Quick interruption. I have set this website up in chronological order. If you’d rather jump to the latest posts, please use the archive links to the right.
My introduction to woodworking was watching Norm Abram on the New Yankee Workshop and Roy Underhill on the Woodwright Shop on my local public TV station. At the time I was also watching This Old House (when Bob Vila was still on). Even though I did grow up around construction (grandfather was a carpenter, father was an electrician), I went in a different direction until much later in life.
Like most everything else I’ve been curious about, I was very academic (read nerdy) in how I pursued woodworking. Before I purchased any tool or lumber, I read about furniture making and woodworking in general. I followed Norm, Bob, and Roy and then through them, I learned of other woodworkers and scoured the Internet for content. I picked up on Tom Fidgen, Paul Sellers, Elia Bizzarri, Curtis Buchanon and many others. I lurked on dozens of woodworking forums, watched videos and bought books until I was ready to start buying tools.
I loved my job in IT but knew I needed something to take the edge off after a tough day/week/month, so as I chose my first tools I already knew that I would be primarily unplugged as my intent was to have a quiet (as opposed to the loud datacenter) and relaxing introduction to my new hobby. That said, I did follow the recommendations of a few online and fitted my shop with a 14-inch bandsaw, a 12-inch planer (thicknesser) and a benchtop mortiser and drill press. Of those power tools, the only one I really ended up using on a regular basis was the bandsaw (and to a much lesser extent, the planer).
This blog is about the path I’ve taken as a woodworker. I’ll talk about projects, books, videos, pretty much anything related to woodworking.
We’re currently living near Edinburgh, Scotland where I am attending the Chippendale International School of Furniture, something that my wife and I had been planning for a while. This has been a dream come true for me and I’ve been drinking from the firehose since class started. I’m enrolled in the professional course that includes the following:
Timber identification & timber technology Tool and Machinery induction Sharpening 3D/Perspective drawing The fundamentals of joinery Woodturning Cabinet Making Carcass construction How to make a dovetailed drawer & hang a cabinet door Restoration/conservation of antique furniture Steam bending & Laminating Veneering techniques Fretwork Marquetry & Parquetry Oyster & Boulle work Inlaying (Brass, Ivory & Mother of Pearl) Woodcarving Gilding Windsor chair making Leatherwork Finishing techniques (Oil, Wax, Shellac, Spray lacquer, Staining & Colour matching) Business skills, pricing & customer care Branding, PR & Marketing, and website development & management Machinery maintenance How to set up a workshop
I didn’t realize it at the time, but furniture restoration and repair are the most challenging, fulfilling and enjoyable activities related to woodworking that I’ve found so far. That doesn’t mean I won’t find something else along the way but for now…
The school is also a working business that does restorations and repairs and I was given the opportunity to fix a chair that was brought in. At first, I was quite a bit nervous that I would screw something up that was irreparable but with Graham and Clare’s wonderful tutelage I was able to take this project on. Graham and Clare are the school’s repair and restoration experts and it is a very common sight to see them working on pieces. We all know that all we have to do is ask and we can take part in any repairs or restoration that comes in.
First thing I did was to remove the front frame to enable easier access to the damage.
The next step was to create a mortise into the portion of the frame where the tenon snapped and then to remove the broken portion of the tenon from the leg.
After the loose tenon had been glued and set overnight, I fit the front section to the rest of the frame to see how the break would come together.
The next step was to go ahead and glue this up and let it set overnight. I then took a bit of scrap mahogany and fit it to the opening.
Next, I began colouring the new patch with water-based dies and sanded (exposed) old material to help blend.
I used Yellow, Van Dyke Brown, and Walnut.
I then put 3 coats of shellac (dewaxed) on and blended with the french polish mouse (3 swipes with the mouse over the repair and into the old part of the frame).
The next day I roughed it up to take the shine off. Used some pigments with shellac and coloured wax to blend in and fill the smaller areas. Then White Wax over the repaired area and buff.
