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.)
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.
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