FURNITURE RESTORATIONTightening loose chairs is one furniture repair most homeowners avoid. Everyoneassumes you need dozens of clamps, a special glue and knowledge akin to blackmagic to repair a chair - not so. Your total expenditure for repairing every loosechair in your home should be less than $50.00, even if you have to buyeverything I list. Since the explanation takes more space than I have here, we’regoing to do this project in two parts. This column will be on taking a chair apart -next time we’ll cover the assembly process.For now, we’ll assume the chair is loose, but nothing is broken. Replacing brokenparts is a whole other ball game.The first consideration is the type of chair. If you have a typical dinette set(informal) the chairs have legs that are not perpendicular to the floor and all thejoints are glue joints. The legs are glued directly into the bottom of the seat withno screws. Dining room chairs (formal) typically have legs parallel to each other(or nearly so), perpendicular to the floor. The cushioned seat is attached withscrews, and the corners of the frame immediately below the seat are heldtogether with a block in each corner that is screwed and glued in place. Mostchairs will fit into one or the other of these two categories, or perhaps combinefeatures of both.You’ll need a rubber mallet (wrapping an old sock around a regular hammer willNOT work). This will run less than $10.00. 16 to 24 ounces is heavy enough. Aroll of 1" masking tape, a pencil, a screwdriver (maybe) and a sharp pocket knifewill complete your tool list for disassembly.First put a piece of masking tape on each part of the chair to mark its position. Iuse a simple abbreviation code; RF=right front, LF=left front, etc. Mark eachpiece; all four legs, the stretchers that run between the legs front to back on eachside, and, if there are any, the stretcher(s) running left to right. Mark thestretchers so you can tell which end goes in front, back, left or right. Thesepieces may look symmetrical but chances are they aren’t. They must go back inthe same position the were in originally. With a formal chair, also mark the rails,those board-like pieces immediately beneath the seat cushion.With a formal chair, remove the upholstered seat and the screws holding thewooden corner blocks in place. Number the blocks and the inside of the rail soyou can put the blocks back where they came from.Now for see what you can pull apart just by wiggling and pulling on the pieces.After you’ve removed what you can, go after the stretchers, if they haven’talready come out. Use the mallet to hit the leg, swinging parallel to the stretcher.Hit as close to the joint as possible, holding the stretcher tightly. Continue thisprocess until the stretchers are removed.
Having removed the stretchers, the legs should be looser than they were, if notfalling out. Use the same process to separate the legs from the rails (on a formalchair) or, on an informal chair turn the piece upside down, striking the seatbottom with the mallet while holding the leg to be removed. Always try to hit asclose to the joint as possible, swinging in line with the piece you’re trying toremove. You want to pull it out, not break it off. Do this over a padded surface. Ifthe piece separates suddenly, remember you’re holding only part of it...the restwill fall. One last note: some joints will be just as tight as the day they wereoriginally glued. The old adage, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" applies. If you can’tget a joint apart without extreme extertion, leave it alone.After you’ve congratulated yourself on getting the piece apart without breakinganything, take a break. We’ll clean this chair up and put it back together in ournext column. As always, if you have any questions on this or other furnitureproblems, drop me a line at the Enterprise.
Furniture Tips and TricksGot the chairs apart, did we? No mashed fingers or broken parts? Good! Nowlet’s make ‘em like new again.You’ll need a pocket knife with a small blade; an 8 ounce bottle of Elmer’sCarpenters Wood glue; the shortest coil available of sash cord (ask for it byname). This looks like clothes line, but it isn’t. Sash cord is the woven cotton ropethat was used to hold sash weights in old fashioned windows. If you have achoice, get the larger diameter. Get 3 feet of 5/8" dowel rod. Cut this into 1 footlengths. You’ll also need an old cotton T shirt cut up into small rags, a section ofnewspaper, some Q-tips, and a small pan of water.Hold the knife at a right angle to the dowel/tenon and scrape the old glue off.Don’t cut - scrape. Get it off all the dowels and the tenon ends of the stretchers.Using the small blade, scrape the glue out of the holes that held the dowels andtenons. Again, scrape. You don’t want to cut the wood down, just remove the oldglue. If the joints are not cleaned properly, the new glue will not adhere.Using your masking tape markers as guides, put the chair back together. Noglue, yet. This is a dry fit, to make certain you’ve thoroughly cleaned the holesand not left any burrs elsewhere that will hinder the assembly when you do glueit. Correct anything that doesn’t fit.Whether you’re working with formal chairs (cushion seat) or dinette chairs (legsattach directly to the seat) here’s the assembly process. Fold the newspaper toget a square 4 or more layers thick. Put a puddle of glue on it about the size of asilver dollar (ask your grandfather).For dinette chairs: using a Q-tip, spread the glue (you want to get a film of glue. Ifthe glue runs at all, you’ve got too much.) over the tenons of the stretcher andinto the holes the tenons go into. If there is a left to right stretcher, fit it into thetwo side stretchers first, then insert them into the legs. Spread the glue over theleg tenons and their matching holes in the seat, and insert them. On a chair thatwas just slightly loose before, you may have to use the mallet to drive them in.You should give them a good tap, anyway, just to make certain you drive themhome. Set the chair upright on a flat surface. Take a length of sash cord longenough to go around the chair at the feet, and tie a knot in it. The cord should beslightly loose. Insert a section of dowel rod between the cord and the chair, andturn it clockwise to form a tourniquet. Keep turning it to tighten the cord and drivethe tenons completely into place. Angle the dowel so it catches on the chair seat(or a stretcher) and can’t unwind. Dip a rag in the water and wipe off thesqueezed out glue. Dry the joints with another rag. Set it aside overnight.
For formal chairs, spread the glue as before to attach the front rail to the two frontlegs. Assemble stretchers as above, then put the side stretchers into the frontlegs. Put the side rails into the front legs. Lay the chair on its back on the floor.Position the stretchers and side rails over the holes and drive them into placewith the mallet. Set the chair upright on a flat surface. Take two sections of sashcord; one around the rails, the other around the legs at the stretchers. Wind upboth with dowel rods uniformly to tighten the joints. Wipe off glue as before andleave to dry. Corner blocks can be replaced after the frame has set up.Be sure to put the chairs on a flat surface while tightening. This insures that allfour feet meet the floor. As always, if you have any questions, just drop a line tome at the Enterprise. Next time we’ll tackle something a little less ambitious, butuseful, nevertheless.
