Doc...Do Ya Think I'll Make It?

You've seen the scene in movies before. A M.A.S.H. unit tent, helicopters swarming in delivering the casualties from whatever disaster of war is in the air. A young field surgeon, too good looking for real life, stalks the triage area surveying the work that will make up the next 10 minutes of celluloid footage. A young man reaches out with his hand and catches the psudo-physician's attention. His hands are covered in contents of a hundred ketchup packets as he reaches out and with pleading eyes says the words. "Doc...Do ya think I'll make it Doc?"
Army nurse monument in Kolobrzeg, Poland. Taken from Wikipedia Commons
"CUT!" yells the director, stopping everyone in their tracks, "Let's back up and do it again and this time I want to see more Matt Damon and less Will Ferrel!"

. . .

Ok, a little dramatic maybe, but a few nights ago the scene crossed my mind after I heard my wife's voice, colored with an annoyed tone, call from our bedroom. We have an antique dresser that belonged to my wife's grandmother, and she was trying to shift it out to reach the plugin the dresser was strategically placed infront. A pull and a chift and the glue in the joints gave up the goose and failed. The mortise and tenon joints of the dividers seperated all the way up, the drawers fell out, and my work started.
The dresser after transporting it to the shop. It doesn't look so bad now because I held it together with several ratchet straps to make the journey. You can still see it has led a long hard life. 
All the tenons of the front divider rails were loose all the way up on both sides.
My wife squawked when she went to pull it out from the wall and the dividers all popped loose and a couple of drawers dropped. 
Event the top rail was separating though it was being held in place by the top. 
Three of the four drawers were in good solid shape, but one had some pretty good issues.
On both sides of the drawer, the sides had disintegrated or broke at the grove that would hold the bottom. I wasn't sure how I was going to fix that yet.  
The other side of the drawer displaying similar issues. I have to admit one of the cool things about  getting to inspect this piece this close is the drawer bottoms. They are planed smooth finished on the upside, but on the underside you can see the deep whirls of the circular saw blade that resawed the stock. Kind of cool. 
Even the back was separating from the corner on one side.
Of course the finish had taken a beating over the years. My wife remembers having the dresser in her bedroom as a child and that some decals had been on the top.
Can you see the giraffe? There were five stickers on the top at one point. 
Now full disclosure requires me to explain the dresser had been wobbly and delicate for quite a while, but I am a big old chicken when it comes to refinishing and repairing antiques. I just wait for the moment when I turn what was a functional piece of furniture into a pile of well dried kindling, so I put off the inevitable for as long as possible. In the end though the fix up of this piece wasn't bad even though, in fact I'm feeling better with my comfort level on these kind of things.

 As the dresser sat in my home I couldn't have told you for sure what wood it was made from. One, I hadn't paid that much attention before but two, it also had a thick stain and shellaced finish on it. If pressed I would have guessed a cherry or other fruit wood. As it turns out the whole damn thing is poplar, so if I had to guess I would say that this was a fairly cheep piece of furniture at the time it was made, but there is not a glued panel in the piece. the wide top and the solid wood bottoms of the drawers are all single piece solid wood.

The joinery is all machine cut, but there is evidence of hand planing and I'm pretty sure hand assembly by someone who knew what they were doing. It's funny to think of this as being a cheeper piece of furniture. Recently I picked up an order of poplar from my hardwood dealer and I specifically asked for the widest stock they could find and the best I got was a board 11 1/2"wide. It's a sad thing that wide stock has become such a rare thing in this day and age.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Poplar isn't cheap anymore, either. At least not in the West. Cheaper than Oak or Flame Maple, yes, but not cheap!

  2. Personally, I like poplar a whole lot. On the plus side, at least you get a first hand look at how something like this goes together.

    What's sad is that this might well be a cheap piece of furniture for its day. Today, it's a fine piece of furniture that would probably have to be custom built. Funny the difference a few years can make.

  3. I have my grandfather's oak dresser and mirror to restore. I will be interested in how you go about yours. Thanks.

  4. the funny thing is that I can get poplar cheeper through my hardwood dealer than I can get pine from my area home stores. I just picked up 60 bf of 5/4 poplar at $2 a bf. I know it makes a difference going through a dealer instead of a home store. I just haven't found an area softwood supplier that will sell in smaller quantities.

  5. If it makes you feel any better, I'm stuck buying all my stock from home stores for the time being :)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts