My repair of fine wooden things began with vintage ukuleles. I would repair loose braces, patch cracks and missing pieces. I even replaced the whole back of a rare 1960 concert size ukulele made by Martin.
Furniture is a bit different, much bigger, but the techniques of wood shaping, joining, and finishing have many commonalities.
Here are some of my recent repairs
The Heirloom Hutch
This woman had recently moved into her house and was having a lot of work done. Because of that she had furniture shuffled about and resting in strange places.
Sadly, one of those pieces, a hutch made by her grandfather many decades ago, had been knocked off the the chest it sat on and fell to the floor. The cornice was destroyed, as was one of the glass panel door frames. Amazingly neither of the etched leaded glass panels were broken!
Only the left stile was damaged and fortunately, I could get the stile router bit to match the ogee pattern of the frame. I found a piece of red oak with similar grain, shaped it, and reglued the frame.
The cornice was made of three pieces. Two were very damaged so it was best to simply replace the whole thing. Patterns for cornice and crown mold are almost impossible to match anyway.
So here it is all put back together. Can’t tell is was ever broken.
And this time I screwed the hutch to the base. It won’t flop over again!
The Heirloom Secretary
I really wish I had a good “before” picture of this damage. The right front leg of this beautiful antique secretary had been completely snapped off by movers. With dagger sharp broken wood it would just about make you cry. But I fixed it.
The two leg parts have already been glued and clamped together. The challenge now is to fasten it back to the bottom of the cabinet. You can see the leg is buttressed by two blocks that are carefully carved and dowelled. Something back in this cabinet’s past had caused the blocks to separate and someone along the line attempted to fix it. I undid that “repair” and started fresh, with a clean surface and cleaned up parts.
A thin shingle of wood had cracked off and was still glued to the cabinet. That had to be put back correctly as well.
I wish I had a picture of the glue up. It was quite a bristle of clamps, rags, and cauls, but it came out great.
But now for the inlay on the front hinged desk. It had several insults, one being initials carved by some 10 year old who didn’t realize he was proving his own guilt, the other being a missing piece of inlay. The initials gave it character, so those stay, but the inlay needs fixing.
Now, first of all, this is a magnificent piece of curly mahogany. You just don’t see wood like this in furniture any more. The grain flows in so many directions, and it shows a lot of pores. There is some chatter up there in the top right, the result of grain direction piercing the surface of the piece at a low angle – but that changing of grain direction is what creates the depth and appeal of highly figured wood. You can also see two tiny, round, mother of pearl inlays.
Anyway, there is a hole to fill, and this wood is so unique for mahogany that it can be approximated with a small piece of Hawaiian koa, which also tends to this type of grain and pore appearance.
I found a piece with a similar pattern, then sanded it close to the thickness required. I stained it to be similar in color, and after lining up the direction of the grain, I cut out a tracing of the missing piece (upside down compared to the picture above).
Now it is patched. A little light on the tone, but it will darken with time. I bet no one would notice it as it is.
After a few coats of shellac, the top is complete.
And the secretary is back in action!
The Dining Table
The legs were loose and pulling away from the center post. They were dowelled and glued, but with some heat and careful mechanical persuasion I removed two of them. One of the two was also cracked.
I made a custom clamping caul and, using hot hide glue, clamped everything back together.
The top needed some attention, but the owner didn’t want me to refinish it. So I did a quick patch to the broken veneer and it’s ready to go!
The Dining Chair
This was a black lacquer sprayed mahogany chair. It had a lattice back made of plywood. One of the back stiles was cracked completely off. Much of the lattice was also cracked.
I repaired the lattice parts with lots of glue and lots of clamps.
Then I made a splice piece to rejoin the stile leg and back halves.
A little sanding, a little spray paint, and we are ready to go!
The Park Bench
This is a bench you see fairly often, but this particular one was very well made, with heavy cast iron and originally, with redwood slats. But it had seen better days, having been left out in the snowy Sierra winters for many years.
What better wood to use to replace those slats than white oak? I made a drilling jig to get all the through slots and counter bores centered and properly located so they will fit the holes in the iron. I pre-finished the slats with McClosky Spar Varnish.
Then I sanded and repainted the iron green. With the slats attached with all brass hardware, it now looks like a bench again, only better – white oak is much more durable than redwood, and the brass fasteners give it some class.