Interview with David Shafner, The Furniture Doctor

furniture upholstery

Nursing your Furniture Back to Health

Congratulations, you have just inherited your great-great-bubby’s dining table that has been used for countless shabbatot, smachot, chagim and family gatherings for generations. The sentimental value is immeasurable, but the wobbly chairs, peeling veneers and scratched table scream Lag B’Omer bonfire more than Rosh Hashana dinner.

We sat down with David Shafner, better known as The Furniture Doctor, to find out more about his
fascinating story, the ins and outs of furniture repair, and how he returns beloved family treasures to their original beauty.

David, how did you get started in the furniture industry?

My family has been in the furniture business since they immigrated to Connecticut from Europe in the 1890s. We have pictures of my great-grandfather, my grandfather and his brothers standing beside the words “Shafner’s Furniture” emblazoned on the side of their horse-drawn wagon. They opened the store in
1898 and it was in business until 2002!
When I was a child, I loved to romp around the store and spent as much time there as I could. I joined the business in 1979.

How did you go from sales to repair?
When I first joined my father’s firm, he started me off in the prep department. The prep department
is where the furniture first arrives at the furniture store. The containers need to be carefully unpacked and every item has to be judiciously checked for any damage, nicks or scratches. Additionally, we had to make sure that any moving parts, such as drawers or doors, worked properly.
I was trained to skillfully prep, fix and retouch the furniture. I then became the go-to guy who was sent to customers’ houses to fix any furniture that was damaged during the delivery or unpacking.
While I was also trained in sales and every other aspect of the business, it was very obvious that I was particularly good with my hands, so repair and restoration became my niche.
All the furniture we sold carried a lifetime structural and mechanical warranty, so having a skilled repair person on hand was a necessity.

A lifetime warranty? That’s not something you hear often these days!
When people bought from Shafner’s, we guaranteed the furniture for life, even if it was passed to their children and grandchildren. That was how business was conducted in the old days!
In fact, I continue to honor that lifetime warranty to this day. You would be surprised how many clients I have been called to in Israel that own Shafner’s furniture. It’s always a thrill when I turn a chair or table over and see the Shafner’s label.
The clients are always happy to hear that any structural or mechanical repairs are completely free of charge as we honor the Shafner’s warranty across generations and continents!

How are you able to give a lifetime warranty on regluing?
Many years ago, in Connecticut, we discovered a rare, unbelievably strong glue that wasn’t being used for furniture. This glue was stronger than anything we had used to build and repair furniture at the time. This is the glue I use to this day. When we reglue a shaky chair or an unstable table, we guarantee the repair on that particular part for the lifespan of the furniture. Whether you pass it on to your family or sell it, our transferable warranty goes with it.
Interestingly, we have heard that people who have had their chairs or tables reglued by us are able to ask for a higher price when they sell them. That is because the furniture is much stronger than it was originally, and because it comes with a transferable lifetime warranty on the regluing.

Did you consider any other line of work when you made Aliyah?
It was 1998, and for the first year after we came to Israel, I was commuting back and forth to work at Shafner’s Furniture in Connecticut. Our Aliyah was kind of sudden, so I hadn’t thought of anything else.
Then, while visiting neighbors and talking to friends here in Israel, I realized that many of
them had brought over high-quality, American furniture, some of which now needed fixing. They were either sitting on chairs that were wobbly and dangerous, or they stored these beautiful pieces of furniture in their machsan because they could not find anyone they could trust to expertly fix them. It was then that I decided I was going to build my own furniture repair business right here in Israel, and I have never looked back.

What sets you apart from other repairmen or handymen or even carpenters who attempt to fix furniture?
Our high-level knowledge of furniture repairs, our lifetime warranty on regluing, and our expertise
with fixing and restoring high quality or antique furniture.

What constitutes the bulk of your repair work?
We glue somewhere in the vicinity of 5000 chairs a year for customers all over Israel. We also glue tables, especially legs that have become loose, and we fix couches where the wood has broken inside.

