People are typically more passionate about their antiques than most people are about their regular furniture. Antiques have a history, and acquiring them usually takes time and effort to find just the right piece. Each one is unique and has a character of it's own, but they also require special care to repair or refinish. Often we are dealing with something that may be fragile because of it's age. Loose joints are a common problem because of the animal hide glues used in the past. Antiques often require the fabrication of missing or damaged pieces, then need refinishing to match the surrounding finish. Many people prefer to maintain the existing "worn" finish, so matching that finish can be challenging, but we can usually create a very convincing match. All these reasons and more mean choosing the right technician is more critical than with conventional furniture.
This is one of 2 fireside chairs that had broken pieces that needed to be fabricated and finished to match. A pattern of the damaged pieces was made. I located oak with a similar grain and machined the new parts on a lathe. The damaged pieces were carefully cut out and new pieces were glued in place, with the added support of maple dowels. They were then colored and finished to match, and then carefully scuffed to mimic the surrounding finish.
These antique Chippendale-style chairs had received many years of regular use, but had obviously seen better days. Legs were splitting, all the joints were loose (typical when old animal hide glue crystallizes), and at some point someone had driven screws where the arm joins the seat to keep them together. Since the owner wanted to continue their regular use, before taking them to be reupholstered, she gave them to me to repair and refinish. All joints were reglued with modern adhesives, then reinforced with screws in pocket holes under the upholstery for a solid structure to hold up to many more years of use. The screws holes were filled, then colored and grained to match for an invisible repair.
One of a pair of antique end tables, they showed the typical wear of old furniture, with deteriorated lacquer finish, scratches, and loose and wobbly joints. The detailed carvings and beadwork, along with the beautiful book-matched veneer top made these great candidates for restoration. The classic hand-rubbed finish brought back the elegance these tables originally had.
This is part of a set of 10 antique dining chairs that the owner sent out to be reupholstered and finished in antique silver. Unfortunately, the upholsterer merely sprayed the wood with silver paint, making it look like aluminum wood. To the right, you can see the first step in correcting the problem, using a wash to create a patina and darken the fluting and carving.
The final step was to create a mixture of clear lacquer with a small amount of powdered gold paint to add to the patina and create the effect of slightly tarnished aged silver. This was an economical solution to what might have been a very expensive mistake.
This 200 year old grandfather clock case was brought in to replace the center (chime) door because it was severely warped, and the veneer was cracked and peeling. Additionally, much of the inlayed veneer was missing and what was there was lifting because the glue was failing. 200 years of exposure to endless climate changes also caused the veneer to crack
and curl. The cracks in the veneer were first dealt with by sanding to level (luckily, 200 year old veneer is fairly thick by today's standards), then by filling with matching filler. All loose veneer was reglued and missing veneer was replaced and stained to match the surrounding finish. The warped chime door was "unwarped" rather than replaced because of the difficulty in finding veneer that would match the "figuring" of the original veneer. By cutting deep grooves every 1/2" in the back of the door and gluing it to a 1/8" piece of mahogany plywood, then cutting it down to eliminate the severely damaged veneer near the edges, repairing remaining loose and cracked veneer, and framing it with solid mahogany restored the door. The area just above the chime door and the front bottom panel had the most severe damage to the veneer, and you can see how successful the final results turned out. The final step was to re-lacquer the entire clock case to mimic a 200 year old finish.
This antique dining set was refinished about 25 years ago, but is used daily as this family's eating area, so the years have taken their toll. In addition to the wear to the finish, the table had a split in the wood and a large gouge in the top, and two chairs were broken. The set, however, is made from solid maple, so is a great candidate for continued daily use. The first step was to repair the damage, followed by stripping the finish and sanding smooth.
These are the two broken chairs, and below are the initial repairs before finishing.
<---Patch is touched up and ready for final finishing.
Below is the finished set, refinished in the original color, repaired, and ready for it's daily duties. The table is shown both with and without the leaves.
"Classy end table"
"Queen Anne chairs"
"Antique silver finish"
"Antique maple table & chairs"
"Far-gone grandfather clock"
"Classic library table becomes sewing table"
This 3-level library table was acquired years ago and stored disassembled in the corner of the garage as a future project. With broken legs and delaminating veneer on each of the 3 table tops, it was a daunting project, but the time came to deal with it and bring it to life as the ultimate sewing table, with room to store fabrics and supplies below, and a large cutting and layout surface on top. Almost the size of a pool table, we needed to create a system of assembly so that it could be disassembled and moved when necessary, as it was originally glued together. That works fine in a public library, but not so well when it needs to be moved in a private home.
The first step was to remove all the loose veneer on each of the 3 table tops and fill the gaps with a catalyzed filler for strength, as shown to the left. This was done during a particularly rainy and humid period. Each day I would come out ready to finish the tops only to find more veneer separations, so this was a very lengthy process. To the right you can see the legs, all of which were damaged. One was missing a foot, another was broken in half, one had the bottom of the leg broken away where the foot attached, and all were badly gouged from years of public use.
Next was to patch the breakout on the lower portion of the leg where the foot attaches and to make a new foot using an original as a pattern. These were done with solid oak to match the original. Then it was time to glue and reinforce the leg that was broken in half.
The leg to the left shows the damage that all the legs had suffered from years of public use and abuse. The pictures to the right show the initial patches to the gouges and the final shaping of the oak patch.
To the left are 6 seriously ugly legs, but at least they're all together. Above, a patch is shaped, then initially stained. Below, the color is adjusted, grain is drawn in, and finish is applied. Below right the newly made foot is color-adjusted to match the leg.