Furniture Tips & TricksColor is always a consideration in furniture whether you’re buying new orrefinishing. As important as color is it’s amazing how little the average personknows about it. In this column we’ll try to add to your education. Be warned, thisis a reader-participation column...you’re going to have to do something in order toget the full benefit! When talking to a painter, decorator, or anyone who deals with color all the timeyou’re liable to hear enough strange terms to make your head start spinning.Primary, secondary, complementary...what are they talking about? Take a pieceof paper and draw a triangle. Label each corner of the triangle with one of thefollowing; Red, Blue, Yellow. These are the primary colors. All other colors are made by mixing one or more ofthese colors together, combined with black and/or white to get various shades.Now on the line between the primary colors, place the following labels; betweenred and yellow, place orange; between red and blue, place violet; between yellowand blue, place green. These are the secondary colors. These colors are madeby mixing the adjacent primary colors. Add white, you get a lighter shade; addblack, you get darker. Complementary colors are those directly across from eachother. For instance, directly across from Red in our triangle is Green. Green andred are complementary colors. Theoretically, mixing any two complementarycolors together should give black. It practice, you get a dark brown. You often hear talk about "warm" and "cool" colors. Warm colors include red,orange and yellow; cool colors would include blue, green, and violet. Indecorating, warm and cool colors are used to emphasize or de-emphasize roomareas. In paintings, particularly in portraits, cool colors are used as a backgroundin order not to detract from the subject of the painting. Warm colors are also usedin paintings (along with perspective) to draw your attention to a particular point inthe painting.Color is very important in the choice of woods for furniture. Mahogany and walnuttraditionally have imparted a "rich" look. Oak, pine and maple, less so, leaningmore to function and practicality. Each species of wood (a subject for anothercolumn or two) has its limitations as far as color is concerned. It would be verydifficult to make mahogany as light as pine. Because of the grain (which is afunction of color) it would be nearly impossible to make oak look like anythingelse.Color matching in stains is not difficult once you understand what the color yousee is composed of. A deep, rich mahogany has blue and red in it. A medium oakhas yellow/orange and black (believe it or not!). The traditional (30s,40s & 50s)reddish maple has a reddish/orange and black.
As you might have guessed, most refinishers don’t use pure colors for furniture.We use the same color charts artists do, and not for any over-appreciation of ourskills. We use them because the color names used by artists are universal. Justas a passing note, here are the colors I keep in my shop that I use to mix andmatch stains: Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Van DykeBrown, Thalo Blue, Thalo Green, Vermillion, Chrome Yellow, White and Black.These are all oil based colors I use to make stains and glazes, as well as minortouch-up work.
Distressing WoodOld is hip and a seemingly important part of any project nowadays is the ability tofalsify its age. Distressing -- also known as antiquing -- is used to agecontemporary pieces and there are many variation on this theme. One of themore extreme approaches is to throw the project into the sea and let it crashagainst the beach for a few hours, if not days (it helps to tie it to something solidso that it doesnt float away of course!). Below are a few of the more accessibleways to age your projects. But, the best guide of all is to look at original antiquesto try and mimic the same marks and scratches. Having said that, do not try tofake the marks with a chisel or knife as these will look false.1. Nuts and boltsTake a handful of nuts and bolts and put them in a canvas bag. Use this to strikethe wood, producing dents and bruises in the woods surface. Make sure that youhit the wood in a random fashion: do not plan out a hitting strategy first, as thistends to result in a regular pattern. Concentrate on the edges of a table and onthe legs -- areas where the most wear and tear is likely to occur in old furniture.2. StainOnce distressed, smear the surface with a water-based stain. Take special careto run the stain into all of the dents and bruises so that they will appear darker.Once the stain is satisfactory, seal the wood using a shellac sealer. This will holdthe stain in.3. Cup RingsOld table tops typically suffer from cup rings. These are caused by mugs ofsteaming-hot coffee being placed onto the wood, or by a film of alcohol on theunderside of a beer glass. To replicate such a mark, fill a round-based metalcontainer (such as a canned food tin) with hot water and wet its underside. Leavethis on the wooden surface for about ten minutes to produce a dark ring.4. Dirt stainsMix alcohol and pigment with French polish and apply with a brush. Cover theentire surface with this concoction and rub well into the wood to create a darkerfinish. After this mixture has dried, apply a coat of clear polish. Once this hasbeen applied, buff the product using firstly a circular motion, but finishing with astraight motion (with the grain). Stop short of creating the sheen that you wouldusually want to make. Once this is done, rub 000 wire wool along the grain to dullthe polish a little more.
5. Paste WaxFinally apply a coat of dark-colored paste wax to increase the aged appearanceof the piece.
Preparing Furniture for RefinishingHome furnishings are a major investment. According to one study, furnitureranked first on the list of household objects cherished most. With proper care,furniture can be a lifetime investment.Wood is the most popular material used for furniture, but some woods are easilydamaged or dented and others have poor finish. Refinishing makes it possible torestore existing furniture, to rehabilitate second-hand pieces and to preservefamily furniture treasures. Whether youre motivated by the love of a specificpiece, the need to save money or the desire to save natural resources,refinishing may be the answer.Refinishing furniture is not difficult or expensive. Finishes and equipment areavailable in a variety of price ranges and success is practically guaranteed ifdirections are carefully followed. Successful refinishing, however, depends uponthe care and thoroughness with which the old finish is removed and the surfacecleaned and sanded. Careful work takes time and good finishes cant be hurried,so work leisurely and enjoy the results.Remove old finishRemove all parts from the furniture that are not to be refinished, such as drawerpulls, glass knobs or mirrors.Use a good commercial paint or varnish remover. There are now wax-freeproducts on the market that are not flammable. An average-size table or smalldresser should require about one pint of remover.It is generally not economical or advisable to make removers at home; theprocedure is dangerous and the product is not always effective.Avoid using a lye mixture because it raises the grain of the wood, discolors thewood and affects the final finish.Apply remover as directed on the container to a small area, brushing in onedirection only. When the surface appears softened and wrinkled (5 to 20minutes), remove the finish with a putty knife, spatula or commercial scraper.Be careful when using liquid removers or water on veneer surfaces. Too muchmoisture causes panels to pull and the glue to soften.Hold the scraper at an angle to prevent gouging the wood. Use long, evenstrokes, following the grain of the wood, to remove the finish.
