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Furniture Restoration #1: Learning Experience!

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Blog entry by Paul posted 08-14-2007 05:12 AM 1562 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Furniture Restoration series Part 2: "Before Pics" »

A while back, I gave a PP slide show of my woodworking hobby as a program for my Lion’s club. In that program, I showed a couple of curb side pick-ups that I had reworked and “restored” to usefulness. Well, long story short, a fellow club member approached me a few weeks ago and asked me if I could recover some furniture. I explained that I had recovered a simple footstool and such but nothing like a full piece of furniture. His response, “Do you want to try?” There was a needed repair on one of the pieces that he noted at this time as well. After a bunch of him-hawing, I finally relented to take a look. A few days later after I come home from work, my wife tells me that my friend had come by and unloaded some furniture in the garage. I raise the garage door and am faced with with two Victorian parlor charis, a Settee and a footstool. I look it over and call to tell him that it was probably over my head. The same reply, “Do you want to try?” Again, I try to him-haw out of it, but relent to try with a grave warning that it would be my first attempt. He says he’s seen my work and has confidence in me (he’s a sales rep and knows how to butter people up). I low-ball a bid as a “learning experience” with no confidence that I should be charging him at all.

First step, buy three or four books on upholstery work, read and study. Order and receive some specialized tools and materials, The furniture is on “the list” of projects sitting in my shop.

I have drawer slides on back order for my Craftmans chests (see other blog), so there’s an opportunity to get started on the “recovering.” I tear the first chair down, rework/reset the inner springs, return the original padding, and recover with the new upholstery they provided. The first chair is very slow (two full days) as I figure out technique like picking up and setting a tack with a magnetic hammer while holding the frabric with the other hand. The second chair goes a little faster. I’m keeping track of my time in case I’m ever crazy enough to accept another project like this. I vastly underestimated how much time it would take me, even as a beginner. Good thing I’m at peace with this as a learning experience! The chairs aren’t done until I receive a flat braided decorative trim called “gimp” from my friend which is glued down around the fabric edges to hide the tack heads. But so far, they look pretty good. (Click on the thumbnails for larger pics.)

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The exposed wood of the footstool needs to be refinished, so I move on to the Settee which I knew would be the most challenging because of the needed repair and the “quilted” upholstery on the back. OM gosh, what did I get into here? I think I’m going to regret accepting this challenge mainly because of this piece. When I remove the seating material and padding to get a good look at what it might take to make the repair, I discover extensive dry rot. This piece has probably been stored in a barn or outshed sometime in the past. But the last upholsterer covered up the evidence. I remove hundreds of tacks in the seat rails that have accumulated through previous recoverings. After I’m done the wood is not only soft and brittle, it looks like its worm eaten because of all the tack holes. The last reworker had installed some primative reinforcements (nails attaching corner blocks and metal straps crisscrossing the bottom of the seat to keep the springs in the seat). But anywhere on the seat frame, I could burrow a hole into the wood with my finger. How do I repair this? The legs. back frame and arm rests appear to be solid walnut, but all the curved seat frame pieces are Poplar? Pine? with a walnut veneer. The front carvings are applied. It’s easy to see why it broke. The seat frame pieces aren’t steam bent and/or laminated – simply bandsaw cut from a piece of wood and it has cracked along the grain at a natural weak spot where the grain runs out into a curve.

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Of course I need to show my friend and his wife what we’re facing. I think these pieces are sentimental family heirlooms. But I just can’t cover this up again. I’m thinking it’s time to build new seat rails if this piece is going to live again.

-- Paul, Texas



16 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2819 days


#1 posted 08-14-2007 02:18 PM

one of your earthly angels—guiding you along your path, towards something bigger than you THINK you are.

The furniture—how beautiful. I can’t wait to see these transform.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 2744 days


#2 posted 08-14-2007 11:17 PM

You might try some of the epoxy products that are out there in some of the areas that are hidden. I’ve never done it myself but have read some articles showing great success.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker http://www.capecodbaychallenge.org

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#3 posted 08-15-2007 04:08 PM

Bob -

I’ve just seen ads for the epoxy products and that option has crossed my mind for further research. The front rail failed/cracked because of wood weakness and I’m concerned about the structural integrity of the piece when the next adult plops down it. Do you think the epoxy would help with strength? The ad pictures that I recall didn’t show load bearing repairs but things like rotted window sashes and such.

Paul

-- Paul, Texas

View Dorje's profile

Dorje

1763 posts in 2655 days


#4 posted 08-21-2007 08:34 AM

Wow Paul – you’re brave! The chairs came out really nice!

Can’t say much about the settee problems, my gut is that the epoxy wouldn’t be strong enough to carry the weight as you mentioned. And, with the dry rot that you’ve described, it sounds like the best approach is replacing the rotten piece. Is that do-able? How extensive is the dry rot and how much would need to be replaced? It looks like the crack is on the front apron – true?

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#5 posted 08-21-2007 04:44 PM

Dorje -

Yes, the crack is on the front apron which is double curved and simply bandsawed out of a solid piece of wood (Poplar? Fir?) with a walnut veneer & walnut carvings applied on the outside. (All the seat rails are this way and in pretty much the same kind of shape – the front rail broke first because it has the longest unsupported span)

I’m considering a bent lamination which I’ve done for more gentle curves, but these curves are a more acute. I’m also considering steam bending which I’ve also done – but under the supervision of a teacher a few years ago, and not since.