Initially it was recommended to put new veneer on the table tops, but budget considerations mandated repairing the veneer and painting the center of the tables black. Like so many times, the owner's creative vision proves to be the best choice, and in retrospect, the decision to go with black creates a much more dramatic effect. Since this table is going to have a utilitarian life, preserving it's originality was not an issue. Creating a system of easy disassembly means the table can moved when necessary, and can now fit through doorways and around corners in a home. The result is a dramatic and beautiful piece that should provide years of happy sewing.
This antique radio was bought online and shipped to it's new owner from Wisconsin. The owner knew it needed some work and refinishing, but found a bigger problem when the UPS driver flipped end over end to get it up the stairs to it's new home! The result was a structural break in the center top piece, as well as all the glue joints being jarred loose, so the entire case needed to be rebuilt.
After removing the broken center top piece from the case, the structural break was repaired and that section was re-veneered with a matching grain walnut veneer. Then the entire case was re-assembled and all broken joints reglued and reinforced.
The owner requested a 2-tone finish with dark accents, so after the entire case was refinished, parts were masked off and a translucent dye-type stain was used to darken the accented area while still allowing the grain to show through. Then several more coats of lacquer were applied and the final finish hand rubbed to a satin luster.
This is the story of 2 antique "tombstone" table model radios from 2 different owners. The rectangular model on the left is a Silvertone that was in generally very good condition, but with the finish old and tired, so only a "freshening" by stripping and refinishing was necessary. The arched model on the right is a Philco 90 that came as a complete basket case that needed to be repaired, re-veneered and refinished.
The outer arched case of the Philco 90 is shown here with badly damaged veneer already removed. The base molding is soft wood that was badly dented and damaged and needed to be filled and repaired. The top arch of the facia already had the surface veneer missing. The facia (far right) was also badly damaged with large pieces of the structure and the veneer missing or badly damaged and delaminated. Unfortunately, the owner didn't have the budget for an expensive piece of burl walnut veneer, so it was decided to patch in the missing pieces, repair the delamination, and touch up and refinish the piece to create the best possible result within the budget.
Below are the finished pieces. The owner of the Silvertone requested a darkened base and domed upper corners and glazed fluting. The Philco 90 is shown with new walnut veneer on the dome, and the base molding filled and repaired. The arched upper facia has new walnut veneer at 45 degrees and shaded to match another Philco 90 that the owner liked. The facia was successfully repaired with several layers of veneer to patch the missing pieces and the loose, delaminated veneer reglued, then the entire piece refinished.
"18th Century China Cabinet"
Above left is the unfinished piece with the damage to the door lip and a broken corner of a drawer. Above right shows the convincing repair. To the right is the repaired back panel and the top of the lower cabinet.
This 18th century china cabinet is part of a large collection of antiques gathered in France, where the owner has a second home. With about 200 years of climate gyrations, there was extensive warping and cracking throughout the piece. The mandate was to repair the damage and refinish the cabinet, but to be sure it would look like an antique when done. The reason modern furniture uses veneer and laminated wood for stability is evident here. Made exclusively of hardwood, warping and cracks are to be expected, as the beautiful wood grain absorbs and releases moisture unevenly. But it's almost impossible not to appreciate the carefully selected figured woods, and the amount of hand work that went into building a piece like this. Add to that the character that a piece like this adds to a home, and it's easy to see why people love their antiques.
The panel between the top and bottom is made of two solid pieces of hardwood, which had badly warped. My first choice was to disassemble the piece and recut the joint to square, but the section was glued and pegged, so could not be separated without extensive damage. The repair was effected by custom-cutting a hardwood shim and carefully fitting it to the gap.
The lip covering the joint of the two lower doors was broken away at the top. A piece of oak with similar grain was selected and glued into place, lining up the grain and shaping to match.
The top of the lower cabinet was badly scratched and gouged, with large cracks and splits in the hardwood. This is a place where modern products can be used to repair these problems, preventing more future damage.
Below are more photos of the finished piece, with numerous repairs to cracked and warped panels that were strengthened and finished with an appropriate patina.
"From wreck to regal"
This antique desk is a marquetry tour de force. Probably built in the late 1800's, intricate veneer inlay decorates the entire surface. The use of boiled animal hide glue during that period means that much of what holds everything together has dried out, crystalized, and is coming apart, including much of the intricate border inlay. The veneer that surrounds the leather writing surface has lifted and warped and required complete replacement. Individual pieces of ebony and mahogany border had to be carefully cut, like a jigsaw puzzle, to replace pieces that had fallen off over the years. Additionally, many of the small pieces along the various edges have become chipped and bruised from years of use and probably countless moves. This was a slow and painstaking restoration, but in the end, extremely satisfying.
Below are images showing missing and damaged inlay, missing front trim, and damage to the veneer surrounding the leather writing surface.
Hidden under the old finish was ample evidence that this was not the first restoration of this piece. There were a lot of putty fills in areas where the veneer was sanded too thin to apply new veneer, so those spots needed to be colored and grained to match the surrounding veneer.
Carefully removing the veneer around the leather without damaging it was quite challenging, but the leather was in such good shape that replacing it was not warranted. Another tricky problem was regluing good veneer that had become loose on all the warped surfaces.
Right, the final result after replacing missing veneer, coloring and graining the putty fills, and repairing countless loose joints.
All the inlay has been replaced, reattached, or touched up. Most people with antiques don't want them to look new again, just not abused and worn out. This desk retains all the charm and character that it originally had, but has been brought back to look like it has always been loved and cared for. And what else could you want?
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