All of the old finish should be carefully removed in carved, fluted or turnedsurfaces. A vegetable brush, an orange wood stick or a pad of steel wool willhelp with turnings or grooves. A piece of twine or cord dipped in remover andpulled through fine grooves will also help. Sawdust or excelsior can be used torub off old finish.Rinse as directed on the container or wash with denatured alcohol or turpentine.A wax-free remover does not require washing the surface.There are some times when the old finish does not need to be removed, and youmay put a new coat of finish over the old one. In that case, first remove any waxor oil by washing with turpentine. Use sandpaper or pumice and water on thesurface.Allow the wood to dry thoroughly before the next step (24 to 48 hours).Glue loose jointsIt is best to take the pieces apart if joints are loose. Before doing this, label theparts so that they may be reassembled correctly. When pieces must be forcedapart, put a heavy pad or block of wood between the hammer and the wood.Scrape off the old glue with a knife or razor blade. Do not sand; the joint must notbe reduced in size or the pores closed. Wash off old glue with steel wool and asolution of warm vinegar and water in equal parts. Dry thoroughly. If the woodsurfaces to be glued are smooth, slash the surface with a knife so the glue canhold better.Plastic resin glue is most satisfactory to use. It is waterproof, does not stainwood, handles easily and makes a strong bond. It is sold under various brandnames in powder form.After the surfaces are well cleaned and dried and the joints are made to fit eachother, the glue should be spread on both surfaces in a medium thickness. Boththe glue and the wood should be warm (75 to 80 degrees F).Ease the dowels and tenons into the holes to prevent air pockets. Immediatelyplace joint under pressure using clamps (such as a bar, cabinet or C-clamp).Protect the furniture surface under clamps with pads of cardboard or cloth. Allowto dry under pressure at least 24 hours.Raise dentsRaise shallow dents by placing a damp woolen cloth or wet blotting paper overthe depression; then hold a hot iron over the cloth until the steam swells the
wood to eliminate the dent. Sand when dry. This treatment cannot be used forveneer.Fill cracks and holesUse stock shellac to fill cracks and holes where hardware has been removed.If the piece of furniture is to be stained, select the shellac color and fill the holesafter the stain is applied. Wet a spot on the wood with turpentine or alcohol tofind out what the final color will be. The shellac will be darker in the stick, so meltsome of the shellac and test its color. If the exact color is not available in thestock, you can sometimes make a match by blending two colors together.Clean out cracks and holes and smooth the edges before filling. Melt the shellacwith a heated steel knife. When hardened, shave off excess shellac level with thesurface.Remove dark spotsRemove dark spots by sanding or bleaching. Too severe treatment will removethe lovely quality that age has given the wood.Commercial bleaches are available with clear directions.An oxalic acid solution may be made using 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) oxalic acidpowder or 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) oxalic acid crystals to 1 pint of warm water.Apply the solution with brush, cloth or sponge. Let stand 10 to 20 minutes.Repeat as necessary. Wash with ammonia solution (1 tablespoon ammonia to 1quart water) or with a solution of 2 tablespoons borax dissolved in a pint of water.Rinse with clear water. Caution: Oxalic acid is poison.Household laundry bleaches (sodium hypochlorite) will bleach most woodsseveral shades lighter, with the exception of oak, which may turn slightly darkerand brown. It will change the color of the dark streaks in poplar to the yellowgreen color of the rest of the wood, but it will not effectively bleach the yellowgreen.SandMuch of the beauty of the finished wood will depend upon sanding. The finishyou choose will not cover up scratches and dents. In fact, the finish magnifiesblemishes of any kind.The correct grade of abrasive must be selected for best results. On smooth woodstart with fine; on rough wood start with medium. Then continue withsuccessively finer abrasives.
Garnet paper is better for all-round household use. It is reddish in color and costsa little more than flint, but it is harder and sharper, so lasts longer.Smooth the surface by sanding with the grain of the wood when the wood is dry.Cover adjoining cross grain sections of the wood before sanding.When sanding flat surfaces, it is convenient to wrap the sandpaper around asmall block of wood or a blackboard eraser in order to ensure even pressure.For grooves and crevices, fold squares of sandpaper in quarters. Folding thesandpaper over itself will keep it from slipping. You can use fine steel woolalthough it may discolor some woods such as oak. Emery cloth torn in strips isexcellent for smoothing deep turnings when used shoe-shine fashion.Wipe the sand dust from the surface frequently with a cloth dampened inturpentine.Be sure the wood is smooth as glass.StainStain brings out the beauty of the wood and helps match varying shades ofwood. If your wood has a nice natural color or if the stain has not been removed,you will not need to use stain. Remember that any type of clear finish will darkenthe wood somewhat and magnify the beauty of the grain and wood pattern.Oil stains are easy to apply and allow for better color control. Walnut andmahogany colors mixed in varying proportions will produce most of the desiredshades. Varnish stain is not recommended.Be sure to test the stain because woods vary greatly in character. Soft woodsabsorb stain and darken quickly, while hardwoods do not darken readily. Somewoods, especially fir plywood, have both extremely hard and soft portions. Whenstained, they will show contrasts of light and dark that are not pleasing. To avoidthis, apply a penetrating seal to the entire surface before staining. End grainsurfaces are very absorbent and should be sealed with a mixture of 5 partsalcohol to 1 part clear shellac.Test on a hidden part of the furniture. Wipe off with a soft cloth in the direction ofthe grain. If too dark, add turpentine to the stain and test again. Repeat theapplication if the shade is not dark enough. A built-up color is clearer and softerthan a one-coat job. As a rule, amateurs use stains too liberally.When the shade appears satisfactory, apply the stain evenly to small areas at atime. Wipe off with a soft cloth with the grain of the wood. Allow the stain to dry
48 hours. Seal to prevent the color from mixing with the final finish and rub withfine sandpaper.SealersSome stains, especially dark colors, should be sealed to prevent them frombleeding into the finish. You can use a ready-mixed sealer available at paint andhardware stores. Check the label to be sure the sealer is compatible with thefinish you plan to use. You can also make a sealer from the final finish you planto use. • Varnish Mix one part varnish with one part turpentine. • Shellac Make a sealer of one part white shellac (4 pound cut) with eight parts denatured alcohol. Be sure to check the date on the shellac label. Old shellac will not dry properly. • Linseed oil Mix one part linseed oil with three parts gum turpentine. • Tung oil Dip a piece of nylon hose in tung oil. Wipe on the wood and immediately wipe off the excess. • Brushing lacquer Brush on some lacquer and immediately wipe it off.Applying a sealerNoteNot for tung oil or brushing lacquer. • Apply a thin coat of sealer with a brush. Brush slowly with the grain. It will soak in according to the hardness of the wood. • Keep the surface wet with the sealer for 10 to 15 minutes by applying more coats as each soaks into the wood. • Wipe off all excess sealer with a nylon hose or a soft, lint-free cloth. • Allow 24 hours for drying. • Lightly smooth the surface with fine sandpaper or 000 steel wool. • Remove any dust by wiping with a tack cloth.Do a quality checkMuch of the final finish depends on how well the surface has been prepared.Ask yourself these questions: • Have necessary repairs been made?
