chair's "design flaws." That's been covered in several other threads - usually as a thinly veiled solicitation for repair work. For all the whiners, you're welcome to post for comparison all the products you've had in uninterrupted production for 52 years running. I loved this chair when I bought it, still do, continue to sit in it every day.

And yes... I will be posting the whole process. Just had to get all the pictures together.

- 29 Sep 2009

Repair Process
Please be patient, as this will take several posts to complete, and I'm not 100% finished with the job.

Okay... After considering a variety of possible materials and processes to fix the chair, I decided to use one the Charles and Ray's other favorite materials: fiberglass. It's stronger than wood, has similar flexibility, bonds well, and is fairly easy to handle and form.

First, I needed to make a place for the new structure. That means using a router to remove almost all of the material in the area of the break, except for the outer rosewood ply. I used a Dremmel mini router (roto-zip style) to remove the inner plies.





- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
As you can see, it took a while to get used to the tool and figure out which router bit worked best. The first image shows quite a bit of chatter along the edges of the cut. I had to get a different collet for the router at the hardware store. The stock collet for these mini routers only handles 1/8" bits, and the router bits I bought were 1/4" drive. I had the best results with the 3/8" router bit. The larger ones tended to feel a little wild and unpredictable. Good thing I had the pieces well clamped.

A caliper might have come in handy here, but I just used my fingers to continually test the remaining thickness of the plywood. I wanted to make sure I'd have as much depth as possible for the new structure. But if I went through the outer veneer: game over. So grind... check... check... grind... check.

Once I was comfortable with the basic size and shape of the well on both pieces, I assembled the two pieces, and held them tightly together with gaffer tape. Then, I did a final bit of routing to make a smooth transition between the two pieces.

All in all, this took about 2 hours.

Oh... BTW, the photos are all wider than this column will display normally, so you have to use the little slider widget at the bottom of the pictures to view them in full.





- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
Time to lay up the fiberglass.

I picked up some random strand fiberglass cloth and resin gel at the auto parts store. When I got home, I cut a piece to the shape of the channel I'd created, and then cut another 15, or so, using the first one as a template. Then I layered them into the channel for a test fit.

I mixed up a batch of the resin gel, going a little easy on the catalyst, so that I'd have as much time as possible to work with it. Anyone who's ever used automotive body filler has has the experience of it setting before you finished smoothing it out. Anyway, once mixed I coated the whole inner surface of the channel, to make sure I'd get good adhesion to the wood. Then I used a plastic scraper to saturate several of my little cloth cutouts, and carefully laid them into the channel.

Before messing with any of the fiberglass, I'd snapped on a pair of latex gloves; so now, I just used my hands to press out all the air bubbles. As soon as I could feel the resin starting to get a little rubbery, I stopped. At this point, the channel was about 1/2 filled.




- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
I came back to my work the following day, and cleaned up around the edges with an razor blade.

Thinking about the previous day's work, I wasn't satisfied with the way the resin gel had to be forced into the cloth. I thought I could get a much better ratio of fiberglass to resin with a liquid resin. So... another trip to the auto parts store, and I've got a can of liquid resin.

So I've got this dilema: do I router out all the fiberglass I'd laid in the day before, and start from scratch, or just pick up where I left off. I chose the latter.

I grabbed my little electric hand sander, and roughed up the surface of the fiberglass from the day before. Then, mixed up a batch of the liquid resin, again, putting in less hardener catalyst than recommended, to give me extra time. As I expected the liquied allowed me to lay in the cloth much more densely.




- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
To make sure everything was rock solid, I let the whole thing sit out in the garage for a week (fiberglass stinks). Then I grabbed my handy sander again, and went to town smoothing it out.

Now, I haven't decided yet how to finish the surface. I could feather in a new piece of rosewood veneer. I could just hit it with a bit of dark brown paint. As you'll see when I start assembling the chair, the repair area is almost entirely obscured by the cushions.

In any case, I knew that I wanted the shock mount to be adhered directly to the fiberglass structural component. I could decide on the aesthetic surface later. Digging into my big box of adhesives, I pull out the mighty Scotchweld 1838. This is the real deal. The stuff the Herman Miller factory used. I've had this pair of tubes for well over 10 years, and have repaired dozens of shock mounts - no failures. The 3M spec sheet rates it for 2500 pounds of shear force! That's some serious sticky.

With the fiberglass resin, you've gotta work kinda fast, before it starts to set up. With the 1838, you've got all the time in the world. This is no 5 minute epoxy. It takes about 8 hours before it even starts to gel.

