Office Chair Bleg

I’ve been planting my rear in a Herman Miller Aeron Chair for the better part of a decade. Back around 2003 the previous company I worked for acquired another company out in San Diego that was about to go tits up. We mainly wanted their technology and a few key employees who understood it, but it also came with a heaping shipment of Aeron chairs. I snatched one up immediately, figuring it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. It’s hands down the best chair I’ve ever owned. When our company finally went tits up in 2011, I was the last employee out of the building, and since the wind-down team had to hold on to our chairs through the asset auction, I took two Aeron chairs home.

Everything was fine until just before we were ready to head to Annual Meeting, and I stood up from my chair and the right arm broke clean off; the bolt head having separated completely from the shaft. Given the chair is about 14 years old at this point, that’s not a bad run. But I’m loathe to spend money on a new one. The trouble with fixing it is that Herman Miller pretty heavily controls its parts distribution, and there are only certain approved parts that can be sold, like lumbar pads and arm rest pads. There isn’t a arm rest bolt to be found on all the Internets that doesn’t look like a cheap non-hardned knockoff.

Herman Miller demands you to take the chair to an authorized service center to be repaired. I have a real problem with forcing customers to screw themselves out of hard-earned cash. It’s a chair, not a Saturn V rocket engine. I can fix it myself given the proper part. My guess is Herman Miller knows the .com crash flooded the secondary market with their chairs, and they know they are very well built and last forever. So they have to manufacture ways to extract money from the used market, and probably hope you’ll just buy a new one. Except that one with all the bells and whistles, a new Aeron pushes close to 9 or 10 bills.

So I’m kind of pissed off at this whole thing. I’m wondering if anyone out there knows of either a good Aeron knockoff that’s well built and comfortable, or knows a good source for Aeron parts outside of official Herman Miller channels. I’d also be open to getting a broken one to use for parts if it’s cheap enough too.

UPDATE: I found a solution! The chair lives!

24 thoughts on “Office Chair Bleg”

  1. Post up a picture of the bolt itself. $10 says McMaster Carr/Grainger/MSC has an equivalent. Herman Miller got the bolt from somewhere after all…

    1. Yup. Very, very few companies have someone make them a bolt, just for their product. McMaster-Carr and Grainger are expensive; MSC a bit more reasonable. But you are buying one bolt. You can afford to get taken advantage of on the price for one bolt.

    2. Don’t forget Fastenal for the bolts.
      There are also moldable epoxies for rebuilding the missing and repairing the cracked parts.

      1. I thought about trying to JB weld the bolt head back on, but that bold is under a lot of pressure normally. Plus, I’d still be missing the plastic part, which is why I think the bolt failed in the first place. The plastic part helps hold the arm in place.

  2. You wouldn’t necessarily want a hardened bolt for an armrest. There’s no need for the rigidity of a grade 8 bolt, you aren’t trying to maintain even tension on a cylinder head. If you can get the broken shaft out, or pull the other to get a match, any mild steel machine bolt should work (or could be made to). If you can’t match the thread angle, another option would be to find a very close match that it slightly larger, and re-tap the hole.

    1. Well, in my defense, I only suggested grade 8 because of the comment about cheap non-hardened hardware.

  3. What Wolfman said. If you have a dremel, a super easy way to get a broken off bolt out of a hole is to use a cutoff wheel to cut a screwdriver slot into the broken face.

    1. I would also use a penetrating oil to ensure the threads aren’t rusted in place.

  4. I have an Aeron that’s about the same age. Without a doubt, it was the best $700 I ever spent. A $200 chair will fall apart in less than two years. The Aeron just lasts and it’s more comfortable than anything else. I dread having to shell out the money for another one, but given how much I use it – it’s a steal.

    1. Here in my office we have Embodys (I’d say -ies, except it’s a Proper Name and that feels wrong), and by God they’re the best office chair I’ve ever sat in.

      And they’d damned well better be, at something like $1,200 a pop.

  5. As others have suggested, extract the bits of the bolt and take ’em on over to the nearest hardware store – one of the old fashioned variety like a neighborhood ACE. Chances are they’ll have you fixed up for under $2 in no time at all and do it with a smile.

    1. “Herman Miller only permits us to sell easy to install parts such as Casters, Armrest Pads, Lumbar Supports and Seat Foam for Self-Installing.”, sadly.

      It doesn’t look like they sell bolts.

      I second everyone else – a plain ol’ hardware store can probably provide a more than sufficient bolt, and if not, Grainger.

  6. The “manhood” article doesn’t work. It points to the article on the NRA and moms.

  7. Turns out I need more than just the bolts. I’m missing a whole part (plastic) on one side. Someone must have taken it apart before and forgotten to put it back in. That might explain why that arm always slipped down. I also noticed that the same part is cracked on the left side.

  8. The Aeron is 20 year old tech at this point and wasn’t designed as a heavy-use task chair in the first place. It was designed for aesthetics for use in executive offices, not actual 8-12 hour shift task users.

    I used to work for a Steelcase dealer, their Leap and new Think chairs are solid choices that are actually designed for heavy use.

    I am now with a Haworth dealer and our Zody chair, the only task chair endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Assoc, is the best of the lot, with our Improv task not far behind.

    Ditch that refugee from Will and Grace and get a real *working* chair. ;)

    1. I think it’s ergonomic are pretty good. But I will admit I haven’t tried any of the newer stuff. Maybe I need to head to a showroom and try some new designs out.

      1. If you find a good showroom in the area, please post about it; I’ve found that not all chairs are comfortable to sit in while carrying, and it would be nice to find a good place to try out some of the higher-end options…

  9. Herman Miller produces great quality chairs and allows good airflow even if you had to sit for long hours. I think it’s better to buy a whole new chair than buy parts to fix it. If you want you can take a look on Eurotech ErgoHuman Chair as an alternative to Aeron.

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