• Is the surface: o Clean? o Smooth? o Old finish removed? o Cracks and holes filled? o Sanded smooth as glass? o Filler used on open-grain woods? o If it is stained, was only enough used to enhance the beauty of the wood?
Reflections AgainRefinishing Tips1. Filling small gouges and cracks - 03/26/99When filling small cracks and gouges on raw wood I use one of the commercialwood fillers (Fix Wood Patch, Famowood Wood Filler-available at local hardwarestores). Instead of using it directly from the can I thin it with acetone. I put thethinned filler into a plastic syringe (available in hobby stores, hardware stores, orConstantines Woodworkers Catalog 800-223-8087) and squeeze it into the spotIm filling (slightly over filling). This works well because I can avoid getting thefiller into the surrounding grain. Next, I sprinkle the filled area with talcum powderand pat the filler into the crack or gouge with my finger. This serves to pack thefiller into the damaged area without the filler sticking to my finger. I let the fillerdry, blow off the talcum and hand sand (backed with a sanding block) with 180grit paper. Sand the filler level to the surrounding surface. The trick is to sandgently. It will take a few moments longer, but it will avoid tearing out the filler. Itsbest to let the filler dry over night before sanding to allow for any shrinkage of thefiller.2. Removing water spots or rings from furniture - 04/09/99Water rings and spots are caused by moisture trapped in the finish when wetobjects are left on the furniture. They appear as white cloudy areas. There areseveral ways to approach the problem:A substance with oil in it, furniture polish for example, can be left on the spotovernight. Wipe off the oil in the morning. With luck, the spot will be gone.Alcohol can be used to remove the spot. Dampen a soft rag lightly with alcoholand wipe the area gently. Be careful. Alcohol can damage some finishes,especially shellac. Use a small amount of alcohol and proceed cautiously.Mild abrasion can remove the water damage. Use rottenstone and/or pumicewith a rubbing oil (available at finer hardware stores or ConstantinesWoodworkers Catalog 800-223-8087). Proceed with care. You dont want to rubthrough the finish. #0000 steel wool (available at hardware stores) will also work,but it is more abrasive. Rubbing out the water mark may alter the sheen of thefinish. If this happens, you will have to rub out the entire surface to get an evensheen.Another solution is to coat the entire surface with the proper solvent. This willwork with shellac or lacquer. If the finish is shellac use alcohol. Use lacquerthinner on lacquer finishes. You will need spray equipment for this method. Spraythe entire surface with the proper solvent and the allow to dry. The solvent willdissolve the finish and allow the moisture to escape. When it dries, hopefully thedamage will be gone.
If none of these things work, you may have to strip and refinish the furniture.There are several things involved which can determine the result of your repair:type of finish, condition of the finish, age of the finish, thickness of the finish,depth of the water spot, and your experience and patience. Also, although thedamage appears white and cloudy, it might not be water damage.3.Removing finishing nails - 04/26/99Sometimes when working on furniture I come across a finishing nail that is sunkdown into the wood. I need to get the nail out and theres nothing to get a hold ofto pry it out. The solution is to drill a slot around the nail. Take a piece of steeltubing about two inches long that will just fit around the nail. File teeth in one endof the tubing. Put the tubing in a drill and drill around the nail. Use a pair of wiresnips to reach down and get a hold of the nail. Using a piece of wood to workagainst pry the head of the nail high enough so you can get to it with a hammerclaw or similar prying device. After removing the nail you will end up with a largerhole which you can fill with putty or a wood dowel.
REPAIRING FURNITURE JOINTSBuilding furniture with traditional joinery is fairly straightforward: cut, glue, clamp,and let it dry. A well made mortise and tenon or dovetail joint will last severalgenerations, but even the best joint may eventually need to be repaired,particularly on hard wearing items like chairs. Re-cutting the original joinery orreplacing an entire part may not always be the right course to follow, especially ifthe furniture has an intrinsic historical value. Discovering how the piece wasoriginally made is sometimes half the battle. This article will take you through thebasic steps to repairing the most common furniture joints - mortise and tenon,dovetail and dowel.DIAGNOSE AND DISMANTLEBesides accidental breakage, a joined piece of furniture may fail for a number ofreasons. The most common are wear and tear which produce racking stresseson the joint (like the back legs of a chair) and normal expansion/shrinkage due toseasonal changes. These two forces may operate independently or together toproduce failure at the glue line. A joint may also have been improperly cut whenoriginally constructed with one of the components either too large or small.To properly repair a furniture joint you should completely dismantle it and replaceworn or damaged wood with wood from the same species. This advice isperhaps the most disregarded by well-meaning novices and even poorly-trainedprofessionals. Nails, screws and metal brackets are often installed on loose jointsin an effort to repair them. Glue dribbled into a partially opened joint and hot meltglue are also encountered. Besides these added fasteners, many productionfurniture pieces are pinned with small finishing nails which held the glued jointtogether until the glue dried, eliminating the need for clamps. Glue blocks areoften employed to counteract racking on chairs and to re-reinforce joinery.Whatever fasteners you encounter, they need to be removed so that the jointcomes apart easily. To pry out small nails you can regrind the outer jaws of endnippers so that they can pry out nails set flush with surface. On nails set belowthe surface you can try to push them through but I find it best to leave them. Thiswill split the wood on the mating joint, but this is easier to repair than show woodgouged to access a small nail head. On old flat head screws, make sure the tip ofthe driver fits snugly in the slot to avoid stripping the slot. I keep an old driver thatI re-grind to customize the fit for old screws. For frozen screws, hold ascrewdriver in the slot and heat the shank of the screwdriver with a propane torchto transfer the heat to the screw. After the screw cools it should come out easily.If the slot is stripped, a screw extractor is a last resort.
