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Chair Robustness & Furniture Testing

machine squashing wood as part of furniture compression test

Considering how much use chairs get in busy hospitality settings, durability is incredibly important. You need to specify furniture that looks good but is also hard wearing and will maintain its looks for a long time despite heavy use.

There are certain ways to reinforce chairs to protect them from damage as well as avoiding behaviours that cause them to break in the first place. If buying hardy furniture is important to you, ask if the product has been testing for robustness, and if not, you could even commission a test yourself.

Which chair material is strongest?

Metal chairs with welded joints are the strongest chairs available. Plastic chairs, particularly one-piece moulded chairs are becoming increasingly robust. The strength of wooden chairs is dependent on the thickness of the wood, the type of wood and the joints.

Typical wood joints include mortise and tenon (a hole and protrusion fitting into the hole), biscuit or dowel joint (a small piece of wood fitting into both pieces being joined), mitred butt joint and CNC finger joints. Whatever the joint, they can be strengthened with gluing, screwing and even staples.

Why do chairs break?

Chairs will most often break (in use) at the top back legs, where the strain is most when they are tipped back. This joint can be invisibly reinforced within the frame, either with metal ‘L’ brackets or wooden triangle inserts.

Stretcher bars between legs can considerably strengthen chairs but wooden rails on stools can be snapped if they are stood on.

Uneven floors can damage chairs, mainly as the chair leg slightly catches on the floor, slowly opening joints or weakening wooden legs. For the most common causes of damage, please see our Furniture Care & Maintenance Guide.

The style of a table base can damage a chair – if the chair legs are regularly knocked against it. 

How can I protect chairs from damage?

Chairs with bigger footprints are more stable (there is no standard to measure this).

Fabrics with higher Martindale Rub Test last longer; for contract standard it’s advised to use no less than 30,000–40,000 rub.

Stained wood is less prone to chipping than lacquered wood, as it is absorbed further into the grain.

Darker colours are more forgiving and hide surface marks better. White surfaces may, for instance, show denim marks and button scratches.

High-gloss plastics or lacquers tend to show scratches more than matt finishes. Use metal kickbacks on stool footrests to stop chipping.

Choosing the right glide helps protect chairs. Soft glides for hard floors prevent jarring and vice versa avoiding ‘sticking’. See the table below on which and when to use.

Guide to glides


Read our blog on the causes of contract furniture damage for more on how to prevent common problems.

Furniture testing for robustness

Furniture can be tested for robustness as well as flammability. Chairs that have been formally tested can be supplied with certification on request.

There are different levels of testing for robustness, typically General Contract Use or Extreme Contract Use. The first of these is usually appropriate for our customers. Different types of products and different testing houses use different terms.

Testing can be carried out in the UK. These tests are typically expensive (around £1,000 for a fairly straightforward test) and can take a long time, as a product may have to endure many thousand cycles of testing. 20 days of testing is not unusual.

The Contract Chair Company is a member of FIRA, the Furniture Industry Research Association. This is the professional body we favour to do our testing. Many factories formally test their products (CATAS in Italy) before presenting the products to market, however, this is not a legal requirement and therefore not all contract products will be certified.

What is FIRA?

Established in 1949, FIRA (Furniture Industry Research Association) is the UK’s largest furniture association, and the only organisation that provides technical support to the whole furniture supply chain. The Association offers knowledge of standards and regulations, industry statistics, research and influence. FIRA International is part of the larger Exova Group, a leading testing, inspection and certification business.

Furniture Term: Martindale Rub Test

Martindale is a unit for quantifying the abrasion resistance of textiles, especially when used for upholstery. The Martindale Rub Test, simulates natural wear of a seat cover, where the textile sample is rubbed against a standard abrasive surface with a specified force.

If you're interested in furniture health and safety in hospitality settings read our blog on UK Fire Regulations for further information.

Free Furniture Knowledge Book

The more you know about furniture the easier it will be for you to specify the right products for your projects. Download our Hospitality Furniture Knowledge book and learn pros and cons of furniture materials, current style trends and tips and tricks of the trade.  

Topics: Furniture testing, Furniture knowledge

By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 04/09/17 11:30
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Hospitality Furniture Knowledge book

Searching for table sizes, wood finishes, researching chair materials or simply wondering what furniture will work best in a restaurant or hotel space? This book is packed with over 10 years of knowledge from the contract furniture industry.

What you'll learn:

  • Furniture specification tips
  • Space planning
  • Materials & considerations
  • Table top finishes & edge profiles
  • Chair robustness, testing & more

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