Recliner Mechanism: A Handy Guide on How A Recliner Works

by Andrew Smith| Last Updated: May 27, 2021

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A recliner chair is set apart from other conventional seating furniture by its ability to recline backward and a rising footrest. These features allow you to adjust the chair to your desired sitting position, unlike the rigid conventional chairs.

But have you ever wondered how a recliner works? How does it tilt without breaking?

Well, you are in the right place. We will quench your curiosity with recliner mechanisms and how it works.

Table of Contents

Parts of A Recliner

To understand how a recliner works, you have to understand different parts of a recliner chair and the role they play.

Recliner Mechanism Frame


Typically, a recliner frame is made of hardwood or plywood. The wood is reinforced with metallic bolts, nuts, and steel corners to give the chair stability when it reclines.

A recliner’s frame should support the occupant’s body weight and the motion with which it is carried. If it can’t hold the weight properly, it will not last for long.

Recliner chairs with a strong frame usually work better and have a longer lifespan. It’s important to know that frames made from hardwood work are stronger and work better than those made from plywood.

Metal Activating Mechanism

Every Sofa has a wooden frame. However, what converts an ordinary chair into a recliner is the metal activating mechanism. It is made of stamped steel, and it is attached to the chair’s frame.

The mechanism makes the back and the footrest flexible to allow reclining movement.

Springs and Levers

types recliner springs

A recliner has two types of springs: recoil and zigzag springs. The zigzag springs help make the seating area firm while the recoil springs help in the reclining mechanism.

While easing your recliner chair’s backrest backward, you apply pressure on the springs. The springs absorb the pressure and compress, allowing a smooth recline.

When leaning forward or returning the backrest to an upright position, the opposite happens. The pressure is released, allowing the springs to expand hence a smooth movement back to the original position.

On the other hand, a lever is a device located to the side of the table that helps control the chair. To raise the footrest or tilt the back, you have to pull the level.

Read more: How To Replace A Recliner Spring


A cable is a thick cord located inside the recliner. Recliner cables are responsible for the backrests leaning function. A cable needs to be attached to a pull handle or lever for it to function.


A recliner’s arms operate independently from the rest of the parts. They are made of many panels that help the occupant while leaning back. The panels are bolted together with crossbars to ensure immobility. Sturdy and firm are crucial because they are used to push off when reclining backward.


A footrest is a bottom part of a recliner that elevates to support your feet while you are seated. Most footrests are designed so that your feet extend over the end of the footrest while elevated. Some people think it’s a recliner manufactures design mistake, or maybe they are too tall for the recliner. Its neither. The footrest is built to allow your feet to hang over as that position helps distribute the weight evenly for ultimate comfort.

Further Reading: How To Fix A Recliner Footrest

How Does A Recliner Work?

There are two types of reclining mechanisms: Electric and manual reclining mechanisms. 

This brings us to the next crucial question: What is the difference in mechanics between electric and manual recliner chairs?

How Does an Electric Recliner Work?

An electric recliner works from an electric motorized system that can move you to a reclined position with one push button. As the name suggests, an electric reclining mechanism requires a power source or a battery pack to operate.

How Does Manual Recliner Work?

There are two types of manual reclining mechanisms. Push back recliner mechanism and a level-operated reclining mechanism.

The push-back recliners are operated manually by the occupant. This means, to recline the backrest, the occupant has to exert pressure against the backrest while pushing on the armrests. The occupant has to use their body weight to adjust the backrest and extend the footrest.

The cable system reclining mechanism works by pulling a lever. The lever lifts the footrest and tilts the backrest manually via a cable.

Power Vs. Manual Recliners: Which One Should You Choose?

When choosing the recliner chair with the best mechanism, it all comes down to your personal preferences and needs. If you are looking for versatility, then the power recliner is your best bet. It allows you to set the chair in different positions.

If you are on a budget, then the best choice for you might be a manual reclining chair. (List of best budget recliners)

Whatever you choose, ensure that it has a sturdy frame and is built with high-quality materials.

Can You Fix A Recliner Mechanism?

Absolutely! You can read how to diagnose the problem and how to fix it. We have compiled detailed, easy-to-follow DIY guides on how to fix the pull handle, footrest, springs, among other parts.

Where Can I Buy Replacement Parts?

You can purchase replacement parts from a major online retail store like Amazon or e-bay. You can also contact the recliner’s manufacture or the furniture store you bought your chair from. For Flexsteel recliner parts, visit their website.

Parting Shot

There you have it! The different recliner mechanisms. Read further information on the pros and cons of power vs. manual recliners.


  • Andrew Smith

    Andrew Smith is the founder of CozySeating, is a father of 2, and an engineer from one of the leading furniture stores in the country. Due to his 10 years of experience, he has proved to be the best person to offer advice to clients regarding different seating furniture based on their needs and performance. Besides, he is a specialist in product reviews and always keeps up with the current trends in the market.

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