If the joint was loose to begin with and youve removed all fasteners, the jointshould come apart easily by hand. If not, theres probably some hidden fastener.Look the joint over carefully and look for any tell-tale holes. If you can, slip ametal feeler gauge into the joint. In some instances, screws are counter-boredinto a show side and the hole plugged with wood from the same species. Thesecan be hard to spot under a finish. If you encounter one, drill it out and re-plug itafter repairing the joint.GluesThe type of glue used on the original joinery is important. Prior to the mid forties,hot animal hide glue was the traditional glue used in furniture assembly. Afterthat time, PVA glues eventually replaced hide glue. Hide glue has someannoying application characteristics but its redemption is in the fact that it isreversible. It can be "re-activated" with water and heat and it will re-bond to itself.This means that joints originally glued with hide glue do not have to scraped tobare wood to get the new glue to stick. Just re-apply some new glue aftermoistening the old glue with hot water. You can use either hot hide glue madefrom dry granules or pre-mixed hide glue like Franklins. The pre-mixed varietywill give you more open time to work than the hot type. You can also use a PVAglue to re-glue an old hide glued joint, but be very cautious with doing this onantiques. PVA glue is not considered reversible and will make any future repairsdifficult.Hide glue can be "de-activated" on joints that are still stuck by saturating the jointwith alcohol. Squirt some alcohol (I use denatured alcohol) along the edges ofthe joint and it will wick in by capillary action. After several minutes the joint willbe loose enough to pull apart.PVA glues like Titebond and Elmers are very difficult to remove. If you suspectthat one of these glues was used, wetting the joint in hot vinegar loosens the jointenough to wiggle it apart. Unlike hide glue, PVA glue does not re-bond to itself soyou must scrape off the old glue to bare wood. If you are gluing a broken piece ofwood with irregular edges, soak the glue with hot vinegar and remove it with abrass bristle brush.If youre not sure which glue was used you can do a simple test. Place a drop ofhot water on the glue and wait several minutes. Hide glue will become sticky andPVA glues will turn white.Other glues you may encounter are epoxy, urea-resin and super glue. All ofthese glues should be treated the same as PVA in that they are non-reversible.However, none of them can be softened to aid in disassembly. Since most ofthese glues are brittle, a sharp blow with a hammer usually breaks the glue line.
Stubborn JointsIn some situations a joint that is still properly or partially glued may need to bedismantled.If the joint can be wiggled, lightly tapping it with a hammer and a piece of softwood is usually enough to persuade it apart. If this doesnt work, placing itbetween bench dogs and running the tail vise in reverse will pull apart even themost stubborn joints. If the joint doesnt respond, snug the vise as far as you canand then whack the dog (not the joint) with a hammer. This will dissipate the blowof the hammer.TECHNIQUES FOR INDIVIDUAL JOINTSThe design of different joints necessitates different techniques in repair. Forrepair purposes you should acquaint yourself with the different types of joints.Although there are exceptions, the most commonly used joints in furnitureconstruction are the mortise and tenon, dovetail and the dowel.Mortise and tenonThis is the most commonly used joint in furniture construction and the one mostoften in need of repair. It is used to joint wood with grain at right angles to eachother, and because of this, the contrary expansion/shrinkage of the differentmembers causes the glue to fail - loosening the joint. Cabinetmakers have beenaware of this for centuries, so variations of this standard joint have been devisedto keep the joint together when the glue fails. These include the pegged, offsetpegged, through wedged, and fox-wedged mortise and tenon.When a standard mortise and tenon joint fails it is easy to disassemble by de-activating the glue and pulling the joint apart. When the joint is pegged orwedged, the joint will be loose, but will still hold together. To disassemble thesejoints you need to remove the pins or wedges to get the joint apart. Through Pegs - Pegs that go completely through the joint and come out theother side can be tapped out from the other end. On old pieces these pegs areusually tapered and are usually driven from the show side so tap from theopposite side. If the pegs cant be tapped out easily, drill them outBlind Pegs - Pegs that do not go through to the other side must be drilled out ifthey cannot be pulled out with pliers. On valuable pieces, this should only bedone if restoration of structural integrity is the primary consideration. Use pegs ofthe same species and hand whittle them to duplicate original construction. Offset pegs - Pegs that are driven in offset holes in the tenon are impossible todistinguish from blind or through pegs unless the joint is taken apart. This joint
will rarely loosen enough to be a structural problem unless the surrounding woodbecomes weakened through rot or woodworm. If you run into holes that dont lineup when the joint is re-assembled, theyre offset pegs so do not re-drill the holesto line them up. Wedged Through Tenons - If a through tenon does not pull apart easily whenthe glue is de-activated the tenon may be wedged. In most cases the wedges willbe of a contrasting or slightly dissimilar wood and be easy to see. You can pullthem out after drilling small holes into the wedges In other cases, particularlyglue-less Oriental joinery, the wedges are made from the same wood and aredifficult to spot. Youll need to drill two sets of holes with a 3/32" drill bit from eachend of the tenon which should be enough to collapse the tenon as you pull it outof the mortise. Blind (Fox) Wedged Tenons - These are very difficult joints to spot. If you canpull some of the joint out then it abruptly stops, it probably is fox wedged. If youcan spot the bottom of the wedge, you can usually get a drill up into the wedge todrill it out to collapse the tenon. Make a new wedge from a very hard wood likemaple and re-assemble. Do not use a thick wedge since it may split the grain ofthe tenon beyond the shoulder. Windsor chairs - The undercarriage and seat of Windsor chairs are traditionallyassembled using green wood. This design produces a locking tenon thatresembles a ball. Though loose, this joint can be swiveled around like a ball andsocket. It can only be dismantled by drilling a series of holes with a small drill bitto waste away wood at the center of the tenon to collapse it. The joint is re-assembled using a fox-wedge technique.Rebuilding a Mortise and TenonIf the mortise does not make good wood-to-wood contact when its re-glued oryou had to scrape away a lot of wood to remove glue, you need to build up thecheeks of the tenon to get a good fit. Simply glue two pieces of veneer cutslightly oversize to the tenon cheeks, taking care to orient the grain the sameway and using wood of a similar species. Dont glue on one side only, this willchange the offset the tenon When the tenon is broken off, you must rebuild theend of the tenon. Cut away the broken parts flush to the shoulder and drill aseries of holes 1"-1-1/2" deep using a drill bit the same diameter as the width ofthe original tenon. (Hold the piece in a padded vise to avoid splitting the woodwhen drilling and chopping out the waste.) Then cut a piece of wood to splice intothe old wood, using the original mortise to size the width.Clean up the drill holes by paring the holes with a sharp chisel until you have agood fit with the insert piece. Make sure the grain is the same orientation, thenglue the insert in.
