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Wood Restoration Techniques


 
  A lesson learned in restoration of some loose legs & broken curved veneer... by Charlie Driggs 1 of 4  

It started with a simple conversation along the lines of “Charlie, could you fix my antique bed for me?”  “Well, maybe. Let me look at it and I’ll let you know.”

Seemed like a reasonable start.  I’ve known Bonnie on a business level for over 23 years, and she’s had me provide guidance or actually fix things on a few occasions over that time. 

I went over to her home and looked at the damage, and at first look it didn’t seem too bad. Probably needed some splicing in of wood to clean up the joint between the footboard end panel and the leg, and replacement of veneer on four corners where it had cracked or was just flat broken off. 

After she explained why this piece had some significant sentimental value, I said “I think I can, but I’ll have to take it apart to be sure”.  Then she pointed out that the headboard also had a crack in one leg right through the pins for the side-rail hook mount. Hmm, doesn’t look all that bad either.  So I load all the parts in through the gaping maw of the minivan, and in a few hours in the next weekend I steam off the veneer on the wings to reveal the damage in glorious detail.

The subject of the coming labors is shown in the photo at left, above, in it’s ‘as arrived’ state in the workshop.

From this view, things didn’t look too bad at all, and without wiggling on the outer leg you wouldn’t have realized there was a problem.

Closer physical examination of the patient showed the lower band of veneer below the beading was loose on the other end, but its on the backside where appearances brought a pause.  One end had broken curved veneer and a loose outer leg, whereas the other clearly had some joint damage and a wobbly leg.  Oh well, I haven’t tried something like this before, it will be interesting and educational, I say to myself.  ‘Myself’ wasn’t listening to the soft alarm bells.  I agreed to do what I could, and if it was just impossible, I’d let her know. Bonnie was grateful that I’d try.  Nice guy that I am, I didn’t even feel the hook set, but then I had control of the line.

Once I removed the screws holding the lateral bracket on, I realized that the bracket was the only thing holding on the outer legs. Joints were shattered a bit more than I thought. Out came the steam pot and a large syringe, and I went to work loosening and removing the veneer on the wings.

 

Lo and behold, removing the veneer revealed that the wings weren’t solid mahogany, but stacks of 14 separate band-sawn pieces of mahogany that were glued up to create the curved shape. 

I wondered whether it really was a better way to make this thing with this approach.  I also recognized that the unknown manufacturer had oriented the grain in plane with the floor, and at least one joint would have been required to build this piece to the required vertical length.

 

The ugly part is shown by looking carefully at the photo on the left, above.  The glue joints in some of this stack of parts had failed, leaving them loose inside the veneer.  Add in the loading of the outer leg, and it was no wonder that the veneer on this section had been torn apart. 

Surprisingly, the joint(s) with the main leg was still good at this end for the bottom two-thirds of this section, so I didn’t choose to try taking that apart.  Probably a mistake, as it complicated things by making the vacuum bag approach unusable in re-veneering the outer curve.

The other end was definitely in worse shape. Almost every lateral glue joint had failed, and the spline joints had been broken up in a nasty way.  If I had any sense/lacked the desire to accept challenges, I probably should have tossed in the towel right here and told Bonnie it was beyond saving.  But I didn’t.  I told her “I like the challenge”, thereupon setting the hook in deeply. I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.  I took the wings apart, and proceeded with rebuilding them.

 

This was relatively easy.  Scrape the joints and the outer surfaces clean, line up the parts, clamp them up, and move on to the next step – cleaning up the leg joint damage.


 
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