I measured the placement of the other shock mount, and matched it on the repair side, making an outline with a sharpie. Then I mixed up the 1838, slathered it on both the shock mount and in the sharpie outline, and clamped them together.




- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
Just to be sure everything was solid, I left it alone for another three days, before removing the clamps.




- 30 Sep 2009

Thanks for
the impressive and well-illustrated tutorial ! Quite the enthusiastic undertaking.

It seems that the fault was not with the shockmount, but rather the plywood ?

- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
This is where a more talented woodworker might have come in handy.

Concerned that I might go through the thin rosewood veneer, I lightly sanded the exterior with 150 grit, and 220 grit paper, until it was reasonably smooth. I'm sure there are very sophisticated techniques for filling and graining, but I just used plain old hand sanding.

Before finishing the surface, I rubbed on a little wood conditioner. This is supposed to prevent the end grain from soaking up more stain than the surface. To finish the wood, I used a bit of gunstock oil that was given to me years ago by a Herman Miller employee who worked in the 670 assembly shop. He told me it's what they used to finish the chairs from the factory. Good enough for me. It did end up soaking a little more into the broken end grain, and making it slightly darker than the surface. Oh well..

Once assembled, the fiberglass repair is well hidden behind the cushions. I still need to deal with it, but for now, I'm just gonna relax for a while in my chair.




- 30 Sep 2009

Process continued
I've been sitting in the chair every night for 5 days now, and it's solid as a rock. Despite Tulipman's early praise, up close, the crack is easily visible. From a few feet away, it's fine. In any case, it's in shadow, and obscured by the arm. I may eventually consult a professional woodworker to see if it can be made better.

Comments? Questions?


- 30 Sep 2009

Great stuff,Poach!- Bravo!
I commend your relentless effort to make a stronger than factory bond,and I believe you've accomplished that.Moreover,you inspire us DIY guys to not fear should the resto be less than perfect cosmetically.You still get to enjoy your chair, and it looks very nice.You can eventually improve that outer shell if it bothers you.Kudos for your tremendous job of chronicling this process!

- 30 Sep 2009

Super work.
Sadly, once that torn grain is impregnated with oil, there is very little that can be done to lighten the color of the fibers. -- particularly over oil, which typically resists any foreign substance. And you would need an opaque material, like paint, to lighten what is there now. Maybe oil paint would stick ?

The general rule is, do everything you need to do for color, before applying an oil or wax finish. In your case (and maybe if the other side breaks you can try this) it might have been possible to apply some filler into the broken fibers after the glue-up was done and the area sanded flat. Remember that it is always possible to make wood and wood products and glues darker, and almost impossible to make them lighter (bleach is the exception to this rule, and that's not easily managed on small details, I would think).

If your break ended up filled with something like well-compacted wood filler that was lighter than the surrounding area, then before the oiling a little color on a #1 artist's brush could be used to get it close to the right tone, before oiling. Assuming that the filler is still more absorbent than the rosewood, it would be good to err on the side of lighter rather than darker.

Well, all that is largely water under the bridge; your repair is so successful that this is a very minor issue. Congratulations again and thanks (again) for the extensive documentation. Bravo!

- 01 Oct 2009

Thanks
It's gratifying to see how many views there have been of this post. I use the internet so often for troubleshooting and repair advice (usually automotive in nature), and always appreciate good photo documentation. A contribution of my own was well overdue.

- 01 Oct 2009

It's quite simply a design flaw...
I've had a three year old L & O collapse on me. Design flaw. Simple as.

- 07 Oct 2009

Eames Shell Repair
I have a very similar break on my Eames Chair
I would love to learn the secrets of your repair

- 07 Oct 2009

Hi poach
I had a question for you... Could you post your email or contact me at teapotd0me at yahoo? tyVm.

- 08 Oct 2009

all secrets revealed
Joe...

Not sure there are any "secrets" to reveal. However, if my documentation is lacking sufficient detail, I'm happy to clarify. I guess if there's one key ingredient to the process, it's putting yourself in that nothing-to-lose-now mindset. It's not easy to start carving up your baby with a router. Let me know how I can be of help.

Woody,

I'll contact you presently.

- 08 Oct 2009

The trickiest
repairs of wood products involve cross-grain breaks and tears, as in this case.

Poach leaves the matter of how this part of the project was achieved, a bit unclear -- but the results are about as good as one could have hoped for, from what I can see.

Joe, read carefully, and good luck !

- 08 Oct 2009

Dumb luck, I guess
Can't claim any special magic when it comes to surface finishing. I defer to SDR's obvious superior knowledge on the subject. I think I was just lucky to have a fairly clean break that went back together without much of a struggle. Also, I really think the wood conditioner is key to color consistency.

