Repurposing a broken office chair

Cheap office chairs really aren't built to last.

Here's what usually goes wrong:

  • The arm rests are screwed into the plywood base of the seat. Any sort of load on the arm rests tends to split the whole side off the seat. Not good when you have kids about - they love to swing on these things which really hastens their demise.
  • The gas-lift stops working. These are not really repairable, although they can sometimes be replaced if you can find the right part.
  • The back adjustment works using a clutch-like mechanism. The clutch is made of thin steel plates which are welded to the base of the chair. These plates can snap off, and once they've all gone the back of the chair is completely floppy. In our chair, all of the plates have snapped of just before the weld with the base. Unfortunately, the mechanism is not replacable.

Rather than chucking it out, I tried to think of something I could do with the parts, most of which were still OK. The result looks something like this, and we'll come to what exactly it does later:

The conversion is pretty simple, though obviously it depends a bit on the chair and how its made. The first step is to remove the seat post and mechanism. On my chair, the seat post is a light steel tube which is press-fitted into the plastic caster base. Once you remove a locking bolt the post can be removed with a few belts of a mallet.

The seat and back are just bolted on to the main mechanism. Once these are removed you can check them for usability. To mount onto the caster base you want whichever one has the flattest back. On my chair this was the back rather than the seat, though this may vary between chairs.

To fix the seat/back onto the base, juggle the spacing until its right and then drill some holes through the caster base. I just used some large-gague self-tappers to hold the seat in position. If its curved you might need to add some spacers between the base and the seat (eg. using washers or cutting short lengths of tubing).

I thought this would be fun for the kids to play with, and indeed it was for a short while. Since then, I've found several other uses.

  • Moving potplants, or other heavy objects. Once you've lifted it on its pretty stable, though you may have to hold your load in place top stop it falling off.
  • Moving furniture. For items that are large but not too heavy (eg. sofas), you can lift one end onto the device, and then carry the other end yourself.
  • A foot-rest. My wife claims that this is the best foot-rest she has ever had, which given her initial skepticism is saying something. An added benefit is that she keeps it under her desk, so I don't have to find somewhere else to store it.
  • A cat throne. (suggested by Kathryn) Providing your cat somewhere to sit may stop it trying to sit in inconvenient places. If you're lucky, it may even scratch here rather than destroying the sofa.

Its pretty easy to get raw materials for these things. If you can't scavenge some broken chairs from a workplace, you can usually find them in kerb-side junk collections.


  1. Kathryn Greenhill:

    ...and it gives the cat a warm and cosy place to sleep at my feet so she isn't always meowing on my lap and swiping at me when I move.

    BTW, the images don't show in the feed, so I didn't know they were there. You may want to upload them somewhere like Flickr and put a link to them in the text...

  2. Stewart:

    Good point. I've added a picture as evidence.

    The photos should be fixed now. Relative image links don't work in feeds.

  3. Frank Hrebabetzky:

    There is one more use: as a cat-roundabout. I actually tried it out to cure my cat from sitting on my (intact) office chair and it goes like this. Approach the chair when the cat is there, not even dreaming about letting you sit down. Put one foot on the base of the chair to stabilize it and start softly turning it. The cat finds that an interesting experience, while you slowly accelerate. You will soon reach a pace which isn't comfortable any more for the cat, but now it is too fast for her to get off. If you slow down just a bit she will use the opportunity jumping down, clawing to the ground, with periodic eye and head movements trying to follow the spinning room. Soon, she will look for some shelter to hide. After two or three experiences like that, she might still sit on your chair, but she will make room when she sees you approaching.

    It might be easier if your wife isn't around.

  4. Stewart:

    :-) I guess it solves the problem of competition for the chair and is probably entertaining for at least one party.

    We have always used water pistols and spray bottles as cat deterrents. I seem to recall the argument that the cat dislikes being wet, but doesn't immediately realise where the water has come from. So it associates the discomfort with the situation and not with you, its tormentor. I think cats are generally cleverer than that, and quickly learn what they can get away with when you're not around.

  5. Ginny:

    I got distractedreading this while checking out the uke songbook updates!

    I liked Kathryn's cat throne idea. I can imagine Charlie Brown our Jack Russell, who has currently appropriated a beanbag and who has some cat genes (curls up in a ball, licks himself clean, sleeps for hours and hates water) using it.

    When I broke my foot some years back, I completely underestimated my inability to carry things. I initially thought "phew,well at least it wasn't my arm". Problem is, if you can't walk properly, it is hard to carry things too (e.g. food and books) without dropping or spilling them! I used something similiar to your modified chair for wheeling myself around the flat quickly and for moving food and small necessary items from room to room. It was a compact aid in a small space and saved me from having to push things very slowly along the floor or needing to use mugs with lids etc!

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