Slant top secretaire restoration, Part 5

So, even with all the physical repairs that I’ve done on this piece, the portion of the restoration that has taken the most time and required the most precision is the hardware. I have replaced the slant top hinges, the slant top lock, the large drawer locks, the front door hinges, and the front door lock. The front door hinges took the longest of anything because they require the most accuracy, with the slant top hinges a close 2nd.

When I started this project, I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to find the hardware I was looking for. I began my search on eBay and found some great hardware (for future projects), but nothing that I could use on this project. I then went to Van Dykes Restorers and found some very good possibilities for the hinges, but eventually moved on to Hardware of the Past (before they closed shop) for the escutcheons and the lock for the slant top.

Slant top lock replacement.
New lock in situ.

The hinges for the slant top were worrisome on many levels for me because not only was I repairing damage from previous repairs, but I then needed to fit and mount new hinges.

Can’t really see it from this angle, but the damage to the slant top meant that the hinge screws were about to tear out.

I had thought about leaving the mortises for the hinges and just trying to find a hinge the same size, but that was a no-go. There had been quite a few repairs and I wanted to make sure that my repairs were on solid ground, so I mortised out a lot of the previous repairs and then laminated in patches for the hinges as well as the damage to the edge of the lid.

That looks a right mess there.

I wrestled with the idea of laminating a strip all the way across the lid, but that would have been an unnecessary removal of a lot of original material.

Fitting the hinges.
Waiting for the correct (flat head) screws and a couple coats of shellac.

I then moved on to the locks for the large drawers. After the comedy that was me trying to remove the original lock from the lid, the drawers were very straightforward.

Replacement locks for the large drawers.

The front doors were the most fiddly of the hardware because I didn’t use the hinges that were there (they weren’t the originals), the doors hadn’t been hung correctly, and I had to repair some significant damage to one of the doors where a hinge had been torn off.

Some damage to the door.
Wash, rinse, and repeat for the other door.
After fitting and coloring.

I mortised the hinges into the doors and into the sides and the doors now close with a wonderfully small and uniform gap all around and the astragal covers the gap between the doors beautifully. I don’t have a picture of that yet, but it’s coming.

After all of that fiddly stuff, the podiatrist is finally in and will fix my lady’s broken toe.

Tune in next time. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel.

Slant top secretaire restoration, Part 4

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.

With her new bling, but still a broken toe.

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.

The plough plane (and 1/4 inch iron) I used to cut the channel for the plywood.

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.

Trimming it down to size.
The water based colors that I use. I learned how to use these while at school and have been playing with colors since.
The back-facing side is almost ready. I just realized that I didn’t take any pictures of the front-facing side.
Ignore the shiny fasteners. I haven’t dulled them yet.

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.

Splicing in the repairs.
The gaps along each side match.
You can see that I haven’t colored the repair here yet.
Edge view of the damaged area.

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/

During my first fitting of the front doors. I’ll have better pictures of the glass later.

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.

Deep mortises had been cut into both doors for previous repairs.
Damage as well as the deep mortise.

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.

Original (non functioning) lock.

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.

Slant top secretaire restoration, Part 3

I mentioned in my previous post that the hinges for the slant top portion of the desk would be the most involved part of the restoration. The hinges had been replaced a few times and the hinge shape had changed as well. This not only left random holes but large shapes carved into the shelf and the lid.

It looks like these replacement hinges were a bit of a rush job. The mortise that the hinges are set in is too large for the hinge and the person doing the restoration may have used one chisel to remove the material. It also looks like the hinge may have been installed incorrectly, which then caused a portion of the lid to break off when the lid was opened. This is all speculation, but I like to put myself in their shoes and see if I can find explanations for the things I find.

As you can see there are a couple of different sizes carved into this piece and that along with the damage done to the edge of the lid told me that I need to repair these and not just put new hinges in there.

This is where the project gets challenging because I have to remove material and then splice in new material to make the piece stronger. In this case, I need to remove a section where the lid broke and also remove the material around the old hinge mortise. I then splice in the new material. When I cut these pieces I have to pay attention to grain direction, grain orientation, grain consistency (is it clear straight grain or curvy). In the case of the broken lid portion, I saw that the edge showed the flat sawn side and the flat top showed the quarter sawn. For the hinge pieces, I looked at how the quarter sawn grain ran and oriented the new pieces to mimic that.

