Friday, April 22, 2011

Benefits of Working in Silence

Coming from the generation of the blaring radio and now the more seemingly sophisticated ear bud, I had always been one to play music while I worked. If onsite, I had ear buds. If at home, I had the stereo roaring. A most undue practice if I’ve ever known one. But since moving into my shop, I have been working in absolute silence. No one to talk with and no radio hosts barking at me. It has been entirely refreshing.

The only sounds one would hear in my shop are the occasional humming of the backsaw, the abrading of sandpaper, and other assorted hand tool tasks. The stillness in the air is deafening. I have never had a more clear and focused work scenario. To yesterday’s generation this might’ve sounded customary, but today I think I hardly know any tradesperson who doesn’t have the radio singing throughout the shop.

I am persuaded that when one views their work as craft and themselves as a craftsperson, the inescapable necessity of unswerving focus commands our acknowledgment. So let us give our craft the reverence it is due. Let us work in silence. Let us do more listening to our work than commanding of it for we still have so much to learn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Evolution of Furniture Conservation

The profession of furniture conservation had its roots in the woodworking tradition. Early repair was done by carpenters, who were the makers of the pieces as well. By the 18th century, cabinetmaking had developed as an occupation distinct from carpentry and joinery. Examinations of surviving cabinetmaker’s account books of this period show repair of furniture to be one of the services they offered. At this time, though, it is doubtful that the economic and social structures had allowed the development of full-time repairpersons. The late 19th century was characterized by an intense discovery of the past, with its subsequently engendered desire for “things old”. A flourishing group of repairers, restorers and forgers was afforded an existence by this change in societal attitude.

By the 1930s, scientific examination was being applied to works of fine art and the materials used for their restoration in order to understand better deterioration and preservation issues. This was the beginning of the true profession of conservation. By the 1960s, the transformation from restoration to ethical conservation had begun to occur in the furniture field. Today, even though great strides forward have been made, there is still an abundance of misinformation about furniture deterioration, restoration and care being presented to the public in books and by personal contact with cabinetmakers, repairpersons and restorers who have not adjusted yet to the shift to conservation philosophy.

-Marc A. Williams, Keeping It All Together: The Preservation and Care of Historic Furniture

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Side Chair Re-Glue Walkthrough

One of the most common repairs that comes across my bench is re-gluing of chairs. When you think about it, a wooden object with twenty plus joints which is sat on, leaned on, jumped off of, and put through manifold other abuses is a prime victim for failure. We ask a lot of our chairs. The following is a walk through of a complete reglue of a Mission Style side chair.

First step is to do a thorough evaluation of the piece to make note of any irregularities that may affect the process.

Label each and every joint with painter's tape using whatever number or letter system suits your fancy.

In the evaluation of this piece, I noted doweled joints on the crest rail and front legs. It is now that these need to be carefully drilled out. The real goal here is to remove the dowel with absolutely no damage to the surrounding wood.

This is done by placing a center mark with an awl, then beginning to drill from a small size bit (1/8" or so) up to you reach the edges of the dowel hole. (Make sure you mark the desired depth with masking tape on the bit to prevent going through the other side.) Note I did not say the biggest bit used would necessarily be the exact size of the dowel. As you are drilling out, you may find yourself slightly off center as you go. This is immaterial. All we are doing is removing this wood. Once you have used the bit large enough to be just shy of the edge of the hole, then use a narrow chisel (I used an 1/8") to knock out the rest. Needle nose pliers may be employed to retrieve fragments left in the hole. When all pieces of the dowel are knocked out, you may carefully place the exact size bit into the hole and, with vise grips holding it, slowly twist to clean up edges. Once all holes are drilled out, we proceed to disassembly.

Make sure all screws are removed, labeled, and kept track of. I place them in a tackle box divider tray with a lid for safe keeping during the process.

For disassembly, I find Quick Grip Reversing Spreader Clamps unmatched. These provide an even and firm pressure with excellent padding giving maximum control. (Their light weight is a boon in this application as well.) For stubborn joints, a mild jolt from a plastic dead blow mallet may help to fracture the old glue line. Again, finesse and common sense is to be utilized here. We are not beating the chair to pieces. A calm thump is all that is needed.

For extra stubborn joints (assuming we are dealing with hide glue or at the worst yellow woodworking glue), warmed vinegar may be injected at the seam of the joint with a syringe. If the joint can be wiggled at all, work it back and forth to allow the vinegar to seep down in. If not, don't worry, it most likely will work its way down eventually if a bead is left along the seam. (Alcohol may also be used as well but it must be tested on an inconspicuous area on finish first to evaluated possible coating damage.)

Once all the labeled pieces are disassembled, we proceed to cleaning off the joints. Any larger pieces of old glue may be gently removed from the tenons with a rasp. Do not remove any wood but only the glue. Following up with 100 grit sandpaper to clean off remaining glue is next. To scuff the inside of the mortises, I wrap a piece of adhesive-backed 100 grit around a pencil or flathead screwdriver.

After every mortise and every tenon is cleaned up, we move on to a dry run assembly. This is to ensure we have a complete understanding of each step of the gluing process, seeing as the glue is usually not very willing to wait for us to figure out our oversights in the midst of the event. When the chair has been assembled dry with clamps in place, we should now have good confidence to proceed with glue up.

Take the pieces back apart, organizing them so that you know exactly where each piece is when you need it. You do not want to hunt around for any renegades while precious time is slipping away. Glue choices will not be dealt with thoroughly at this juncture, but it should be sufficient to comment that assuming one is not using hot hide glue (traditional glue used in conservation), liquid hide glue or modified P.V.A. (yellow woodworking glue) could be used for indoor furniture. Outdoor chairs, I would recommend a product called Titebond III. (Please do not use Gorilla glue or any similar glues. These severely jeopardize future repairs.)

Assembly is to be done on a level surface so that the chair does not rock on uneven legs after all is said and done.

Apply glue inside mortises and onto tenons. This is called 'double-spreading'. Clamp firmly. The balance between the amount of glue applied and clamping pressure should yield a thin line of glue squeeze out. No line and you may not have had enough, gobs pouring out and you over did it. No real problem in the latter case as long as it is cleaned up before it is hardened. Make sure all squeeze out is cleaned up before it has a chance to set up. Both hide glues and PVA are cleaned up with water. Another technique I use is to wait until the glue gels a bit and then you can pop it off with the edge of a ruler or like utensil.

During glue up, hardwood dowels can be replaced, cut as close to surface as possible, and pared flush with a chisel. Color touch-up will probably be necessary to blend new dowel into chair's patina.

Once all is assembled, leave clamped for at least an hour and ideally overnight. Do not stress joints for 24 hours.

Hope this quick walk-through has proved helpful to you in your restoration adventures. Patience, steady hands, and the right tools are the three paramount components to a successful repair. Be well and have fun.

-Joshua A Klein
Furniture Restorer

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Finely Tuned Plane Blade

Ahh... the satisfaction of a finely tuned plane blade. It always seems to turn a cloudy day to sunshine.