Saturday, January 15, 2011

Always Up for the Challenge

I had an interesting email from a lady who'd seen the story in the Review Journal about the Dovetail Chair.  She has a "What Not" cabinet that dates back to the early 1900's and came from the east coast.  Between the move and the lack of humidity here, it's starting to fall apart.  Although I usually shy away from this type of project it was evident that the piece has a cherished memories for her so I decided to take it on.  She and her husband helped bring it to my shop and I was able to begin on it this afternoon.  My first concern was being able to disassemble it without doing any further damage.  Essentially it is three units joined together with dowels and glue.  I'm reminded as to why I feel dowel joints are not the best choice because they had shrunk more than the furniture wood and that lead (in part) to the failure.  I also noticed several cracks on the face of the wood where the dowels had been inserted.
The first part I decided to tackle was the gallery at the top of the center piece shown below.

You can see how intricate some of the carvings are but it came apart fairly easily.  My fear came true that as I gently disassembled one section it caused an adjacent section to loosen as well!  Since we're after a "state of arrested deterioration" project rather than a complete rebuild I'm doing what I can to keep things intact.  A couple of dowels had broken and these were carefully drilled out and new ones made.  I'm also filing grooves on them to allow the glue to get a bit of purchase.  I'm pretty sure the piece was originally assembled with hide glue since a solution of vinegar and water applied with a brush dissolves it.  There is evidence of previous repairs done with white glue, nails, and an occasional screw or two!

This is the center section, it's laying on it's back and this is a view from the bottom.  The two spindles were dowelled into the top and bottom of the piece but had broken loose.  There is also some bric-brac at the top that has separated and cracked as well.  I was able to loosen the spindles and get some glue into the joint with a syringe and clamp it.  These spindles have bracketed molding on either side which I will clean up and re-glue.  I'm going to need to buy a 23 gauge pin nailer to accomplish that, there isn't any way to clamp the curved pieces and an 18 gauge finish nailer would be do risky -- this wood is very brittle.  I'll definitely let this dry in the clamps overnight.  Actually will be longer, I think it'll stay clamped until after Church tomorrow.

In the meantime I started to work on the right side of the cabinet that pretty much separated from the rest of the piece.  The challenge was figuring out how to clamp it so here it is laying on my workbench.  The section with the mirror had completely cracked at the bottom.  It had separated from the leg as well so I'm basically trying to work two ends from the middle.  I cleaned up the joints with the vinegar and water solution, scuffed up the dowels, and figured out how it'll all go together.  I used the hide glue to re-attach to the leg but chose regular cabinetmakers glue for the mirror piece.  It wasn't a joint that let go but the wood cracked completely.  You can see how I made a caul to surround the carving at the top.
Again, leave it till tomorrow for maximum strength.

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