One of the most valuable things I’ve gained from being a student at the Chippendale International School of Furniture is access to antique, and even ancient, furniture that I’d only ever seen in books and online. We have visited homes and museums and have enjoyed access to furniture that I didn’t know existed. We have also had access outside of school to auctions and antique shops where I’ve fondled and caressed (not in a creepy way) beautiful antiques and vintage pieces of furniture for much longer than was appropriate.
I’ve been taught since I was young that when at any museum, or in the vicinity of delicate antiques, you ‘look but don’t touch‘ , so it’s been an amazing treat to be able to visit museums and homes and have that extra bit of access where you can touch the pieces, pick them up, turn them over and look at the underbelly because, in order to really understand how furniture was made, you have to look under, inside, and behind that piece. I first learned this from a blog, Pegs and Tails, that I’ve been following for a few years, and also from Peter Follansbee’s blog but since starting my furniture class I’ve had a chance to experience this first hand.
I’ve been able to see and help work on some wonderful pieces of furniture that have come in the School since I began my classes. From damaged chairs to cabinets, desks, dressers, and tables, they have all fascinated and intrigued me, but one particular moment that stands out to me is when a late 18th C. (around 1780) Italian table came in for repair/restoration. I’d not seen a piece like this before, but was immediately drawn to it because as soon as I started looking closely I could see so many wonderful and intriguing things about it.
But the one thing that caught my eye was when I saw some holes in the veneer and marquetry that didn’t look like normal wear and tear.
I knew that I remembered seeing this somewhere, so I went back to some blogs I follow and found it in the Pegs and Tails blog in a post called “A Thorny Subject” dated 15 Jan 2012. He talks about veneer pins, which were used in period veneer work. They were made of thin sheet steel and guillotined or sheared with a taper. The edges were sharp enough to cut fingers so they were made to cut through the veneer instead of wedging into it. I’ve not found any sheered veneer pins for sale today (only round), but it may just be that my Google-Fu skills are rusty.
Per the article, the veneer pins were often used on uncooperative veneer in corners, on either side of a split or joint, or anywhere the veneer refused to cooperate.
This was one of those ‘Eureka’ moments for me and just drove home the fact that I’m intrigued by the methods and tools used by pre-industrial furniture makers and crafts people. I was fairly bouncing around the table, babbling like an idiot about these pin holes because it tied together things I’d read about to things I was able to experience. And quite often, making it real is the catalyst for education.
One of the most valuable (to me) skills that my furniture making course has taught me is the core fundamentals of furniture restoration and repair. Graham and Clare, who are both as great at teaching as they are at repair and restoration, have allowed me to look over their shoulders (and incessantly ask questions) as they have worked on pieces. I have also been able to work on some of them myself, which has not only been a great and challenging experience but has been extremely fun as well.
Graham and Clare have both been with the Chippendale International School of Furniture for more than 2 decades and are easy to talk to and wonderful to work with on these great pieces of furniture.
The goal was to fill/replace the missing pieces and to make the repairs sympathetic to the age and blend them into the overall condition of the piece. If we decided to make the repairs perfectly flat and shiny with no gaps, then each repair would have stood out and looked out of place.
First thing was to lightly clean the areas that needed repair.
Each of these spaces was cleaned with scalpels, awls, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on that was small enough to get into the crevices and cracks. The bottoms of these spaces needed to be relatively smooth so when I fit the replacement pieces of wood in there they would sit flat and have a good stable glue surface.
The next step was to put tape over each of the empty spaces and lightly shade with a pencil to get the outline of the missing area.
After I had a good tracing of a missing piece, I put the tape on a piece of (in this case) walnut that I’d be using to patch with. I made sure to orient the grain with the existing veneer.
Anselm and Graham believe the table is from around 1760 and the veneer is several times thicker than any you can buy today, so the repair pieces were resawn on a bandsaw to be just a bit thicker than the old veneer. This way we could pare down the patches to the correct level.
Next, I cut out the pieces oversized and then fit them using small files, sandpaper, and scalpels.
The next stages were to glue the pieces into their respective spots
Once the patches were in and the glue dried, I used a combination of water dies to get the patches to blend with the background. I then used coloured wax sticks and melted a mix of colours to fill and blend the repairs. (I don’t have pictures of these steps because once I got into it I was so engrossed that I forgot). Next was a light going over with some black wax, to blend all of the repairs with the rest of the table top.
