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.

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.

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 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…

Military Campaign Furniture

I’ve recently (within the past year) become interested in Military Campaign Furniture. This is something that could, and has, filled books. The one that I have is now very well worn as I have been using it almost every day for a project I’m working on. Campaign Furniture by Christopher Schwarz at Lost Art Press has been indispensable for most of my research on Military Campaign Furniture.

https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/campaign-furniture

I like sticky notes.

That said, I’ve also chatted with Simon Clarke at Christopher Clarke Antiques, who specialize in Military Campaign and Metamorphic furniture. They have a blog as well that I’ve used quite a bit, but more than that Simon has been very helpful in answering questions I’ve had about the furniture.

And I’ve also found that Pegs and Tails has quite a bit of valuable information on Campaign furniture as well. You’ll see that I refer to Pegs and Tails quite often as it has become my source for period furniture construction techniques and antique furniture identification more than any book or any other website.

So before I even knew what my Campaign piece would look like, I had already been researching the style and construction for a while. I knew I wanted to make something that I could take up and down narrow stairwells without too much trouble. I knew that I wanted to use brass hardware. And I knew that I wanted something very sturdy, which is what Campaign Furniture was designed for. After that, I had to figure out what it would look like.

I started out with something closer to a side table. It was high enough to use as a writing surface, which started me thinking about a desk.

Figuring out proportions.

I then added a second chest, slant front, lopers and a gallery for my desk.

I was almost ready to start prepping the lumber.

But the slant front wasn’t doing it for me so I thunk, and thunk, and then thunk some more and decided on a pull out gallery. From this point I don’t have drawings as I had putzed away so much time up to now I had to get started.

One of my other favourite books in the background, Scottish Vernacular Furniture by Bernard Cotton.
This option would use quadrant stays instead of lopers to support the writing surface.

I had already figured out the gallery portion and knew the height and depth.

I then worked out the height of the desk, compared to the height of the chests and figured out the height of each drawer.

I was finally ready to start constuction. In my next post.

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.