Round tenons broken at the shoulder present a problem. Rarely does the designpresent enough "meat" below the shoulder to accept a dowel of the samediameter as the tenon hole. The best way to repair these are to cut off the tenonend below the shoulder at an angle of 30 degrees or less. A new piece ofoversized wood is glued on (this is called a scarf joint) and then planed andspoke-shaved to the original profile. Round tenons can be enlarged to fit intooversized mortise holes by either wrapping the tenon in a glue soaked planeshaving or by expanding the tenon diameter with a wedge.Mortises that are cracked or split can be re-glued as long as the wood closessnugly so that the glue will stick. If not, a new piece of wood should be spliced inand the mortise re-sized to fit the tenon.DovetailsDovetails are another classic joint that form a mechanical lock in addition to theglue bond from the mating wood surfaces. Like the mortise and tenon there aremany variations of this joint. The most common versions found on furniture arethrough, half blind and sliding. Through dovetails are found on many case piecesand drawers. Half-blind dovetails are the traditional favorite for drawer fronts andsliding dovetails are used for legs and crests of chairs.Through and half blind dovetails - These two joints are found most often ondrawer construction and the biggest problem is a broken pin or tail. Afterdisassembling the joint, a new piece is spiced in, then pared down until it fits withthe mating joint.Sliding dovetails - The biggest problem with these are when they are used onlegs joined to turned pedestals. When the leg is racked or some other type ofstress applied, the grain of the pedestal cracks. Repairing the joint is easy, butgetting it apart is not due to the amount of long grain on the pedestal. Drillingsmall holes down the outermost points of the male portion of the joint andinjecting alcohol or hot water will usually coax the joint apart.DowelsSince the mid 1850s dowels have been used as replacements for the mortiseand tenon, dovetail, and other traditional joints. Though despised by purists,proper doweling creates a very strong and durable joint. Like any other joint,stresses and contrary wood movement will invariably loosen the dowel in at leastone of the components and it should be re-glued or replaced.Many times a dowel will simply loosen when the grain of the dowel is at a rightangle to the grain of the component. The joint can be tapped apart with a soft
faced mallet and then re-glued. Other times the dowel will break and the olddowel must be drilled out and replaced. If the new dowel does not seat exactlylike the old one, misalignment of the joint will result. The technique below solvesthis problemReplacing a DowelBegin by cutting the dowel flush to the surface of the component with a sharpsaw. Using a sharp brad point bit 1/32nd-1/16th smaller than the diameter of thedowel, drill out the center of the dowel. Hold the part in a padded vise. When thebit reaches the bottom of the dowel hole, you will feel the bit "slip" a bit and youcan stop. Using a sharp gouge with a sweep that matches the curve of the dowelcircumference, pare the excess dowel away from the sides of the hole. To cleanthe hole run a drill bit the correct diameter backwards. (A new bit can catch andrip the hole apart if run forward.)Dont use new dowels to check the fit. These can seize in the joint and becomedifficult to remove. Use dowels that have been pared or sanded undersized.These are easier to remove after a trial fit.REASSEMBLE AND TOUCH-UPThe choice of glue that you use to re-assemble the pieces is up to you, but mostrestorers and conservators agree that hide glue is the best choice for antiquesbecause of its reversibility. Hot hide glue allows a quick initial tack and the pre-mixed cold glue will allow for a much longer open time for complex re-assemblieslike chairs. There are arguments that PVA glue is stronger, but both hide glue(hot and cold) and PVAs form a glue line which is stronger than the structure ofthe wood, so either type can be used.On some exposed replacement parts like pins, tails, or round tenons, the newwood can be toned to match the surrounding finish by mixing some dry pigmentswith shellac or lacquer and toning the replacement part to blend in. Working thecolor in thin layers to build up to the original color works better than trying to hitthe color all in one shot.. When the color is right, apply a clear topcoat to protectthe touched-up area.
