Apart from repairing the usual wood losses and wear on the drawer runners, this early desk needed appropriate feet, molding, and hardware, as well as complete refinishing. On the bottom left is a "before" picture. Note the ghosts of the original pulls under the later replacements. The escutcheon plates were original though missing some scrollwork. The interior had a shell carved in the prospect door and certain construction details seemed to have a Rhode Island flavor so I used the feet and molding profile from a Townsend chest as a model for these restorations (top right). Researching similar objects helps with recreating lost parts and is part of the restoration process.
This before-and-after set of photos shows the fabrication of a crown molding to compensate for a loss that occurred many years ago. The owner had enjoyed this piece in her youth and never remembers anything different than from the before picture. Close inspection showed the vestiges of glue lines and miters, though most anyone familiar with the form would notice the loss. After research of various other Empire secretaries, this design was chosen which adds the extra molding while preserving what's left of the original cornice.
Veneering curved surfaces is always a challenge. In this case, a cove molding had to be fabricated with crotch-grain mahogany to match the remnants of the original cornice. First the substrate for the molding had to be made to the desired shape. Then a mating was made that conformed to the molding so it would clamp the veneer in place while the glue dries.
In this particular process, the veneer was glued using hot hide glue. Once I had the veneer initially attached, I added a piece of hot copper between the veneer and the caul so that the glue would remelt allowing the veneer to reposition and form a much better glue line.
The moldings were then cut to size and assembled onto what remained of the original cornice. Solid mahogany was used for the small cockbead molding, the top molding, and the corners. These exquisite veneers and solid pieces of mahogany had been in storage for decades waiting for just this job.
The mantle clock was missing its pediment and feet though an outline and vestiges of glue could be seen on the top and bottom of the case.The owner of this object wanted to present it in its original form. Pillar-and-scroll clocks by Eli and Samuel Terry are sought after antiques and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has one just like this, complete with pediment and legs. Examination of that object allowed me to do a drawing and make the appropriate replacements. The original lock and escutcheon were also missing so I fabricated new ones.
Clocks, more than any other piece of furniture, lose their feet. When the cord holding up a clock weight breaks and the weight falls, it breaks out the bottom of the clock, feet and all. Rather than reglue the broken parts together, some "restorers" come up with alternate designs, losing many of the original components… and much of its value! We are then left guessing what was there. This is where it is necessary to research and find examples of the same or similar designs to make a replacement that is correct for the style and age of the object. It should be finished to match the original but, upon close inspection, should not "fool" anyone into thinking it is original.
Eli and Samuel Terry Clock
This wonderful clock had fallen due to a failure of the joint between the waist and base, a common problem on clocks. Seasonal changes in humidity cause the wood to expand and contract but cross-grain construction between the sides of the waist and the molding cause the glue line to eventually fail… with catastrophic results! While all the original wood could be glued back together, the glass had to be replaced. I salvage old glass with its wavy and seeded character to use for just these situations. Fortunately, the clockworks suffered not a bit, though twenty pounds of weights did quite a number on the lower case. All standing clocks should be fastened to the wall to prevent the clock from falling.
This is the result!
This will need to be replaced with old glass.
Often the gluing process requires assembly in stages.
William and Mary tables often exhibit wonderful uses of veneer of both domestic (England) woods and exotics. This table was no exception with Italian olive combined with native ash. During its lifetime it was refinished obscuring the wood with a darkened finish. Once that layer was removed, the subtle colors of these beautiful woods were once again visible under a thin, light-colored French polish.
A Queen Anne card table with unusual feet came into my shop needing complete restoration from repairing extensive veneer losses to restoring the original height to both back legs. Every attempt was made to keep the original material and shape intact. The additions were spliced on to existing surfaces with epoxy with hide glue as a barrier coating to allow for future retreatment.The new wood was carefully carved to match the existing profile. Tooled leather was substituted for the typical felt playing surface and the finished surfaces were cleaned and polished with French polish (shellac applied with a pad).
I had restored this commode over 25 years ago but time and climate was not kind to it. Many veneers had been lost and water damage was obvious on the lower half. However, the construction is the the big reason for the bulk of the damage. Veneers run at whatever angle that the patterning demanded without regard to the angle that the substrate runs. Seasonal movement eventually caused the failure of the glue line. As you can see, the sides have large splits where the glue joins making up the limewood substrate have failed and opened up. Any veneer bridging that split failed, either by breaking or becoming unglued from one side or the other. It is useless to fill the crack with anything solid as these are de facto expansion joints. Any attempt to fill or glue these cracks will not only fail but will further compress the wood the next seasonal cycle. I made the decision to saw any veneer bridging the gap and leave the gaps to open and close with the seasons, preventing future veneer losses.
Repairing, restoring, and preserving upholstered furniture are some of the most challenging tasks that come into the shop. Often the frames are loose and require complete removal of the fabric and foundation in order to repair them properly. Also as common, are frames that are tight but have a break or one loose join. Sometimes with this type of repair, only the area around the problem will need to be disassembled.
Having started my career in an upholstery shop, I am all too well aware of some of the shortcuts used to "tighten up" a frame—working yellow glue into a join to "shooting" dowels in from the side. Inevitably these repairs fail in short order. Worse, the repairs can further damage the frame making future restoration that much more invasive. Usually new wood is need to replace tenons and reinforce mortises.
Historically important furniture require a more conservative approach, sometimes attaching the foundation to a sub-frame in order to keep the original frame from further invasive fasteners. The upholstered side chair pictured had all manner of restorations from metal plates to gluing and stapling cardboard. Worse, the last upholsterer cut a ⅛" groove around the leg to house the welt. However, this reduced the cheeks of the mortise by half, weakening the leg join. Click on the FIND OUT MORE to see more photos of this and other upholstered furniture restorations.
For a more in-depth look at some upholstered treatments, click the FIND OUT MORE button.