I was talking about the legs of our coffer and how they had been worn down and cut down over the centuries, and I wanted to show just how much that is.
This first is our coffer with its stubby – or shapely – legs. You can see that the front legs are uneven.
And below you can see that the back legs are quite a bit shorter than the front.
Now I have a couple of beautiful examples of coffers (just as old as ours) with nice long and even legs. The following pictures are all from Peter Bunting Antiques.
I think this says quite a lot about the homes that our coffer lived in for a good portion of its life. Dirt floors covered with loose rush (or woven rush) were common in England up until the 18th century (and maybe later). In fact, one of the reasons for the low stretcher on the front of early chairs (back stools) was so the person could put their feet on them and not have to leave them in the wet and dirty rush covering the floors. When we see these chairs with the stretcher almost touching the floor, this is only after the legs have been rotted and chopped off.
Back on topic. I’ve added these clues to my list and will talk about the clues I found in the newspaper lining next.
This is continued from part 3. I’ve made good progress on the secretaire, and I was going to say that it doesn’t look like it, but after going through my previous posts, I take that back.
I’ve made progress on several fronts (and backs). The back frame and panel is finished. I used some 3/4 inch pine for the frame and 1/4 inch plywood for the panel. I cut the pine into 2 1/2 inch rails and stiles and then got out one of my plough planes with a 1/4 iron.
A couple of fun facts about the planes to the right in the picture above. The one with the wormholes I got while on a project (my day job) in Georgia. A co-worker and I were driving to the project site when we saw an antique store and had to stop. I found this toothing plane and even though it’s pretty holy, the blade is in great shape. I’ve used it once (I do not collect tools, I use them. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) but I don’t work with thick veneers – yet – so I haven’t had a chance to really put it to use. Next to it are a pair of match planes from Sweden, made in the 1880s. I had been drooling over them at Allen Snyder’s booth at Midtown Antiques in Stillwater for a while, but then forgot about them when they weren’t there any more. Holly had got them for my birthday present.
Back on topic. The frame and panel for the back was pretty straightforward, so I was able to knock it out in a day. The coloring took another couple of days.
I made the back-facing side darker, to match the back that was on here. The front-facing side, I matched to the color and tone of the case.
I also finished the hinges for the slant front and the damaged portion of the lid.
The next thing I’ve started on is the front doors. You can see the beautiful bevelled glass that I got from my local glazier, Tom Huisman https://www.huismanglass.com/
I’ll have more pictures of the glass in the doors in a later post. Right now I’m making repairs and replacing the hinges. There had been several repairs of the doors which ended up with a large mortise cut into both doors.
Because of the deep mortises that had been cut into both doors there was nearly an inch gap between the doors when they closed, so the lock could not reach the other door.
I cleaned out the mortises and spliced in some oak.
I then shaved it down with a block plane, spokeshave, and sandpaper.
Next steps will be to fit the new hinges and color the repairs.
I’m really getting close to finishing this piece, and I’m very excited. Once the front doors are done, I’ll finish my touch-ups of the slant top, as it has become something of a distraction. I’ll have better pictures of the hardware in my next post and talk about where I got it.
Even though I didn’t start working on the top first, I’m going to talk about it here first because the biggest decisions I had to make about the restoration were related to the top.
First, a couple more pictures of the damage.
A few observations I made right away were that the damage was deep. I wasn’t sure how deep, but I would soon find out. The second was that the boards that make up the top were very different and there was no attempt to arrange them in a way that blended the grain. That is just a lost opportunity with something as beautiful as elm. The feathery grain is distinctive and makes it one of the most beautiful of all the woods.
I did also notice that the sides of the piece also showed the lost opportunity as the boards were not arranged for either side. I’m pretty sure this piece was made in an automated shop. Either that or the assembly line that the workers were on didn’t allow them the time to make these types of decisions.
As I looked at the fire damage, I had a couple of options running around in my head. If it was too deep I could take enough material off of the top to make it flat and then laminate some new elm on top. I could also take out material just from the portion of the top that was damaged (the left 1/3 of the top) and then laminate new material in. I dismissed this last one right away because that would have left a long line down the top where the new and old wood meet. I decided that I just did not want to introduce any new material to the top if I could help it, so I got out my hand plane and my scrapers and got to work.
After working on the top for a while, I really started to worry that the damage had simply gone too deep and that I would have to laminate material on to the top. But I did actually reach a point where I felt that the damage was not the first thing you would see.
I don’t have a lot of pictures of the colouring process, because it was more of a matter of colour matching the different boards than it was to match the top to the rest of the piece. But eventually, I got to a point where I could leave it alone and work on the rest of the piece.
I’m happy with how it’s turned out so far, and any further tweaks I feel need to be made can be done with wax.
A while back we visited the grandbabies and I was delighted to find that both of my granddaughters were interested in learning to use an axe and carving knife. I wasn’t sure how to start, so I began with the basics of showing them how to use an axe, how to hold it, how to stand, how to swing the axe, and the safety involved in each step. I took each step relatively slowly and quickly found that I needed to vary the speed of my instruction between the two. For my oldest granddaughter, this seemed to be more of a curiosity, a new thing for her to try, learn, and then store away for later use. On the other hand, my younger granddaughter was eager to soak up everything about the axe, the knives, the wood, safety, how to hold each tool correctly, and how to position the tools and wood. She was also the one who used the tools with either hand, just like I do. I have learned to use my hand tools with either hand out of necessity because I have arthritis in my shoulders and need to be able to switch up as needed. To see my grandbaby do the same thing, and to be such a quick study at it was very exciting and I was eager to continue to teach her in this fashion.
Even though their hands are much smaller, they both surprised me by being able to handle the axe very well. This helped me to realize something I had been very wrong about; that children can use some potentially dangerous tools under proper supervision. I had watched and read about other woodworkers teaching their children/grandchildren how to use power tools and hand tools and my reaction had always ranged from, “interesting” to “I don’t think so“, so when I got back home after our visit I realized that my view on this had changed. Not significantly, but enough that I could see the value in teaching younger people how to safely use tools. I think it dates me when I say that when I grew up, I learned how to use tools by hurting myself and then not doing that again. I have a responsibility to make sure that my grandbabies do not have to learn in this inefficient and unnecessarily dangerous way.
Plus, it’s fun and a wonderful way for us to spend time together.