Monday, August 19, 2013

Putting A Finish On The Craftsman Desk Repair

Here's where the desk started out.

I put it through a series of repairs and removed all the old, beaten finish down to bare oak.

Getting the finish right was important. A great finish could make the difference between this looking like an average Craftsman style desk you can find in any furniture store. Again I went to the Craftsman Bible, Bob Lang's "The Great Book of Shop Drawings For Craftsman Furniture." and he didn't lead me wrong.

I gave the piece a quick finish sanding at 220 grit followed by a wipe down with a tack cloth. Then I wiped on two coats of Dark Walnut Watco Danish Oil and let it cure for two days. I gave it a light scuff buff with some steel wool and hauled the desk out of the shop and into the sun.

I then put on a half dozen coats of amber shellac. I buy the Bullseye brand from the local home center and cut it 2 parts shellac to 1 part denatured alcohol. Working in the sunlight is great because it speeds the already fast drying of the shellac and on a larger piece like this by the time you get to the end of one coat you can grab a quick drink of water and start over at the beginning again.

After the final coat of shellac I let it cure for a day, then a quick buff down with a finer steel wool to take down any dust nibs and even the surface. I followed this with a coat of paste wax and buffed that out by hand.

The results. . .  I found them to be fantastic.

With the wax on there was nothing left to do but move the desk up the stairs into my daughter's bedroom. The trick was getting her to clean up, pick up, and move things around to open the space. I quickly shot some pictures before the clutter could crash back into place.

From a surprise of a project to start to some interesting repairs and problem solving to pull it together. This was a pretty fun and satisfying project. A good jump out of the gate in my new shop.

Ratione et Passionis

The Lonesome Desk

 There once was a very beaten up and abused desk that spent many years tucked away in a garage. One day a new king took over the lands and one of his princesses spied the lonesome little desk cowering in the shadows.

"Father," She said with a voice as sweet as a bird's song, "Could we take in this poor, beaten soul and bring him back to his former days of glory. I already have the perfect new home for him in the corner of my room."

The father, who relished a challenge like this, agreed and set to work.

Other than the pieces of the drawer I had finished repairing and cleaning up all the pieces I had. I could see there used to be a stretcher between the leg sections. To get the right idea I paged my way through Bob Lang's "The Great Book Of Shop Drawings For Craftsman Furniture"  and decided a wide, flat, thicker board would be the right move.

I had a wide, 5/4 white oak board to use. The problem with it was it have several through knot holes in it. Well I didn't see that as a real problem, I saw a chance to add a little personality to what was a pretty sterile and generic craftsman style desk design. I called the "princess" out to the shop and she liked the idea too.

I sized and planed the board to fit. The original was held in place with a pair of thick dowels from either leg section. I'm positive that weak joinery was part of the reason this piece failed. Someone stood on, sat on, or laid on the stretcher and blew this piece up. I wanted to strengthen what was there without performing radical makeover surgery.

In the end I elected to reinforce the dowels with some pocket screws on the underside.

And re-insert new dowels through the side. I removed the tacked on faux through tenon ends to drill and drive the new glued dowels from the outside.

 Then I glued and re-tacked the faux ends and the new stretcher was done. I centered the knot hole in the space and situated it towards the back of the desk to help it add a little personality without being an initial distraction to the look.

Then it was time to fight with the drawer. There had been several challenges along the way with this project, but the drawer was tough and in the end I had to make some compromises I'm not entirely happy with. The drawer front was dovetailed to the sides with half blind dovetails that had been created with a router. The original drawer sides were dogmeat and the best thing to do was make new sides from scratch.

That turned the routered dovetail slots into a problem. I don't have a set up to rout my dovetails. I cut all of my with a backsaw. I put the drawer face in a vise and tried to work out converting the curved contours into the straight lines I needed to cut the mating board. I just wasn't happy with where it was headed.

I decided to bag the dovetails and make a rabbet joint reinforced with screws. A cop out. . . maybe. But sometimes bringing a piece like this back to life often means some compromises have to be made. To me compromise means that nobody is completely happy with the end result, but the result works.

Instead of freshening the dovetail angled with the backsaw, I cut a rabbet instead.

And connected the new sides with glue and countersunk screws, which were later filled with wood filling putty.

To get some strength I dovetailed the pine back to the sides with strong, beefy through dovetails and I replaced the solid wood drawer bottom with some quality plywood to minimise wood movement and stress on the rabbet joints.

I had all the pieces back together. Humpty Dumpty resurrected. The most important part was yet to come. In my estimation all the work would be for nought if I bombed the finish.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Continuing The Craftsman Desk Repair

Broken tenons are a problem that's fairly common when bringing a beaten up piece of furniture back to life. The best option I've found in my time has been to create a floating tenon, but first you have to clean up the end grain nubs hanging out from the damage. A block plane works great for this

I cut mortises a number of different ways, depending on my morning tarot reading and the position of the spots on the sun relative to the phase of the moon. This time I fired up the drill press and hogged out the waste.