As always, the repair and restoration is just a wonderful experience.
My wife and I were antiquing recently when I stumbled upon a piece of furniture that was familiar even though I don’t think I’d ever seen one in person before.
I did remember where I’d seen a picture of one before so I hopped on Pegs and Tails, which is my go-to for antiques identification and restoration. I found this article that seems to support what I thought.
So, it’s possible that the nice little “end table” with a hinged lid and storage inside, began its life as a Georgian Commode.
One of the first projects I’ve started working on since moving back to the US is a rocker I picked up at an antique shop. Normally, you don’t find a piece in this shape in an antique store, but it looked like someone wanted to have a go at it and then gave up. The caning had been removed and some of the paint (original dark red) had been removed, but other than that it was just in a sorry state.
As I went over this piece, I noticed some things that I would change when I rebuilt it. An example is the rockers, which split along the grain in several places. I’ve decided not to try to reuse these rockers, as I did some experimenting with glue-ups and looked at all the holes created by other repairs and figured it wasn’t worth it.
Another thing I decided to change is how the seat was put together. There were two dowels holding the sides to the front and back pieces of the seat. The side pieces were curved and they split in the short grain.
Other than that I didn’t see much that I wanted to change so I took the chair apart.
Once I had the chair apart (except for the top rail and the side piece that I think had been glued together with epoxy or similar) I stripped and cleaned the pieces so I could better evaluate each piece and the joinery.
This is when I found that the frame for the back caning had split into dozens of small pieces, so this will need to be replaced.
Next up in part 2 I make parts for a new seat frame.
So, my glacial progress on these first restoration and repair projects has been a bit disheartening, to say the least, but I’m within spitting distance of finishing the small oak dresser, so here we go.
This is the 2nd project in a group of about a dozen that I’ll be working on in between my day job and getting my workshop insulated (which I will write about in another post). It is an oak dresser that originally came with a mirror. The mirror may be in the group of mirrors that I received with these projects, but I have not tried pairing them yet. The dresser is likely early 1900s or, less likely, late 1800s. The drawer fronts and top are solid oak and the interior is in good shape. The casters are original wood wheel and brass and the drawer hardware appears to be original as well.
The dresser was not in bad shape but required some work done to the damaged top, so I got out the card scrapers to remove the burns, then filled the shallow divots with shellac which I coloured to match the rest of the top. Some alcohol and a scrubber got out most of the rest. I then put a few coats of shellac and then some dark wax (Kingdom Restorations). Clare, a tutor at the Chippendale International School of Furniture used to say, “Dark wax can hide a plethora of sins.” In this case, it helps even the tone across the top.
I also needed to replace a damaged runner. This was the only “woodworking” needed for the project.
I then cleaned out the corners of the panels of the frame and panel sides. This may seem like a nit-picky thing, but in this case, I wasn’t going for a heavily patinated look. Getting rid of the black gunk in the corners just sharpened the edges and “youngened” it up a bit.
I replaced the old casters with reproduction casters from Van Dykes Restorations. The new casters are beautifully made and all I needed to do was plug the old holes, then drill new holes for the new casters.
While I was working on the casters I noticed that when they were making this dresser, they used a table saw or similar to cut the mortises for the side rails.
After this I noticed that the stiles for the side panels were starting to separate so I cleaned the old hide glue out and cooked up a few ounces to re glue.
The hardware was not in horrible shape but a few of the bail pulls were either missing rosettes or the rosettes were damaged so I searched E-Bay and found some nice ones and also found some that I liked at Van Dyke’s Restorers. Even though I found some knobs there as well, I decided to keep the original.
One thing I didn’t replace (yet) is the missing escutcheons for the two top drawers. Why, I can’t even begin to say, except that brain farts are real.
I just have a few fiddly bits to finish up like the escutcheons and runner blocks for the drawers to keep them from jamming, but other than that this has turned out to be a very pretty and usable piece of furniture.
I’ll probably take a look at some brighter, shinier hardware for this one, but I doubt that I’ll go with it. I like the darker hardware on this. I will probably post some pictures with the brighter stuff though, just for comparison.