Right now, I’m pondering while I get a couple of other larger and simpler projects out of my way. For either approach I will need room to build/prepare a form, maybe a steam box/pvc pipe? and move quickly with clamps. And I hate running into other projects with clamps and hips and shins and glue, etc. while trying to move fast. The door also fell off my tool cabinet and is now sitting on the floor. So the “redo” of the tool cabinet doors from the “found-wood-nail-together-job” of years ago to something more attractive & “furniture-maker-like” has moved off the back burner. It seems like no matter where I set and lean that door, there’s something I need behind it!

-- Paul, Texas

View Dorje's profile

Dorje

1763 posts in 2655 days


#6 posted 08-21-2007 05:59 PM

Just to clarify – is it only the front apron that you’ll have to replace? The others are sound?

I like the idea of the bent lamination, using thin strips, say an 1/8” to 3/16” thick, to build up that double curve. You have the front apron to build your jig from, which is handy. I’m definitely no expert on the bent laminations though, but that sounds about right. Though my gut tells me that you’re (maybe a bit more) interested in the steam bending process and may go that route…

I haven’t done any veneer work and the carvings would be out of my league for sure. Will you be able to salvage the carvings and simply reapply or will you have to make those as well?

And, you better get crackin’ on your toolbox! Sheesh – you’ve got you’re work cut out for you…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Bill's profile

Bill

2579 posts in 2819 days


#7 posted 08-21-2007 06:56 PM

A brave soul you are Paul. I would not not where to start, but I would agree that the wood need replaced rather than just epoxy or something else.

I bet your next estimate not be low balled. While this is a learning experience, it does not have to be an expensive one. Hopefully your customer is at least paying for the materials, even if not for the labor you are putting into these restorations.

-- Bill, Turlock California, http://www.brookswoodworks.com

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#8 posted 08-22-2007 01:20 AM

Dorge,

Actually, I think it would be best to replace all the seat rail pieces -they’re all in about the same shape.

I do hope I can salvage the carvings and reapply. I’m thinking the piece is probably put together with hide glue so I’m hoping a little moist heat will let me pop them off.

And actually, I’m leaning toward lamination – even though I don’t have a great bandsaw for resawing. The originals are a full 1.5” thick – I’m thinking that would be a good 1.5 to 2 hours of steaming for a piece that thick and again, the acute curves would require quite a bit of pressure – maybe more than I could exert with pipe clamps. But then, with the grain following the curves instead of running out into the curves, the rails wouldn’t need to be as thick for the same or greater strength. I could laminate a “lesser” wood (ash?) for the bulk of the rails and just use walnut for the outer laminate.

Bill,

The customer is providing all the upholstery and trim. I’ve invested in some tools and materials, though. I’ll get enough to cover materials and a minimal wage. They commented that I quoted too low when I agreed to the project, so I’m contemplating going back to them and perhaps seeking another agreement because of these unforeseen structural issues.

I’ve developed a time sheet and materials expense ledger for these learning projects so I can better estimate in the future. I hope for this to be a real part-time vocation in 6 or 8 years – after the kids are through college. This “non-profit” beginning is part of my planned path towards charging real living prices in the future.

-- Paul, Texas

View Dorje's profile

Dorje

1763 posts in 2655 days


#9 posted 08-22-2007 05:12 AM

Best of luck with the project – keep us posted!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Karson's profile

Karson

34878 posts in 3059 days


#10 posted 08-22-2007 05:22 AM

I was going to suggest using Walnut as the outer lamination. It seems you figured that out also. It would save having to veneer it. Are the feet all ok?

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Dorje's profile

Dorje

1763 posts in 2655 days


#11 posted 08-22-2007 05:33 AM

Good question!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#12 posted 08-22-2007 04:46 PM

Yes, the other solid walnut parts seem to be okay – legs, feet, back, etc. – I’ll have to figure out how to tighten up some of the joints in the backrest. But it’s just the seat rails, constructed of an alternate veneered wood, that seem to be unsound.

I’m still waiting on a backorder of wooden slides for my A&C chests drawers and I’ll be calling today for a customer to come get the afore mentioned two simple large projects out of my way. So, I may soon begin gingerly disassembling the Settee and then, constructing forms to bend/laminate the replacement parts. Of course, I don’t have any ash or walmut on hand.

-- Paul, Texas

View Dorje's profile

Dorje

1763 posts in 2655 days


#13 posted 08-22-2007 05:35 PM

Of course! But, easily remedied?

Keep it coming!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#14 posted 08-22-2007 05:53 PM

I can get ash locally but not walnut. Have to go to the “big city” – about 1.5 hrs away.

-- Paul, Texas

View Paul's profile

Paul

649 posts in 2751 days


#15 posted 08-25-2007 09:41 PM

I went and purchased a 2×12x12’ today to double glue up into 3” material for building my forms. Two 4 foot pieces (3×12x4’) will make the front skirt form and the two 2 foot pieces (3×12x2’) will make the side pieces form.

Now to dismantle the Sette (further) and use the original pieces as the pattern to cut the curves in the forms.

-- Paul, Texas

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