18th Century Italian chest restoration.

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.

Recently, an Italian chest, much like this one I wrote about previously came into the school for some work.

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.

More of the missing pieces.

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.

This shows a couple of different stages. A couple of the spaces have been cleaned, one is ready to be traced, and one has a patch already fit (it still has tape on it).
Another area ready for patching.
And with some of the patches fit.

The next stages were to glue the pieces into their respective spots

Using a combination of tools to shave the patch down a bit.

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.

Campaign Style Furniture design, part 1: brass hardware, straps and corner mounts.

Campaign furniture spanned more than 200 years of English furniture periods from the Georgian through to the mid 20th century. Even though it was around for so long the campaign-style did not change much in those 200 years, which could be attributed to a couple of factors. First, since the furniture had to be mobile and sturdy for use on or near battlefields there are arguably a limited number of ways to build that furniture. Second, the clientele were military officers to begin with, who tended to be staid, conventional, and reserved in their tastes and styles.

I believe the first campaign furniture was made for British naval officers in the early Georgian period (the early 1700s). I’ve perused the Christopher Clarke Antiques Blog and Christopher Schwarz’s book and haven’t found anything definitive on this and will probably follow up with more posts on the history itself.

One feature of campaign furniture that tends to stand out (and is used heavily in contemporary interpretations) are brass coloured straps and hardware.

Brass coloured straps are a decorative element in modern furniture. You will likely find that on modern pieces the straps, corner mounts and related parts are not recessed and installed flush, but are proud of the surface. Another difference is that the straps and hardware will likely be fixed with tacks, pins, or small nails. You may also find the pieces glued to the carcass.

The utilitarian and mobile nature of Campaign furniture means that the brass hardware is functional as well as decorative. Brass straps and corner mounts protect edges and corners. Straps may also help to keep sides from bowing or flexing and creating gaps.

A corner mount.

Corner mounts will usually be flush with the wood, which requires time and effort and would be difficult to automate. The screws will be countersunk slotted screws and again flush so as not to catch on anything while moving it.

Brass straps.

The brass straps are also mounted flush and protect the edges and possibly keep the sides from bowing or flexing since they are of solid wood (mahogany, teak, or in this case, oak).

For part 2 I’ll talk about the drawer hardware.

Campaign Style chest. Part 1

One thing about building Campaign Style chests is you gotta love the dovetail. Alot.

Hogged out the majority with an electric router.

The dovetails were easily the most intimidating part of the carcass build, so I wanted to practice before I started on the project. I had some scrap pieces of beech that I thicknessed to be the same as the chest would be. I found an excellent tutorial for full blind and secret mitre dovetails at http://www.mikes-woodwork.com

There are so very many videos and blogs that show and/or describe how to make standard through and half blind dovetails, but there are surprisingly few that show how to make full blind and secret mitred dovetails. Even so, I did find several to choose from and always came back to the mikes-woodwork site. His instruction really worked for me and I used it for all subsequent dovetails for the project.

The reason I was looking into the full blind and secret mitred dovetails is that they were used in period pieces, mostly for the top corners. I checked some pieces locally and found that some had half blind and some had full blind, but I haven’t found a secret mitred carcass yet.

And just a warning. I’ll use “half blind” and “half lap” dovetails interchangeably so if you see me change from one to the other in mid-thought I’m still talking about the same thing.

Laying out my lines.
The three pieces with the rebate.
Cut your pins first. It is easier to transfer the pins to the tails with this kind of joint.

Several years ago when I was just beginning to play with joinery, I learned to cut pins first. Not because I watched Frank Klaus or anything like that, but because I found it to be much easier to transfer the pins to the tails. At the time I thought I was cheating or doing it wrong, so I then learned to cut tails first. Since the question, Pins or tails first, has become such a volatile debate, I don’t usually say which way I think is best. That said, I haven’t made enough dovetail joints to even be considered a beginner.

With full blind dovetails you don’t have to worry as much about the proportions of your tails to pins, so make them both big.

I used a mitre jig to reference my chisel from the top and bottom.
And for my first try it wasn’t too bad. Surprisingly little cursing and hardly any crying at all!

Even though my trial run on the hidden mitred dovetail went OK, I decided not to use them in the project. Instead, the two top corners are full blind dovetails (without the mitre). I didn’t take pictures of that procedure but will do so for my next Campaign piece. I did take a picture of the pins though.

Some of my scribbling.

