Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Well, here is the completed project and I believe we have arrested the deterioration. It turned out to be a very interesting yet educational project. I have a much better understanding of the properties of wood and how it reacts to moisture and temperature change. This cabinet started life at least 100 years ago in the Northeast part of our country. For us desert rats, this is where humidity changes with the seasons and moisture is problematic for furniture. Sure, we get some humidity swings with the monsoons but as a general rule, we're pretty even "tempered". As a furniture maker I understand the way wood moves and try to design accordingly but now I wonder how my work would hold up if it went to New York or Maine.
As an example, the back of the center unit is made of a couple of boards laminated together. It was simply nailed on but has shrunk to such a degree that it no longer covers the opening! It was attached with brads that were clinched over but the wood had pulled through leaving slots. At the top and bottom I was able to use a small brass screw and washer to hold it to the case. Another problem was previous repairs that were done through the years. On the sides a screw was driven to hold a bracket in place. One side the bracket was cracked but still there and on the other the piece was gone. I made a replacement piece and did what I could to make it match. Thankfully it's underneath and in the shadows but let's just say it won't pass The Antique Roadshows group of experts!
In a few other places repairs had been attempted with a nail and judging by the missing pieces whoever wielded the hammer missed the nail a time or two. Using the 23 gauge pin nailer made it much easier to attempt to hold pieces together. I'm a firm believer now in using hide glue. Previous repairs done with a yellow or white carpenters glue were very obvious. Around one of the round mirrors the frame was in about 5 pieces and caked with the residue of the glue. Trying to scrape it off to prepare it for gluing resulted in pieces of the old, brittle wood coming off with the glue. The hide glue would re-dissolve when I used a solution of vinegar and water just warmed in the microwave.
All I can say at this point is that I'm glad I decided to take on this project and although far from perfect, I think I've met the clients goal of having the piece structure intact without ruining the patina built up over all this time. That was another lesson, I was really able to see where the spots were that didn't get a complete cleaning or dusting. Re-assmbling the parts without making it look like a new repair was a challenge. It took just under 9 hours to complete the work.