SAVING THE FINISHSooner or later, every woodworker is faced with the prospect of refinishing an oldpiece of furniture. Whether its a treasured "find" at a flea market or auction, or afavor for a relative or friend, etc., most people consider stripping off the old finishand refinishing the only option of successfully restoring the appearance of thepiece.Although I am a professional finisher, stripping furniture is the most thanklesstask in our shop. Despite the fact that we have proper application and exhaustequipment for handling the chemicals used, the process is messy and timeconsuming. For do-it-your-selfers, or woodworkers with limited shop space, theprocess is now a littler easier with the advent of "safer" strippers, butnonetheless, I dont know anyone who relishes the idea of spending a weekendwith a couple gallons of stripper and a paint scraper.When many woodworkers see an old dirty finish, their first thought is to remove it.In some cases this is the best approach as I will explain below. However, mostold finishes do not need to be completely removed to restore the appearance ofold furniture. Much of the patina on old pieces is on the outer surface of the woodunder the finish and is the result of exposure to sun and air. The chemicals inmost strippers "pull out" some of this patina which can affect the desirablecharacteristics of an old piece. Strippers can also affect the glue in joints andloosen veneer. Museums and conservators of antique and historically importantfurniture rarely remove a finish and will only do so when the finish has degradedto the point that the stability of the piece is jeopardized. Most of the time, thefinish is partially removed which involves the removal of the damaged surfacelayer only. Almost all techniques involve some type of cleaning and removal ofaccumulations of dirt, oils, and old polishes from years of use.Since many of the pieces that come into my shop are antiques, most of the workthat we do centers on saving the original finish. While some techniques call forspecialized solvents and chemicals, there are several techniques for cleaningand restoring an old finish to the point where the piece once again looks good.My background in conservation has taught me several cleaning and conservationtechniques that can be used by most woodworkers to restore a piece of furniturewithout stripping the finish. In this article, Ill detail several of these techniquesthat can be done by most woodworkers with a minimum of specialized materials.Before we start, Id like to discuss those finishes which shouldnt be saved.FINISHES THAT CANT BE SAVED
Not all old finishes can be saved. Finishes that are severely damaged ordegraded to the point where they can no longer effectively do a good job ofprotecting the wood should be removed. Although most conservators would liketo save the original finish when possible, finishes that have degraded to the pointwhere the wood is in jeopardy should be removed. These situations includesevere water or heat damage, large losses of the finish where the wood isexposed and situations where the finish is severely discolored. Another finish thatcannot be saved is a finish that is sticky. Sticky finishes are those that havebecome chemically altered to the point where they will never fully harden. Severewater or heat damage appear as large white areas where the finish is peeling orflaking off. Large exposed areas of wood are very difficult to blend in withouthighly developed skills so removal of the entire finish is called for. Anotherproblem finish is one in which the finish has been mixed with pigment andapplied thickly. Old varnishes and shellacs applied in this manner may developlarge cracks or "islands" which show the bare wood below. This finish should beremoved in most cases. An exception are crazed or cracked finishes where thecracks do not go all the way through to the wood below. Ill explain how to dealwith this later.The goal in restoring an old finish is not to make it look brand new. At best thistreatment should restore as much of the original condition as possible andprevent further deterioration. While by no means is restoring a finish a "quick-fix"type of repair, on most pieces it should be less time-consuming and expensivethan a complete stripping and refinishing. In addition, you do not run the risk ofruining the value of an old piece of furniture by removing a piece of its history.The following are the steps in saving an old finish. Sealing damage, cleaning,abrading the old finish (if necessary) and finally waxing.SEALING DAMAGEDamage that needs to be sealed are dents, scratches and small areas of finishthat have been worn away. The cleaning process involves water and solventsthat could possibly affect bare wood and it should be protected. For sealing, I usea 2 lb. cut light-colored shellac. Using a red-sable artists brush, I brush severallight coats of shellac to the damaged area and then let the shellac dry overnight.Do not try to match the color to the surrounding finish at this point. The cleaningwill lighten up the color so blending in at this point will result in a mismatch.CLEANING
Before cleaning, it helps to know what the finish is so that the appropriatecleaners can be used. I test the finish by a three step process using varioussolvents. Find an inconspicuous spot such as behind a leg and dab a littledenatured ethyl alcohol on the finish with a small brush or cotton swab. Afterthirty seconds tap the area with your finger - if its sticky the finish is shellac. If thealcohol doesnt affect the finish try a little lacquer thinner. If the finish still isntsticky, it is probably an oil-based varnish or polyurethane. Knowing which finishyou have minimizes possible damage from cleaning solvents as we will see later.Cleaning is a two step process which removes both water-soluble and oil-solubledirt and grime. The first cleaning step uses a hydrocarbon based cleaner likemineral spirits or Stoddard solvent. I prefer to use VM&P Naphtha rather thanmineral spirits because it flashes or evaporates much quicker. Its important totest a small amount of the cleaner on an inconspicuous area. Certain oil-basedfinishes varnishes can irreversibly whiten on exposure to some hydrocarbons sotesting is crucial and its important to know what the finish is. Oil finishes maysoften and be completely removed, but in most cases VM&P Naphtha hasproved the best all-around solvent in my use. Dampen a clean cloth with theNaphtha and rub a small surface at a time. Do not saturate the surface. Switch toclean cloths frequently.The next step involves using a detergent mixed with distilled water. I use Triton X–100. This is an extremely concentrated non-ionic detergent. I use a 3% solutionby volume. An alternative to Triton is Dawn - a commercial dish-washingdetergent that is readily available. I use a solution of one capful in a pint of luke-warm water. Apply the solution with a dampened clean cloth, (not dripping wet)and rub a small area at a time. The Triton works very quickly while the Dawn maywork a little slower. Youll see your progress by the dirt on the rag, so change thesurface frequently. Afterwards, wipe all the excess detergent off with clean waterand proceed to the next step.ABRADINGThe cleaning above removes the surface dirt from the finish but it still may behazy or whitish. Part of this problem may be from small crazing or cracks in thefinish which reflect light - making the surface appear dull. If this is the case andthe cracks do not go all the way through to the wood, abrading part of the finishwill remove most of the cracks. I use stearated sandpaper, (sandpaper mixedwith zinc stearate to minimize clogging), to abrade away a portion of the finish. Istart with 240 grit and proceed to 320 grit and finally 400 grit. I back the paperwith a felt or cork block and avoid the edges since its easy to cut completelythrough the finish. I strongly recommend wearing a dust mask since the dust isirritating. Sand in straight lines with the finish and wipe the residue off frequentlywith a Naphtha dampened rag. You can stop sanding when the grain of the wood
is visible or when the cracks have disappeared. Patience is required because aheavy hand will cut through the finish and youll have no choice but to strip at thatpoint. Wipe the piece with Naphtha and let dry overnight.WAXINGThe piece is now ready for the final step. I prefer to wax and buff out, but if youwant, you can apply a light coat of whatever finish you prefer. Shellac or varnishwill both work over most finishes but shellac should be used if the piece is anantique. I would avoid polyurethane because it will not bond very well to an oldfinish. Either way, you may need to do a little touch-up first. There may be smallareas where the finish is removed down to the bare wood. These should besealed with several coats of a 2 lb. cut shellac applied with an artists brush or asmall varnish brush. After drying these, areas can be blended into thesurrounding area using shellac mixed with dry artists pigments. After drying, sealall repaired areas again with a 2 lb. cut shellac.For the final waxing, I prefer a good quality furniture wax like Briwax, Behlen, orAntiquax. All these waxes come in clear and dark brown, and Briwax has goldenoak, red mahogany and light brown. I prefer the colored waxes because any waxthat lodges in crevices or small defects will not be noticeable when dry. Put ascoop of wax inside a clean cloth and apply the wax in a small circular motion.On turned areas, carvings and other irregular areas, work the wax in with a stiffbristle brush. Work on a manageable area at a time and when the wax hazes buffit out using a clean cloth. After drying overnight, give it a second waxing.When the second coat dries youll have a restored finish without the bother orhassle of stripping. Youll find its much less work and the result is that youhavent possibly detracted from the value if the piece is an antique. As an addedbonus, you find that the entire process can be done in one weekend, rather thantwo or three weekends. And finally, the piece will have retained the patina thattook so long to acquire with time. And the time you saved can be spent admiringyour furniture.