For the backs of these pieces (Chests and Secretaire) the norm was to use a simple boarded back that was screwed into the rebates in the carcass. Another method was a frame and panel. I chose a modified version of the frame and panel for mine. I used mostly offcuts for the frame and panel, but for the frame I needed non-spalted straight grain.

Frame and panel back for Campaign style chests.
My frame and panel back.

The back frame is 12mm thick (about 1/2 inch). I used a half lap here since I didn’t want to fiddle with mortise and tenon that small. The panel is slightly thinner and goes into a 5mm groove in the frame.

Web frame (webbing) for between the drawers.

I had some leftover bookmatched flame beech but it wasn’t long enough to use for the backs, so they ended up in the webbing between the drawers. The web frame is the same thickness as the carcass or 18mm (about 3/4 inch). For this, I used mortise and tenon.

While searching for scrap beech I could use for the frames, I came across some oak that was the right length and thickness, so I laminated a piece of flame beech on the front and called it a day.

And I have a couple of boxes. Getting ready to build the drawers and gallery next.

The flame is beautiful, but I was not careful with this and damaged the soft wood on the left side.

To be continued…

Veneer pins.

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.

Late 17th C. Oak Coffer

Late 18th C. George III Style ‘Chinese Chippendale’ Mahogany Urn Stand
Mid Century Modern Le Corbusier

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.

Late 18th C. Italian table needing some TLC.
Closer view of the top.

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.

Some of the pin holes are circled.

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.

Chair repair.

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.

The chair is mahogany, 19th or early 20th century. with banding and inlay on the back splat.

The front leg had been broken from the frame. The seat had been removed before it was brought in to the school.
A 13cm section had come away from the front frame and was still attached to the leg. The tenon from the front frame into the leg had snapped.
I was going to remove the frame section from the leg. Tried getting meths into the joint, but it did not loosen. After talking to Graham, I decided to leave it.

First thing I did was to remove the front frame to enable easier access to the damage.

First, I removed the screws for the corner blocks going into the back of the front portion of the frame.

I was then able to use spreader clamps to slowly separate the front portion of the frame. Mild pressure with the clamps and a rocking motion allowed me to free the front leg from the tenon. I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to do this, but as soon as I heard the tiny ‘snap‘ I knew that the tenon had separated from the leg. I wasn’t positive that it was a clean separation, though, until more of the tenon was exposed.

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.

I will create a mortise where the tenon snapped.
I’ll remove the broken tenon from this mortise.
New mortise created in the frame.
Mortise cleared out in the leg.
New loose tenon in the frame made from matching mahogany.
Shows the tenon being fit into the leg (the top of the picture).
Showing the loose tenon fit in 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.

I fiddled with the fit and tried to get all of the torn pieces to slide into their respective places, but the broken piece was still just a wee bit proud. Rather than remove any more material, I decided that once I had blended the pieces together you wouldn’t be able to tell.

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.

This took a while.

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.

Mission Style Chair

I had been planning to make a chair in the same style of the Prairie Settle because I wanted to fix a few mistakes I’d made with the couch and I just wanted the chair because it’s cool. I still went for the Red Oak because I’m a glutton for punishment. Actually, I don’t remember why I still went with Red Oak, but I’m sure I had a very good reason. There were some measurements for the chair that came with the original plans I’d bought for the Prairie Settle, so I basically made it as a very short version of the Settle.

The build process for this one was rather sporadic, as we moved twice while making it. I started out with the spacious and wonderful garage and basement combo that was a dream.

We then moved to a smaller place with no basement. This was not too much of an issue except in the winter. The garage was not insulated and we were not allowed to heat it (we were renting).

The oak log bench to the left is my bowl carving bench.
Our Dining room as my winter workshop.

When the temperature drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period it is difficult to use iron or steel tools. That winter we had snow and cold snaps so I ended up bringing the chair into the house to work on. This introduced some interesting obstacles but also got me thinking about what woodworking and furniture making meant to me and how motivated and dedicated I might or might not be.

But that was not the last move in this build. Alas, we had one more move to go before I finished the chair.

My cozy workshop.

Our final move before the chair was finished was into an apartment. This kind of downsizing introduced so many new challenges and compromises that I honestly think this is where I cemented my love of woodworking.

Our downsizing was all part of a grander scheme so it was all self-induced and not due to a personal crisis or anything.


You can see my fresh air workshop in the background. Working off the back of a pickup and using my carving bench very creatively was actually kind of fun.

