I’ve never done any furniture conservation or refurbishing, but I thought I’d try my hand at fixing the original chair. Some may recall that the seat was split, most joints were loose and the center spindle was falling out.
|You can see the seat split and the center spindle not quite reaching the arched rail|
I soaked some joints in water and found that the chair had been glued with hide glue, as the remaining glued jelled after a while. This made it easy to remove the old glue and prepare the joints.
|A wedge glued into the bottom of the arched back rail.
I was able to remove the wedge after soaking the joint for a few hours.
I started by removing all the old finish using a spokeshave and/or a scraper. This revealed a couple things that had to be addressed.
|Shaving and scraping off the old finish|
The arched rail had a crack near the its top, close to one of the spindle mortise holes. I cleaned it up, got some PVA glue into the crack and clamped it up.
|Crack in arched rail|
|Not quite as good as new, but pretty good|
For the split in the seat, I planed the mating surfaces and glued in a 1/8″ thick strip of cherry.
|Seat clamped up|
For the broken center spindle, I made a new one out of cherry. This worked out really well.
|New center spindle dry fit with the rest of the back|
Most of the undercarriage joints were loose, so I glued some thick shavings to the tenons and later fit them to their mortises with fine rasp work around the tenons.
|Scabbing on shavings to beef up the tenons, using masking tape as clamps|
Something else I fixed, but didn’t get any photos of, were the tenons at the top of the legs. At least one of them was not long enough for the depth of its mortise. I mean not even close! So I moved the tenon’s shoulder back a bit to make the tenon longer. The leg then fit deeper into its mortise and this had the effect of lifting that leg a little, which threw the whole undercarriage a little out of whack. Nothing a little twisting of the undercarriage couldn’t handle. But later I had to shave off two of the feet to re-level the chair and get all four feet touching the floor.
|Re-gluing the undercarriage with hide glue|
When I glued the arched rail and spindles into the chair, I seated the arched rail about 1/4″ deeper into the chair than it had been originally. This tightened up the fit of the two remaining original spindles – they had not been quite long enough. I also cut the kerf for the wedge of the arched rail ends a little deeper.
|The end of the arched rail, glued and wedged into its mortise|
|And a closer view – note the old chip out just forward of that mortise –
could have fixed that, but opted not to bother.
I used a brown milk paint to finish this chair. That kept it’s color close to the original. Two coats of paint and two coats of a wipe-on poly and it’s done.
|This color of milk paint seemed thicker than the green I used on my version of this chair.
Note the foamy stuff – not sure what to do with it.
All-in-all, the old chair looks great and I have little doubt that it’s ready for another 50-100 years of use.
And here are the two chairs side by side. What great fun.
|Original on right, my version on left|
There were a lot of firsts for me with this project. It’s always good to try out new techniques.
- First time making tapered tenons and mortises (other than practice)
- First time (or maybe second) using sightline and resultant angle techniques
- First time using milk paint
- First time refurbishing an old piece of furniture
- Probably other that don’t come to mind as I write this
I ended up giving this chair back to the woman who was getting rid of it. She seemed thrilled that it can now be used by her great-nieces and I was happy that she could keep it in her family. The other side of this coin – when I brought it back to her, she gave me another broken-down chair. It’s a bit like a Jennie Alexander post and rung chair, but different in some respects. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to study. Maybe I’ll document it in the blog.