I should probably do a hindsight list of things I would do differently. I'd also welcome suggestions for improving the process.

- 12 Oct 2009

Inventive repair, unlikely to last long. New Shock Mounts worse than old
(edited by DA - no advertising on the forum, please)

- 13 Oct 2009

Peter
Your message scares me. My Eames L+O is probably around 5-6 yeears old. Should we just sell our damn design flawed chairs and opt for another choice instead?

- 13 Oct 2009

You know how I feel, Jake...
But Peter is not one to take too seriously. He's merely a salesman.

- 13 Oct 2009

Not to worry, Peter
The fiberglass isn't reliant on the end grain for adhesion. The channel is routered at a taper, so that as it rounds the back side, it gets more shallow. At the end of the channel, it's only about 1/16" deep. This allows the load to be gradually transferred from the fiberglass to the wood, across a significant distance. It also means that there is no reliance on the end grain for adhesion or structure.

Peter, I'm absolutely persuaded that yours is the superior repair technique. I thank both you and Alfie for offering these competing options when disaster strikes. I just couldn't justify spending $900-2500 for a repair on a chair that cost me only $1500.

Yes, collecting in West Michigan skews my perception of pricing on Herman Miller furniture. But even outside of West Michigan, your repair pricing is something close to half the value of the chair. Alfie's is nearly the price of a complete replacement chair. For some, these repairs may be worth the price. I'm not in that camp.

- 13 Oct 2009

Just shameless self promotion(yet again) on their part,Poach
You did a fine job,and contrary to Triestman's expert opinion,there is NO WAY the fiberglass has compromised the durability of the wood.I have a friend who works with fiberglass and I mentioned your project and he commented that you probably made it even stronger than before! You have resurrected an otherwise hopeless pile of wood.And I believe your alternative DIY repair irks the nay saying professionals who rely on people's Eames chairs to break,so they can make a pretty good living at repairing them.Don't let em put rats in your head.Once again,bravo on a job well done for "pennies on the dollar" in comparison.

- 13 Oct 2009

I would like to note to all l...
I would like to note to all lounge repairers that there is nothing to gain by misleading people to believe that the new 670s are likely to blow at any moment. If I sell it for inferior craftmanship /design you'll never get my business. So I hope everyone is truthful.

Alfie, I would like to hear your opinion on this. How many of you have heard of new chairs ending with the same disaster? I would hate to know HM is selling chairs at almost 4K that are faulty.

- 06 Nov 2009

This gives me hope...
My Eames lounge chair failed similarly, three years ago. I bought it well-used ten years ago for $650. I contacted Peter's company (and others) after the failure, but could not afford (or justify, on my salary) paying them double or triple what I'd paid for the chair itself. I've been scouring eBay and Craigslist and other places, hoping to find a differently-ruined Eames lounge chair with a salvageable back shell. Or just disposing of mine, which is gathering dust in the garage. This DIY account gives me some hope of saving it... I have most of the tools, some cabinetry experience, and I used to work with composite structures in aerospace. Granted, I know Kevlar and carbon fiber better than fiberglass...

- 06 Nov 2009

It struck me as I was reading...
It struck me as I was reading this. Before this I've been ruminating on the importance of preventive medicine instead of cost intensive higher medicine

Perhaps like preventive medicine, a person could reinforce their Eames chair with fiberglass or carbon fiber strips before any breaks occur. The idea being that breaks will be eliminated or minimized.... Thoughts??

- 06 Nov 2009

chair repair
Congratulations on your use of 3M epoxy. Their two part expoxies are the best in the business and specific to any application. Using the 3M EXP dispenser with mixing nozzels will elinimnate all the guess work. For critical wood repair and lamination Resorcinol is nearly fool proof.

- 07 Nov 2009

preventive medicine
Woof Woof,

I don't think reinforcements would help. If one of the shock mounts breaks free, all of the weight and moment of the chair back is being held across that narrow area of the "ear". It's enough force that even fiberglass or carbon fiber would splinter and flex, ultimately resulting in the same fate for the wood.

The best preventive medicine for this type of failure is to re-glue the shock mounts before the glue joint fails. That also means meticulous surface preparation of both the wood and shock mount, as well as use of the proper adhesive.

Peter T. suggests another method that trades off the rubber shock mount for a wooden one with rubber inserts. This allows the shear forces to be on a wood-to-wood joint, instead of a wood-to-rubber joint. While the reasoning is sound, many of us are skeptical that such a system would behave in the same manner as the original.