Here you can see the flat sawn “cathedral” grain along the edge. This picture was taken after I had shaped the new material with a block plane, spokeshave, chisels, rasps and sandpaper.

In the picture above, you can see that I cut the mortise along the grain and oriented the patch so that the grain followed the surrounding grain. Once the piece was glued I then used a block plane and then sandpaper to bring the material down to level.

In my next post I’ll show the rest of the process of cutting in the new hinges and coloring and blending the repairs.

Slant top secretaire restoration. Part 2

This is continued from my first post.

I’ve reached the point where I have taken the piece apart and cleaned each part individually, looking for weak or loose joints, damage to solid wood or veneer and other issues. I’m now ready to start fixing the individual items.

On a side note: I’ve been looking for some maker’s mark or indication of where this piece came from, and have not found anything to narrow it down. I’m pretty sure it’s late 1800s, but it could be very early 1900s (up to 1910).

Back to the topic at hand. One of the things I noticed when disassembling the piece is that the back did not appear to be original. The rebate in the back is 3/4 inch, but the sheets that were used for it were only 1/4 inch. The pieces that made up the back were not plywood, but what appears to be poplar (or something similar).

3/4 inch rebate around the back of the piece.
You can see that the back has likely been replaced with a much thinner sheet.

The back had split in a couple of places and I didn’t want to muck about with it, so I took it out and will be replacing it with a frame and panel (actually two). This will stiffen the carcass much better and keep the piece from racking. I have a feeling that racking caused the splits in the back since the thin sheets didn’t stiffen the frame nearly enough.

I have gone over the drawers and doors, cleaned them up, removed marks, and then colored and shellacked them.

Small drawers need some lovin’.
One of the big drawers.
Before removing the escutcheon and the old lock.
Replacement locks and escutcheons.

The doors just needed some cleaning. In the picture above you can see the bottom left corner has separated. I reglued this corner, and they are now ready for the new glass I had made for them by a local glazier. I don’t have any pictures of them with glass yet, but I will post some soon.

Here are three of the drawers after some cleaning.
The small drawers really cleaned up well.
The big drawer is ready for some shellac.

The next post will focus on the physical repairs I’ve made to the hinges of the desk. This is the most involved part of the restoration and so it’s the part I’m really taking my time on.

Oak Coffer Observations Part 2.5

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.

17th century coffer with a paneled top and nice long legs and relatively little moisture damage.
17th century coffer with some long legs that do show moisture damage. Conservation will keep these from deteriorating any further.
A beautiful 16th century 6 plank coffer. You can see the back right leg has a repair, but still has its length.

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.

Slant top secretaire restoration. Part 1

This is a quick post to introduce one of my current projects. This one is a Victorian slant top secretaire that I have recently started. It has some beautiful oak veneer as well as solid pieces that need some love. There will be quite a bit of small repairs to the finish, so some color matching. But the part that I’m excited about is the glass for the doors, as I have not had to replace this kind of glass before. So I’ve been busy researching this and finding out what my options are (find original glass or have it made). Anyway, it’s going to be a fun project, and I’ll be posting about my progress soon.

Slant top secretaire.
The gallery is in good shape and looks like it just needs a good cleaning.
I have it apart now and am going over all the pieces, cleaning and assessing their state.

Small Oak Serpentine Dresser

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.

Serpentine front small oak dresser. It’s in pretty good shape except for some burns, water stains, and other discolouring.

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.

Damaged runner on the bottom.

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.

New caster wheels were just a wee bit larger than the old ones, but the larger wheels roll more smoothly over carpet or rugs. The new casters also have ball bearings – very nice.
This picture shows a hole that has been plugged and is ready to be drilled for the new caster.
This shows that on one of the back legs there was some separation between the different sections of the leg, so I used the glue squeeze out from the peg to put those back together.

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.

On this side you can see the kerf of the saw, so it looks like it took 2 passes to get the right width for this tenon.
For the two top short drawers, the saw just went the entire length.

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.

Old knobs and new pulls.

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.

Don’t look at the missing escutcheons!
Before re gluing the sides.
Top turned out beautifully. The cigarette burns and other stains came out very well. There is one divot that I didn’t fill because it was wide but shallow and I figured it was not very noticeable. If I had this to do over again, I might put the time into filling and colouring it, but probably not.

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.