Late 19th C Empire Style Rocker Restoration Part 2

In Part 1, I had finished stripping and disassembling the rocker and had decided to replace the rockers and the side pieces of the seat. After that, I also decided to replace the back of the seat. This because the sides had been connected to the back with dowels, but the way the dowels and the joints fit, they did not make a good joint. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see that at each end, a half a hole for a dowel. So one of the dowels on each side was not even embedded in the back piece.

I then looked at the way the sides connected to the front piece and decided that instead of a couple of dowels, I’d use a loose tenon. This would create more shear strength, across the grain, at this crucial point.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the loose tenon or any of the fitting process, but I do have pictures with layout lines and also where I filled in the original dowel holes.

My pencil mark shows where the loose tenon is.
This shows where I filled the dowel holes in order to remove the mortise for the loose tenons.

The following pictures show me cutting and shaping the back piece.

Making the replacement back piece.

I took the number of holes from the original and spaced them a little more evenly before drilling them out.

I countersunk the holes.

Using a bit from a roll that a wonderful friend and classmate from the Chippendale Furniture School gave me.

Thank you Gordon! @twintreedesign
Initial fitting of the back piece.

After quite a bit of dry fitting and tweaking the joints, I was ready to glue up the seat.

For most of my projects, I tend to use hide glue for the joints and PVA for the splits, cracks, and fills (like for filling the dowel holes). My thinking is that for most, if not all, repairs I can use PVA adhesives because the idea is that they should never need to be undone at all…ever. This is for repairs and restoration jobs, but not necessarily for conservation work. For the joints, I use hide glue because I want to be sympathetic to the piece and I want to make sure that the piece can be repaired / restored in the future and still be sympathetic to the piece if that future restorer wishes. If in the future, someone repairs the piece with whatever adhesive they have available, that’s fine because I won’t be around to see them muck it all up 😉

My ultra high tech hide glue melting pot. Plus if I ever need a bikini wax, I’m set.
Seat is fitted and the chair (except for the rockers) is ready for glue up.

For Part 3 I’ll remake the rockers and discuss the changes I made to the dimensions. I’ll also discuss the back frame and the broken pieces I had to replace for the caning.

Chair caning project.

A few months ago, my wife and I picked up a couple of chairs that we wanted to work on. Both had caned seats and one (the Empire style rocker here ) also has a caned back.

Two projects we picked up several months ago.
Caning before removal.

I’d been reading about seat caning for a while and have been following Ed Hammond and The Wicker Woman on YouTube. The book I got was “The Craft of Chair Seat Weaving, with Cane, Rush, Splint, and Rope” by George Sterns. The book is a very good starter and I referred to it quite often for the basics. The YouTube videos are much better for the details and to better be able to adjust for the curves and other fiddly stuff. I also used Ed Hammond and The Wicker Woman as guides for the “no knot” method for the underside.

To start out, I stripped the chair and then prepped it for a new paint job. I went with milk paint and initially tried what I thought was Barn Red, but turned out to be closer to Hot Pink. Rather than remove this and start over I just painted Pitch Black over it. I did not want to distress this, but I figure that it will distress naturally very nicely with the red/pink underneath.

I stripped the chair and then had a good look at the joints to make sure everything was solid. The chair was in great shape so I didn’t need to redo any joints.
Not the colour I was looking for.
Much better! A few coats of Pitch Black and then a few coats of wax later and it’s ready for caning.

I had several false starts on the caning portion. As I got past the verticals and into the horizontals I had to unweave several sections and start over. It took quite a bit of thinking, doing, undoing, thinking, doing, undoing before I got the verticals and horizontals that I thought would work.

This was attempt 3 or 4. Can’t be sure.

Once I got into the diagonals I realized that there were still issues with spacing in the horizontals and verticals. I had to figure out how to either work around some of these obstacles or redo them. I ended up doing both.

I will probably redo this seat in the future, but once I get the border finished it will reside in our kitchen for a while.

Still need to add the border around the sides and front. This has been a huge learning experience, but I do feel better about getting started on the Empire Style Rocker, once my repairs are finished on that one.

Update 26 July 2020: I finally finished the last of the border and cleaned up the underside.

I ended up doing more of a hybrid ‘no knot’ with a couple of knots due to being unable to plan ahead or stage my cane ends well enough. I surprised myself with how strong these cane seats are: I’ve already sat in this chair a few times and I’m a rather large person.

I have a couple more caning projects coming up am ready to improve on this one.

Late 19th C Empire Style Rocker Restoration Part 1

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.

Someone got started on this project but didn’t have the time or desire to finish it.
A previous repair.

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.

These side pieces of the seat split along the short grain at the edge.
A bit blurry, but you can see where it split through both dowel holes and then up through the top.

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.

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.

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.