- 07 Nov 2009

Is this chair unusually fragile?
I never bought one, but I've sure seen many horror stories about broken chairs.

- 07 Nov 2009

My fellow
furniture modernists will be shocked to hear that I have never even sat in one of these loungers -- but it's the truth, so I must ask: how much does the side shock mount contribute to the comfort of the chair ?

Would the back feel remarkably different if it did not flex up and down, relative to the seat shell ? Can anyone venture a guess (at least) ? Could this joint have been more the result of a ideological intent -- and use of a currently-in-vogue technology, one which seems not to have had "legs" for the long haul ?

- 07 Nov 2009

I don't have two to compare...
Just the faint memory and horror of the break.

Bolted now. It is firm with plenty of flex. I don't think another
chair compares to its comfort and design.

I'd like another for my studio. I'm in no hurry and it will be covered
in paint in no time, so i'm looking for a broken or repaired one.
Ekornes was a second choice. The tulip base i think called Pampas...
Well designed for comfort but just a wee bit ugly. And the arm rests
are a bit low. I raised the arms for a friend last spring. It solved that
little flaw.
I missed one on e-bay last summer while on holiday.

If i could only take one chair to a desert island...
If i was tossed in a small cell, (mistaken identity of course) i could
survive a while if i had my eames lounge...with foot rest...and bolted.
Silly and dramatic of me.

I'm sitting in mine now. Watched a crisp fall NewEngland sunrise.
Read the NY times, probably nap, breakfast will be delivered soon.
I may be here all day. Any minute now i'll hear, 'damn, you beat me
to it'. With all the chairs in the house, i need two of these...

When is your birthday Steven?

- 07 Nov 2009

Hysterics.
It's threads like this that contribute to the rumor that this chair is fragile. It is not. I have known many many people who own this chair- both old and new versions. I own one myself. There is one in our office at work. Lots of people sit in it. Lots of HEAVY people sit in it.

Just like any product there will be a few defective peices in any product run. Automobiles, clothing, food - all products. That doesn't imply that the product is inherently poorly designed.

People like Peter Triesten, Alfie Hume, and even Graham Mancha profit from repairing these chairs: naturally they see worst case scenarios, and naturally they like to encourage people to have the chairs repaired. Just like your auto mechanic encourages you to have your engine overhauled. This is how they make their living.

Which is not to imply that some sensible precautions are a bad idea. Quite the contrary - and just like an automobile - knowing the warning signs are a good thing. Everyone should unscrew the armrests once in a while to make sure the mounts are solid. And not flopping into the chair every time you sit in it is probably a good idea as well. I don't flop into any of my chairs because I know thats probably bad for them. Just like I know driving fast over potholes is probably bad for my car. It's just common sense.

- 03 Dec 2009

Eames Profit
Who's been told by their Dad that there's "the right tool for the right job".
We use the right tools and the right parts for all our lounge chair repairs.
You would feel kinda foolish being told that if only you had repaired the chair correctly it would have retained its value.
There is a certain reward in fixing something yourself but at least use the correct replacement parts.
All these items are available from us.(is this advertising??)
Mr.Poach when the time comes to replace your lower back panel drop us a line and i will see what i can do for you.

(edited by Design Addict - no advertising on the forum please)

- 03 Dec 2009

Yes Alfie,, it is advertising
It's always advertising.

As for 'what you can do for me', you already gave me the answer when my chair broke: $2500. So for $2500 you'd help me maintain the value of my $1500 chair? I think even the unfinished panel was a grand.

Alfie, I'm sure your stuff's great. Plenty of people have said so. It's just not a good value for me.

- 09 Mar 2013

four years on...
is the repair holding up? Also, any thoughts on using carbon fiber instead of fiberglass mats? Because...well...it's carbon fiber, and carbon fiber is cool.

- 13 Mar 2013

In response to the last comme...
In response to the last comment relating to carbon fiber, that is in fact an interesting thought. Additionally, carbon fiber is very, very cool. Audi displayed a chair made from carbon fiber at Design Miami. It makes you think. Outdoor carbon fiber plastic chairs?

Also, how is the repair holding up? I have not had this happen to any of my chairs yet, but I know the day will one day come.

- 23 Mar 2013

Still rock solid
Yes. Four years on, the chair is still solid, and still in daily use! Friends are always amazed when they see the repaired chair. I think the fiberglass actually provides a better mating surface for the shock mount than the original rosewood.

I see no reason why carbon fiber couldn't be used in the same manner. However, it's more expensive, and is typically used when weight is a concern, or for its aesthetic quality. In this application, weight isn't an issue, and no one will ever see it.

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