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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Futon Repair: It's easy to fix the most common futon failures

ten-foot clamps: critical for fixing futons
Have a broken futon frame?  In this post I'll show you what kinds of problems are fixable, and I'll give you a couple of ways to figure out if your futon frame is prone to break again.  CLICK "READ MORE" (BELOW) TO SEE THE FULL POST.

Futons: they're a cheap, efficient way to furnish a tiny living space, making them ubiquitous in the apartments of twenty-somethings.  By age thirty, most of us are looking forward to the day we can afford to finally jettison this vestige of a lager-soaked youth.  But in the midst of America's lost decade, the cost of purchasing a new couch or bed (or both!) might be prohibitive.  And so, alas, many young people are hanging onto their futons, pressing them into service as the one and only couch in their living room.

For these people, bringing the futon out of the bedroom and into "prime time" means sprucing it up a bit.  After a decade of hard use, most futon covers are irreparably stained, the pad itself is lumpy and hard, and the frame is loose, or - often - cracked.  In the past few months, I've helped a few friends rehabilitate their futon frames, thereby saving them hundreds of dollars for a new couch.

finger joints
So, what kind of problem do have with your futon?  Usually, the problem is either with the fasteners that hold the frame together, or a break somewhere in the frame.  Futons are made from wood planks, glued and fastened together.  The fasteners that link each part of the frame together are called RTA (ready to assemble) fasteners, and they're made to be taken in and out repeatedly.  The wood frame is sometimes made from full-length boards of solid wood, but more often, it's made from shorter pieces, glued end-to-end to form longer boards.  These "finger jointed" boards (see pic) are weaker than solid wood, and many breaks in the frame happen near a finger joint. 

Loose Bolts?
clamps are key
If the whole assembly is loose, you may have to simply tighten the RTA bolts holding the frame together.  These bolts usually accept a 5mm hex (or "allen") wrench.  Get the wrench and tighten the bolts.  Most breaks in the frame happen because a fastener comes loose, and unintended stress is put on some part of the frame.  Therefore, if your futon frame IS loose, you should tighten it immediately, or you risk breaking the frame.  

Fixing Broken Wooden Parts
If the frame is broken, you can fix it with regular wood glue.  The challenge for most people, though, isn't the glue, but the clamps.  In order to keep the parts together while the glue dries, you'll need clamps long enough to stretch across the frame.  In the case of one repair I did, that meant I needed clamps over eight feet long!  (see pic at top of post)

add a backer board for strength
I can fix nearly any break, even multiple breaks or really bad shattering, tearing breaks.  But if your futon is made with finger-jointed boards, or - worse - MDF or plywood, then you'll need to reinforce your frame to avoid more breaks down the road.  If I think a futon is prone to breaking again, I'll glue and screw another board (100% hardwood) behind the original one, extending all the way from one end of the part to the other, if possible.

If course, you want to drill pilot holes into the futon frame, just to be 100% sure you don't split the piece again.  I like to put screws roughly 7" apart, and I scuff the futon rail wherever I'm going to place the backing board, so that the glue gets a good purchase on the part.  I use enough glue to squeeze out of the joint, and then I peel it off once it dries.  The futon rail, with its clear-coat finish, should shed the extra glue readily.  If you want to make it easier to remove the glue from the backer board, rub it with wax (but don't rub the glued face with wax!) before you glue it and screw it to the futon rail.

In this economy, you might as well rescue your futon, and spend the extra money somewhere it will really count.  And if the job proves too much of a headache for you....

You can always call me!


  1. I need help! I'm using a friends futon as a couch in her basement. Some couchsurfers came, used it as a bed and now it's off track. It's only at one point that it is off track and I have no idea how to get it back. It doesn't belong to me so I've never seen it taken apart. I can't even tell how it happened... I'm desperate at this point, please, any ideas would be great.

  2. Have a broken futon frame? In this post I'll show you what kinds of problems are fixable, and I'll give you a couple of ways to figure out if your ... ifutonframe.blogspot.com