Chest of drawers and wood type?

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7 Nov 2010
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I’ve had this for years and never really been sure what it was meant for.
It needs restoration so the other day I stripped one of the drawer fronts.
It revealed a very pale wood, it had been over painted with a horrible brown stuff - pull handles as well.
I’m not sure what timber it is so any ideas on what it is or the best way of finishing it would be welcomed.
I was a bit surprised as the doors and the small drawers behind are a Mahogany type of wood.
As can be seen in the photos the drawers are all different sizes ( the two bottom right ones are perfect for Rum bottles ) some have inlayed bearers half way up for false bottoms.
I thought it might be out of a ship or shop but don’t know.
Thanks, Merlin


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I think this is known as a "Breakfast Credenza" It would have been on a side wall of the dining/breakfast room with cutlery and crockery stored in it. On the top would be the makings of a breakfast to which the guests helped themselves. Because this meal was not at set time the requirements of servants was avoided.

Sorry can't help with the identification of the wood or it's age.
Perhaps someone will be along shortly to shoot me down or to "name that species"?

Thanks John,
That would make sense and explain all the different size drawers, it is really heavy and when I can turn it over it will be interesting to see if it should be on any sort of feet.
Itching to strip the rest now to see whats under the top.
Thanks, Merlin
It would be really interesting to see what Percy Snodgrass has to say about this, and whether he would approach this the way you have with a total strip down to the bare wood. That doesn't seem like the normal way furniture restorers go about their business.
It's a personal preference, but I wouldn't have stripped it all.
It does look impressively well made - I like the way those long drawers hardly droop when fully extended.
the entire middle section looks like genuine mahogany with some pieces even having ripple in the grain... I don't think I would have stripped it either but you could always stain the drawer you did strip back to a dark colour, I wonder could it be pine? or is that just lights playing tricks on me? there must be a reason it was stained like that, probably a secondary wood,

I wonder when this was made? what time period? it's an interesting piece.
One further thought - if it was from a shop, the back would be the side the customer saw and be very smart. If it was designed to stand against a wall, maybe less smart.
Can we see photos of the other side? Thanks!
Andy, here's some photos of the back etc.
It looks like it was made to go up against a wall as its only TGV board plus the method of fixing the top is still visible.
Some of the photos are with it on its back, it has no signs of legs or feet.
After closer inspection it is obvious that the front, top and ends were varnished / coloured darker before it had been coated in the horrible brown yuk that is the current top coat, it looks like they applied it with the drawers still in place as can be seen where the drawers have been removed and the edges of the drawer fronts.
The doors are made from the same type of wood on the face so all the fronts are actually the same its just the inside of the doors and the drawer fronts behind the doors that are Mahogany.
I think the main timber used is Sandalwood as it is quite pale and certainly has a very pleasant smell inside the little drawers.
If I can find the right coloured Varnish/oil I reckon it will come up a treat as at the moment it looks far too brown and drab.
Thanks, Merlin


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Thanks Merlin. What a fascinating piece! I wonder how many hours of work went into it - a lot more than an ordinary chest, that's for sure. And I can see that if you can make the whole thing glow like the unspoiled interior, it will be even more special.
I think I'd guess at a shop but by no means certain. The thing arguing against a domestic piece is that the chest stops abruptly at the bottom, with no shaped feet or bracket feet. (Unless these have been removed?). Where space is more important than appearance, this makes sense. Ship maybe; the doors hold the smaller drawers from falling out, and the larger drawers are probably heavy enough not to need it. It does look very well made. As for date, it could be early 19th century (when the dovetails were starting to narrow from the wider Georgian shapes) but it could be much later and made in an earlier style.

Having started a complete refinish I think you may as well carry on now on the outer surfaces (not the ones behind the door(. Since there seems to have been overpainting and no original patina you aren't losing anything original, and the top is pretty battered. I agree it will look very nice.

Do wax the drawer sides and runners.
Hi Merlin.
I think you are right to give it a total strip, there is no patina left to salvage, it looks as though it has had several coats of a dark crystal varnish(the bain of my life!) When you put stripper on did it turn to a soft sticky chewing gum texture? If so it is definately crystal varnish and the best way to get it off is to put the stripper on then scub it off with '0' wire wool and lots of meths.
I dont think the timber on the interior drawers is mahogany, if you look at the end grain on the dovetails it has a grey appearance so you can leave them as they are as they look to be in good condition but you could strip them also.
The piece is certainly a retail/industrial piece made to order for a paticular purpose so you can only guess as to what that might have been. If the timber is scented and Sandalwood (one of the most expensive timbers) it would almost certainly have been made to contain fabric or paper or something else that needed protecting from moths and insects. I have never seen turn thumb latches like you have on the doors nor have I seen a lock quite like that, with its rounded corners it has a 1930's look to it! It is a heavy and 'over engineered' piece, built to last!
Thanks AndyT, Music Man and mrpercysnodgrass.
I have stripped a few more drawers and they are coming up very well, you are right with the type of varnish its horrible stuff.
Definitely no sign of feet or legs underneath but there are some lovely big dovetails holding it all together.
The turn latches are very heavy duty and well over the top, the lock is also a little gem but alas I have no key - does anybody know if it is possible to get it apart to get at the mechanism or another one?( I took the back off but every thing looks sealed )
As far as refinishing it I usually use Osmo Polyx for furniture but any other ideas?
3 of the drawers have a bead let into the insides to support a dummy bottom, the bottom has long gone but any ideas of a reason?
Cheers, Merlin


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On the lock, I'd be very tempted to try undoing those two little screws. If it's a standard Yale cylinder it should be easy - but is it much shallower than an ordinary rim latch?

On the drawer, what I see is a horizontal bearer which could support a shallow tray. This would have only been about half the depth of the drawer so it could be slid back to access whatever was underneath. Maybe it was for cutlery?

And I like Poly-x too.
Well here it is.
All stripped back and oiled with Poly x.
I reckon it looks much better now, I have given it a light sanding so it keeps as much color and patina as possible.
I quite like the scorch mark on the end!
Inside I found an old newspaper cutting of 1931.



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that came out really nice =D> looks like the top could be cherry? sides look like ash.
I think it looks loads better! I think you did the right thing - it shows the beauty of the underlying timber.

The only thing that offended my delicate sensibilities was noticing that the screwheads on the brass pulls didn't seem to have been 'clocked'. (hammer) :)
It has come up beautifully, well done. The top looks great but I must agree with woody2shoes slotted screws have to be at the same angle, just pick an angle, any angle but all the same otherwise it make one come over all unnecessary.