Another big part of the work we do is table enlargement. We happened upon the idea almost by accident. When we started importing heavy-duty steel table mechanisms, instead of the typical wooden ones, to fix and strengthen weak tables, we realized that the tracks were so strong they could actually support extra leaves.
People were thrilled with the idea that not only could we make their tables stronger, we could also make them much longer; sometimes, even double their size!

Can you tell us about the cosmetic and restoration work you do?
Simply put, we repair, refurbish, refinish, and restore. Our experts specialize in fixing wood surfaces with visible imperfections like simple scratches and gouges, to burns and water damage.
We can also do the cosmetic repairs according to the customer’s budget. Depending on what a client feels comfortable spending, we can make a piece look brand new, we can refurbish it to make it look a lot nicer, or we can just correct the areas that bother the client the most.
We also import and sell special furniture markers customers can use themselves to fill in scratches and small markings from regular wear and tear. They come in three different varieties, many different colors, and are of the highest professional-grade quality. These markers are incredibly popular—we sell thousands of them!
Over the years, we have earned an excellent reputation for our restoration and repair work. We get
calls from shipping companies, insurance companies, and moving companies all over the world.
If furniture gets damaged during any stage of the shipping process, they call us in to assess the damage and to do the repair work for the client.

What is the most interesting or challenging restoration you have ever done?
We received a call from someone in the Old City who owned furniture that had been in their family for 400 years. Needless to say, it was in terrible shape. Some of the chairs were in pieces and some had parts that had rotted so badly, we literally had to replicate them with new wood. The curved arms of the chairs were the most challenging! But in the end, we managed to not only fix the chairs, we restored them back to their original beauty.
In another case, we restored and reworked an 80-year-old console, the kind that sits against a
wall, into a retractable dining room table for ten. Not only was the structural work extensive, but
this repair entailed huge amount of cosmetic work as well. The finished product looked magnificent, and
it was ten times stronger than when it was first built. The customer was so thrilled, she tasked us
with fixing and restoring seven absolutely gorgeous and unique antique dining chairs.

Do you do all the work yourself?
Luckily, I have a talented team of restoration, cosmetic, and structural experts who know their stuff and help me achieve these incredible—almost miraculous, furniture transformations. Additionally, because we have been in the industry here in Israel for so long, we are also able to refer clients to the best and most honest experts in areas we don’t work in, such as reupholstering furniture.

What can people do to make their furniture last longer, or are those guarded trade secrets?
Oh, not at all! I’m very happy to share. We are like doctors; we hope people don’t need our services,
but when they do, we’re there for them. First, I suggest that people buy the best quality
furniture they can afford; preferably American-made wood furniture from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This furniture will last much longer than anything you can get here, and it will also be easier to repair if anything breaks.
Shop around and do some research. Don’t necessarily take the advice of the salesman who will say anything to get the sale. Be a well-informed consumer!

Secondly, don’t be swayed by fancy names or by the country the furniture comes from. For example, Israelis seem to have a love for Italian furniture because they equate Italy with high fashion, glamour, and luxury. The problem is that, while these chairs may look good, they tend to fall apart very quickly.
Often, Italian-made chairs have the fabric attached to the chair rather than to a removable cushion. To fix the chair, we must remove the hundreds of staples that hold the fabric in place, and then staple the fabric back on after the work is done. This adds up in terms of the labor required and makes what would otherwise be a simple repair, very expensive. This is also why we recommend people only purchase chairs with removable cushions.

Thirdly, don’t lean back and rock on the legs of a chair, and remind everyone in your household (teenagers, anyone?) not to do it. We carry special tips to attach to the bottom of chair legs to make them glide easier on most floors. Not only do the tips reduce the noise the chair makes when you move it, they also extend the life of your chairs by minimizing the vibrations a chair receives that lead to premature loosening of the joints.

What do you love most about your work?

I would say the best part is when I hear from my customers that they are happy to be enjoying their furniture again; the items are stronger, sturdier and safer than before. I love the smile that appears on a customer’s face when they see the severely damaged, but cherished, furniture they can’t part with, beautifully repaired and restored.

The Furniture Doctor restores, repairs and refurbishes furniture all across Israel.

For more information and to find out more about their lifetime warranty, contact David Shafner at 02-999-2418 or at furndoc@gmail.com.


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