Georgian bureau restoration finished

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MusicMan

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At last - after a year and a half of work interrupted by some months of illness, I've finished the restoration of the Georgian bureau for my son's partner.

bureau final - 2.jpg


bureau final - 3.jpg


bureau final - 4.jpg


It dates from about 1755 (on stylistic grounds) and was in very poor condition when I bought it at the height of the 'brown furniture' prices in the 1990s. Then I went abroad for 7 years and had so much to do when I got back that I neglected it. Now of course, the fully refurbished price is less then the price I paid for the wreck, so I was despondent about it till my son's partner admired it and said she'd love to have it. So began what was a much longer process than I had anticipated! The base was missing apart from a small fragment of a foot, from which I reconstructed a plausible design, there was much woodworm damage, shrinkage damage and broken joints, the worktop had been covered with decayed and anachronistic red leather (it did not originally have a covering), all the drawer runners were very badly worn and needed replacing or resurfacing and there was very substantial shrinkage damage. I could hardly believe this but the front-to-back dimension (across the grain) had shrunk so much in relation to the drawer lengths (along the grain) that I had to remove the back and remount it 1 cm further back in order for the drawers to close! The gallery was a wreck and needed "forensic woodwork" to reconstruct. The matching ink blots on the desk and the underside of the gallery were a great help!

My aim was to use appropriate materials and methods where realistically possible, but I was not going to rebuild drawers at a shorter length to cope with the shrinkage, nor remove wrought iron nails, which would have caused more damage. So there are compromises:

- woodworm-ridden sections of the bottom plate and of the front trim were replaced
- drawers were mended and new banding spliced in to the many broken parts
- Miller dowels were used to strengthen partially broken dovetail joints, in both carcase and drawers (not authentic of course, but a reasonable alternative to replacing a lot of the body)
- the back was moved out 1 cm with oak spacer pieces
- all runners were resurfaced and remounted, and the top level runners were remade from new
- the gallery was rebuilt
- an entirely new base was built
- where wood was being replaced, modern adhesives were used, but for regluing joints, liquid hide glue was used
- old wood was used in the reconstruction; not 260 year old, but the pine (runners etc) came from church pews made in the 1850s, and the oak and an ash sub-frame for the base came from a 1930s dining table that was missing its top, at a local low-end antiques dealer. Mahogany floorboards which provided the banding were kindly donated by jammyhl of this forum (unknown but considerable age). At least it was all well seasoned!
- I didn't attempt to clean up the inkstains or scratches on the worktop, apart from a necessary cleanup where there had been leather. In my view, these show the history of a well-used piece of furniture.
- brasswork was completely replaced, mostly from Marshall Brass, whose catalogue is comprehensive but impenetrable, and whose service is glacial, but whose products are excellent. Forensic woodwork showed that the drawers had already had three different sets of handles!
- the whole was cleaned with 50/50 meths/turps mixture plus a dash of vinegar (a forum member's formula, sorry I forget who it was) to get the grime off. Colour was renewed where needed, mostly with Vandyke crystals in solution. I did not attempt to get an invisible join between old and new, as it's a principle of conservation (in which I have some museum training) that replacement pieces should be distinguishable from the original. Final finish was wax straight onto the (stained) wood (clear on the worktop, brown wax polish on the carcase).

I hate to add up the hours I spent on it and in no way was it economically justifiable, but it was great fun, a huge learning experience, and gives much satisfaction in bringing a crafted piece from 260 years ago back to life. And one advantage of doing restoration rather than making new furniture is that one needs only a very small supply of quality timber!

Keith
 

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Lovely job! Nice to see a bit of old furniture thats not got chalk paint slapped all over it!
 
That must be a really satisfying job to complete.
If you have any more photos of the details, I for one would be interested to see them.

Great work!
 
Thanks Andy, yes I do, but was not sure if people would be interested. I'll pick out some of the more interesting repairs and post them over the next day or two.
Keith
 
AndyT":3uuwi1u3 said:
If you have any more photos of the details, I for one would be interested to see them.

Great work!

First instalment of the details. This one is about drawer and carcase repair using Miller dowels (long, stepped dowels with matching shaped drills). First on a drawer, on which the dovetail tails had broken at their bases, thus there was no possibility of reconstructing the joint even by completely dismantling the drawer. Using the medium dowels:

drawer repair.jpg


and the large dowels on a big drawer:

Drawer repair 2.jpg


The dowels go well into the drawer front and make a secure joint. The first step in the dowel is kept about half way inside the drawer side, hence pulls the joint together when is it hammered home (which one does under clamping). Only one drawer joint needed this full treatment.

The dovetails at the top of the carcase were fine, but those at the bottom were in a sorry state: rot, breakage, some pins and tails eroded by woodworm. The larger size Miller dowels were used to strengthen these joints. Sometimes one can usefully put them in at an angle, where the receiving part of the joint is cracked.

Miller dowel-carcase 1.jpg


It's best to drill and insert the dowels under cramps (cleaning out the drill chipping well):

Miller dowels - carcase 3.jpg


and the finished corner:

Miller dowels - carcase 2.jpg


At the bottom of the carcase, these are completely covered by the ovolo moulding. The moulding itself had vanished but the paler stripe of wood at the bottom of the carcase (upside-down in the above pictures) shows that it was there and helps in the reconstruction of the base.

Keith
 

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Next instalment is the base. It had almost completely vanished apart from one piece of a side bracket, probably one of the rear ones which was not built into the front or side brackets.

base 1.jpg


I used this as a pattern to reconstruct a plausible set of bracket feet. First the profile was traced onto some pine, and extended to form the cross piece between brackets on either corner of one side. This was cut out with a bandsaw and finished by hand.

base 2 (template).jpg


It was then screwed to the (inside of!) the piece of old oak that would form one side of the bracket feet, roughly cut out on the bandsaw (a small Inca) then finished on the router with a follower bearing:

base 4 (routing).jpg


The template was then reversed to cut the other side, similarly:

base 5 (routing 2).jpg


then the side was finally cleaned up by hand. You can now see the shape of one side of the bracket feet. There are only three sides as this design had very simple, separate brackets on the back.

base - final cleanup.jpg


Next, mitres are cut on the ends of the brackets. Another thread describes the "long mitre" shooting board used.

base 6 mitre cutting.jpg


The purpose of the brackets is to support the real feet, which are square section pine just 3 mm proud of the bottoms of the brackets, which themselves carry no direct weight at all. I made the feet out of 75x75 mm pine, which was overkill really, but gives lots of glue area. 50x50 would have been fine. The feet are just glued in, but at the end of the process Miller dowels are put in from the top. Here is the dry assembly. It all goes on a sub frame, made of old ash from that reclaimed table, using a simple mortice-and-tenon construction. (Actually, the longest pieces were too short, so the front and back of the ash frame were scarf-jointed and dowelled).

base 7 - dry assembly.jpg


Then the glue up (what a nightmare with the mitre joints!):

base 8 - glue up.jpg


and finally, success ...

base 9 - finished.jpg


Stained (dyed, rather, with Vandyke Brown crystals in water):

base 10 - stained.jpg


ready for fitting. I've run out of attachments now!
 

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to finish off the description of the base:

here it is fixed (screwed, with large holes to allow further shrinkage/expansion) to the carcase, overlapped each side for the ovolo moulding:

base 11 - fitted.jpg


The moulding was made on the router table, again using old oak:

base 12 - ovolo moulding.jpg


There wasn't an obvious way to clamp the moulding on for gluing. So I made these clamp bits. The 45 degree angle pushes on the moulding, and its tail is clamped to the bracket below:

base 13 - moulding clamps 1.jpg


base 14 - moulding clamps 2.jpg


Finally, the moulding was stained with Vandyke crystals to match the base, and the whole finished with wax. It's a little darker than the body, but that's OK as it is a complete replacement section, not intended to be a forgery!

base 15 - final result.jpeg


Probably TMI here but hopefully someone will find it interesting.

Keith
 

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Definitely interesting. Many thanks for the extra details. Plenty of techniques to try and remember. I'm now even more impressed by your rescue job.
 
Excellent work and a great piece of furniture ready for another few hundred years!
 
Thanks, donie.

The "client" saw it completed today for the first time and loves it to bits. We're moving it over to their place this week, and she promises to do good work on it :).

It actually could last another few hundred years if looked after! The wood that was not worm-eaten or rotted was in pristine condition, and I don't think it is going to shrink any more.

Keith
 
I reckon the original maker would be well pleased with the workmanship on your clean and tidy restoration, and there's no higher accolade than that!

=D>
 

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