Finish Removal on Wood Furniture The Correct Use of Paint Removers or StripperDirections for HAND Stripping.* Work with plenty of ventilation, safety goggles or glases, and skinprotection.Stay out of the direct sun and stay protected from wind or strong drafts if workingoutside.* Work in small areas starting at the top and working to the bottom of the piece.Apply a generous coat of gel remover. Brush on in one direction. Do not brushback and forth.* Use soft wood scrapers and/or Steel Wool to remove crinkled finish and spentstripper. Repeat the above process until all layers of old finish are gone. On finework, when the piece has all the finish gone and looks ready to refinish, go over itagain with one last coat of stripper carefully working from top to bottom andremoving stripper with Liberon #00 steel wool to ensure all traces of finish arelifted from the pores of the wood. Neutralize the wood surface by washing thepiece down with Naphtha followed by Lacquer Thinner, if the piece is newer andin very good condition, a washdown with Lacquer Thinner may suffice.* Let the stripped piece dry thoroughly for at least 24 hours to 48 hours forsofter woods or pieces that required long soaking to clean off all the finish.Refinish promptly to seal and protect from humidity changes and environmentalcontamination.HINTS & TIPS:* Test to see if a through cleaning with Liberons Wood Cleaner & Wax removermight eliminate the need to totally strip and refinish the piece.* Use the right stripper for the finish being removed. (Determine finish type withsolvents.)* Use solvent washable strippers or paint removers.* Avoid water washable removers to minimize grain raising, staining problems,and softening of glues or adhesives and the subsequent lifting of veneers andloosening of joinery.* Avoid Metal Scrapers of any kind, wood fibers softened from the remover areeasily compressed by hard metal edges. These sometimes apparently invisible`indents can later show up after staining or even under clear coat finishes.
* DO NOT Sand a stripped surface. Sanding removes oxidized fibres, the naturaldistressing wear and ageing collectors refer to as patina. Upon refinishinguneven and splotchy effects result from the `windows sanded into the surface.Often sanded areas of stripped wood will not take stain or finish the same as theunsanded part of the same piece. Therefore, for instance, sanding of a table leafusually means sanding the entire top and remaining leaves. The surface wascarefully prepared for the previous finish. Successful refinishing will bemuch easier if we disturb the wood the very least possible, in the finishremoval process.If an area is badly damaged as to require sanding; proceed with care and beaware of the increased finish work that can be created by sanding. Lightly raisedgrain can in some cases be stained, sealed with sanding sealer, and thensanded instead of sanding on the bare wood.* Partially strip (on Lacquers): On some pieces a top for instance might be allthat really needs to be stripped and totally refinished. Proper cleaning and touch-up of dings, dents, and blemishes on sides or underpinnings with an over finishof the existing finish might give a very professional result. In the right instancethis can be a more profitable for the finisher and offer an affordable option for thecustomer.* Use wax paper laid over the remover to slow evaporation and prolong workingtime. On difficult finishes and in drafty work areas each application of removercan then do more work.* To lift paint or finish retained in the grain of open pored timber, despiterepeated applications of remover, try the following. Let the surface dry for a day,apply a liberal coat of 1 pound cut shellac & and allow to dry throughly then try acoat of remover to lift the shellac and the adhered finish out of the pores. Thewax paper trick above helps here also. On hard cases repeat the shellac andremover steps above if positive results come from the first application.RefinishingStripped surfaces are always a little more problematic than finishing on newwood. Generally Pigment Wiping Stains are the best choice for coloring on thestripped surface. Lacquer shading stains and lacquer colorants blended intosanding sealer and build coats are a good bet for color correcting. Use amberlacquer on medium to darker woods or stains to give a richer and homogeneouscontinuity to the piece. On very light timber and on light colors use water -whitelacquer or for the very clearest non-yellowing finish use CAB-Acrylic lacquer.IMPORTANT:PROTECT EYES and SKIN.
Always test products in an inconspicuous place to check compatibility and endresults.Companion Materials & Supplies:* Safety Glasses or face shield for eye protection.* Heavy duty rubber stripping gloves.* Apron; preferably rubber or rubber coated.* WOODEN scrapers(NOT putty knives or metal scrapers)* Stripping BRUSH: stripper resistant plastic for getting into carvings andmouldig.* STEEL WOOL:#0 or #1 for light clear finishes, #1 or #2 for paints,  or #4 for very heavy built up layers of finish.* Rags.PRECAUTION:Do not leave impregnated rags wadded or stacked in bundles as these can burstinto spontaneous fire.Dispose of rags and waste in accordance with local regulations; or lay rags outflat preferably outside, to dry so as to avoid any fire hazard.