I’m going to use the constant moving as an excuse (not a legitimate reason, but an excuse) for some of the issues I had with the chair build. Lack of decent lighting was a constant obstacle and unfortunately, it reared its ugly head during the worst time possible, while I was sanding and finishing. I wanted to try something different and the plan was to use some amber shellac and then a brown wax to kill the orange. As you can already see, my plans went awry and my time limitations kept me from getting the wax on. This was one of those moments where I really questioned some of my life choices. In the badly lit apartment it looked very nearly like I wanted, but as soon as I got it outside and into some halfway decent light, I damn near cried.

But I get ahead of myself. The build itself was fairly uneventful.

Again, prepping and dimensioning the lumber by hand was the fun part. I cut the grooves and spindle channels with mallet and chisel, like the Settle project.

The cauls I’m using here are actually all that remained from a coffee table we got from World Market. A lot of their furniture is made of Rubberwood. When Rubberwood trees are finished providing latex, after 20 to 30 years, they used to be burned. Now they are being used in furniture, especially those in the plantations in Asia. What I saw of the wood in this furniture (that I destroyed and used for cauls) is that the colour could be interesting, but not necessarily pretty. It’s a fairly tight grain and not as splintery as Red Oak. It works easily with hand tools and sands well. Since the colour can be kind of offputting, it’s usually heavily stained.

Just as I was getting ready to start my dry fitting of the frame, the temperature dropped and I was forced indoors. This is where I had to be creative and compromise on some things that I would normally do. Without a large surface on which to rotate, flip, support, and clamp, I had to make sure that I had clearance whenever I wanted to move the chair because the clamps might bang into or damage something in the room. This meant that my clamping was not as aggressive as I would have liked and eventually required modification (fixing).

Once again, the 1/4 sawn Red Oak was beautiful.

I made sure to get the medullary rays to flow away from the chair on each arm. Kind of a nice effect.

This is where we moved once again, so the next piece of the puzzle was done at the aparment. Here I started with the seat frame, doing the same weaving and materials as last time. If something works, go with it.


Using my saw benches to clamp the seat frame. This is most certainly not an optimal setup as the saw benches are not heavy enough to keep the frame still while weaving.

I really miss my workbench right now. 

A closer look at the weaving. I talk more about this on the Prairie Settle post, but I got the idea from one of the plans I purchased and then just modified it a bit for my situation. It’s a simple over under through the warp lines. I used the same twisted sisal that I had before as it is a natural fibre. I did not want to use nylon or anything similar. The only bad thing about working with this twine is that it’s rough on the hands and on the fabric. The upholsterer that we used for this piece came up with a wonderful solution that you will see later.

This shows the clinching I used instead of tacks or nails. In this particular situation, the clinches work better than any tacks or nails. I will definitely use this again on future builds. I did the same on the Prairie Settle and the seat frames did not come loose or need tightening at any time over the years of heavy use.

This shows the clinching for the warp line.

The finished seat frame.

We used Niola Furniture Upholstery in Bloomington, MN for this project. He did an awesome job and even wrapped the seat frame to protect the cushion from the sisal
twine.

With the cushions.
And in the real light.

The medullary rays do still pop.

Hardwood floors.

Neither Holly or I like carpeting so when we bought our house, we knew we would have to replace the carpeting on the upper floor where all of the bedrooms were. We had shopped around and discussed the different looks, the durability, and the cost and finally happened upon a sale at a local lumber yard. We found some cabin grade ash and liked the look. First, cabin grade for flooring is about the lowest rung on the ladder, so we knew that there would be splits, cracks, checks, stains, visible saw cuts, but mostly it would contain wood with varying colour. That is what we were looking for, so we calculated what we would need and bought it. We took it home and let it acclimate for about six months before finally getting started.

Since I had no idea how long it would take to finish the project (3 bedrooms and a landing at the top of the stairway) I bought the nail guns, which was a good idea because it took much longer than planned. I was able to sell them for nearly as much as I paid.

Because it was cabin grade, the pieces were much shorter than your standard flooring, but this actually created a look that we liked, with a lot of variation. We picked up some liner to go under the flooring and enough quarter round for the rooms and landing.

Next, I started to sort the flooring. This was a mess, but I was able to sort by size, colour, and defects and that helped significantly. I was able to take those sorted piles and use them in each of the bedrooms to give each a different look. The smallest room got the lightest colour pieces and the master got the darkest and most interesting grain.


The smallest room got the lightest pieces.

You can see the imperfections in the closest pieces.

This is the landing as you come up the stairs.

And the landing again.

The look was actually better than we had imagined.