Then I cleaned up the mortise with a little chisel work. Because of the size of the pieces I decided it would be a good idea to downsize the mortise on the rail and leave a little more meat around the floating tenon, I had already cut the leg mortise bigger when I made this decision. This meant I had to do a little more work making a floating tenon to fit both sides.

With the structural repairs done I had another big decision. Try and fix the existing finish that was on the losing end of a twelve round prize fight or just take things back to bare and start from as close to scratch as possible.

I went back to square one with some sanding, some planing, and some scraping. The oak under the finish, beautiful.

Then I reassembled the leg section. The difference sitting next to the surviving leg was pretty striking.

Of course I had to take apart the other leg section and clean the crap off it as well.

Then I scrubbed the crap off the repaired table top and off the apron section and reassembled the desk.

The desk looked very different from were it started.

There was still some work to do. I had a drawer to repair and refit and I had to make the only major part that was missing when we found this. The bottom stretcher between the leg sections.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, August 5, 2013

Repairing Unique Damage

I've recently restored a craftsman style desk (c. 1950's) for my 14 year old. Restoring and repairing furniture is very different from building it from scratch. There are different problem solving muscles you have to flex to cross the finish line. The biggest challenge on this piece was figuring out what to do with the front left hand corner of the desk and the twin saw kerfs that had taken up residence there.

Splits can be glued back together. Holes can be filled or covered with a dutchman. Diagonal saw kerfs cutting in from the front edge, that took some thinking about. First I considered just sawing the front square and removing the cuts, but that would have left the front to close to the casework and drawer beneath.

Then I considered edge gluing on a new board, either oak and try to match it or a contrasting board and own the repair rather than try to hide it. I might have gone this way, but I figured as long as I might have to cut it off anyway I might as well try one more idea.

 I hoisted the tabletop into the leg vise, dug out my finer toothed rip saw, . . .

 . . . and promptly finished up those saw kerfs.

Removing the wedges from the table edge. Then I spent a little while cleaning up the cuts with a block plane so the wedges edge joined back to the table top as seamlessly as possible, while trying to retain as much material as possible.

And I edge glued the wedges back into place. With this I lost the square of the corner and I considered removing the same from the other front corner, giving the front edge of the desk a gently radiused curve. In the end the curve didn't seem like the right feel for the desk.

I like my hand tools a lot, but for a long accurate cut like this I decided the tablesaw would be the best choice. In the end I shaved about a half inch back from the original width. Not a bad sacrifice for a matching repair.

Some planing, sanding, and finishing and I can barely tell where it is on the table now, but you'll have to wait a while more to see the finish pictures.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, August 2, 2013

Making The Old New Again

Up until moving to this house, my middle child has almost always had to share a bedroom with either her older or younger sister. Once she managed to secure a space of her own here we began to realise that, other than her bed and a small book shelf, she had no real furniture to call her own. Well I had to fix that with a quickness. 

The previous owners did a good job of clearing out the house and the garage. There wasn't very much junk left over at all. The biggest thing left behind was a pitiful little craftsman style desk in the garage. 

I didn't give it much thought, it was something to move out of the way as I was converting the garage into a shop. It worked well to set things on. Then Fayth was hanging out with me in the shop and asked me what I was going to do with it.

"I'm not sure," I said, "It's solid wood so I don't want to throw it away, but I don't have room for it out here."

"Can I have it?!?"

"I suppose, I'll have to clean it up and put the drawer back together first."

If you have a thirteen year old daughter, you'll know that the hugs and affection she lavished on you as a younger child become more rationed with age. It makes moments like that a little more treasured, how could I not dive into rehabbing the desk after the shop was set up.

It was a sad and beat up thing. Something had happened to break out the leg on one side. The drawer was in pieces.

Someone had used it as a saw bench in the past and cut two wedge shaped kerfs into the top both ending near the left front corner.

Water damage. Spilled paint. Oil and who know what other automotive products. Dirt. Dust. Cobwebs. All ground into the finish.

I'm not sure I understand the purpose of the twine ties around the two legs, but I did find the construction interesting. The top is secured to a box (for lack of a better term) with pocket screws. The legs are held to the box with a dowel at each corner for alignment, and a carriage bolt and wingnut to hold it together.

Fortunately, almost all the parts for the desk had been saved in the drawer cavity.

There was also a really cool thing in the drawer cavity. Someone had used a single newspaper front page to line the bottom of the drawer. Probably close to the day it was brought home for the first time. The Milwaukee Sentinel from Saturday July 21st, 1956.

I just smile to think there were days where the soap box derby not only existed, but was a big enough deal to be front page news in Milwaukee.

 An extra little reward for me.

Ratione et Passionis