Blog — Conservation RSS



Mirror, Mirror...

When we brought this Victorian mirror into the studio last year, we had to handle it very carefully. It had been heavily damaged in a fire to the point that the top third of the frame had essentially converted to charcoal. We were very glad that the owners wished to restore the mirror as much as possible to its former glory, so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. First, we had to stabilize everything structurally. After removing the old, broken glass, the upper ornamentation was sealed with multiple coats of shellac to lock in the pervasive smoke smell. We brushed on several applications of wood hardener,  then carefully repaired the trim with various formulations of epoxy. Several...

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A Minimally Invasive Strategy for Removal of Decorative Wrapping

  Fig. 1 Before Treatment Abstract This paper addresses a concern heard more than once from readers of Mortise & Tenon Magazine. The kraft paper and waxed thread wrapping has presented many a vexing conundrum: although anxious to explore the contents of the publication, they are hindered by the desire to preserve the physical integrity of the artistic wrapping. Several readers have commented that they even spent days perplexed by the matter until finally their desire for the contents outweighed the preservation of the pretty paper. This essay points out that, during original fabrication, shipping practitioners occasionally found need to safely disassemble said wrapping for adjustment, etc. Currently accepted opening practice is surveyed and a newly developed minimally invasive removal...

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First in Your Head

Late last night I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia to present to the Society of American Period Furniture Makers Peach State Chapter for four days. I was hired to come out to talk about and demonstrate furniture conservation theory and practice. Saturday and Sunday have been reserved for lecture while Monday and Tuesday will be lab time. Today’s presentations went well and mostly according to plan. I talked about the history of the conservation discipline, definitions of restoration and conservation and basic conservation principals. The principals were then worked out by showing how shellac can be manipulated and worked to facilitate long term finish survival. I demonstrated some of this on pieces in need of a little TLC that a few...

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The Unvarnished Truth About Shellac

Before I started working with Joshua in the studio doing conservation work, I spent over 10 years with some very pretty and very expensive boats. My primary gig was marine varnish, a seasonal process of sanding off last year's gloss, touching up, taping, cleaning, brushing on a coat of varnish, letting it dry, then sanding again and getting even more fussy about cleanliness in preparation for a final coat. Typically, the cleaning process involved thoroughly vacuuming the boat, washing with water, a wipedown with mineral spirits or alcohol (depending on my mood that day), then hitting everything with a tack cloth before finally beginning to coat. For new boats, this process is repeated 8 or more times over a period...

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A Furniture Conservation Primer from Don Williams: Issue Two Table of Contents

Art conservation is one of those disciplines that can be shrouded in mystery. When famous paintings or buildings are restored, it gets published in the New York Times. The public oohs and ahhs at the magic of restoring a relic from hundreds or thousands of years ago back to its former glory. Conservation projects like these are exciting because it’s the closest thing we have to time travel. It’s the only place that the authentic past is revived in the present before our very eyes. As the senior furniture conservator of the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute, Don Williams has been routinely entrusted with restoring some of our nation’s most significant cultural artifacts. Considered by colleagues the “inimitable” Don Williams, he...

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Old Hickory

I've been doing my best to hold down the fort around here while Joshua was away at Woodworking in America. In the weeks before he left, we'd received a disproportionate number of chairs to be reglued, recaned, or otherwise repaired. At one point I think I counted 16 in the studio, surely a new record (if anyone is keeping score). One chair I worked on recently I've affectionately dubbed "Little Abe Lincoln's Rocker": a pretty 19th-century child's chair with a woven hickory-splint seat. The seat appears to be original, but the splints had unfortunately been broken all across the front. Our goal with this project was to restore the appearance of the chair without resorting to using new materials -...

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DVDs, Inpainting Kits, Glue, and Steel Wool: Now Available!

During the lull I have during Mike hard at work editing our upcoming Foundations video and before wading deep into Issue Two (and working on my Fisher book), I finally found a moment to add some new products to our e-store. 10 Essential Furniture Repair DVDs First off, the ’10 Essential Furniture Repairs’ DVD produced by Popular Woodworking shows the most basic repairs I’ve employed to make a living restoring antique furniture. Although it’s not a shortcut approach, I did select some of the more straightforward (and less specialized) repairs to demonstrate. You can do this. From loose joints to severed tenons to white rings in an old finish and more, this DVD should bolster your confidence to make repairs...

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'10 Essential Furniture Repairs' Released!

I have long been an advocate for teaching the basics of furniture conservation to woodworkers. Too often conservators hold their hard-earned techniques for repairing antique furniture tight to their chest. Often this secrecy is not due to an elitism but rather a concern that important objects of our cultural heritage are preserved in the hands of experienced individuals. While I sympathize with this desire in theory, I find that, in practice, woodworkers are going to fix old furniture with or without a professional’s help. It seems better to me to teach value assessment, preservation principals, and safe repair techniques. I've been blogging about these things for a number of years now but sometimes you just got to see this stuff...

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Yesterday at the Showcase

Spent yesterday at the Northeastern Woodworkers Showcase and, wow, what a blast. My presentations went well (with folks standing in back and out in the doorway) and the Mortise & Tenon booth was super busy all day long. I’ve had a great time chumming along with the other presenters, Garrett Hack, Jeff Miller, and Phil Lowe and a whole cadre of amazing other folks. As you can imagine, going out for beers with these guys is amazing. We’ve had some lively discussions/debates about authenticity of details in reproduction work versus a high level of refinement and premium stock choice. Our diverse furniture making objectives opened up a series of discussions related to craft work and the business of it. I’ve got some great stories to...

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Meet Me in Saratoga Springs This Weekend

As I’ve been putting together preparations for my presentations this weekend at the Northeastern Woodworker’s Association Annual Showcase, I’m rehearsing the building blocks of furniture conservation theory and practice. I’ve found that teaching a basic introduction to a topic is the real proving ground to see if you have a good grasp on it. This weekend, I have a one hour time slot to present the overarching framework of a profession that presumably none of the listeners are involved in. With this in mind, I always make it a point to try to teach in a way that not only intrigues the listeners but also equips them to learn more on their own. Questions of the “right” thing to do,...

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