Women are now “Doing Over” Their Own Furniture
Whether the fad for collecting old pieces of mahogany furniture—most of it being in unpresentable condition—is responsible for the new direction given to woman’s energies, or whether it is merely an effort to invade a hitherto little known field of work—one in which the majority of the sex is interested, however—the fact has become known that furniture restoring and renovating are added to the list of accomplishments approved by the practical woman.
She may be a housewife or she may be living in tiny quarters by herself, but if there is room anywhere for the few tools required in the simpler lines of cabinet work, she spends an hour or more now and then in improving the appearance of her Heppelwhite desk or polishing a candle stand until its value is increased, while its charm is more than doubled.
The ideal workroom is separated from the rest of the house, and it may be in a basement corner, the garret or a storeroom which has fairly good light. In any of these places a woman can manage to “do over” quite large pieces of furniture, beginning at the very beginning of the process, or she can save herself the trouble and expense of sending pieces out of the house for a professional renovator to restore when they require very little work, and that of the kind that an amateur can undertake with perfect safety after she has had a few lessons in the first principles of scraping, gluing and varnishing.
Suppose a mirror frame has become chipped at the edge or a veneered corner has been cracked off or a chair looks dull and dingy. It would mean quite a little expenditure of money to have any one of these restorations made because it is almost always necessary to do over the entire article even when the blemish is hardly larger than the palm of your hand.
It is for such cases that a few practical hints are offered, with suggestions on how to carry on the work more thoroughly if one’s interest goes to that extent. Your tools are the first important point, and you can get a set costing $100 or you can manage fairly well with a few necessary ones costing one tenth this amount, including a carpenter’s bench, if there is room in the amateur workshop for one. It is more convenient to have one; in fact, certain kinds of cabinet work can not be done without a bench.
One woman had a very serviceable bench built for $5 and it has lasted her through her first small efforts into her advanced cabinet work. The top of the bench should measure four feet six inches by one foot six inches, and the height should suit that of the worker. For the average woman two feet six inches is a good height. A drawer and a brace, which is used for holding boards when they are being planed, will be found of service.
Among the necessary tools are the following: Saw, with a handle that is not clumsy; two or three bench planes, brace and bits, screw driver, two or three long handled hammers, mallet, compass, dividers, rules, oil stone, wooden bench dog for use when sawing, wooden clamps for holding glued joints, shooting board for shooting the edges of narrow woods, when finishing picture frames, for example; miter box, wood veneer, sheets of maple or mahogany, glue and glue pot, brushes, varnish remover, varnish, piano felt and pumice stone.
The glue pot and the application of glue are really the foundation of successful repairing. In the first place the glue should be of the very best quality, and the pot should be an ordinary double one, the outer compartment for holding water and the inner one for glue, and never should this pot be brought in direct contact with the fire. A small quantity should be mixed at a time. Break up a few pieces and cover the bottom of the pot with cold water, let stand several hours and when soft dissolve over the fire in the double pot. This will give you perfect glue.
One of the simplest pieces of furniture to repair and do over is a mirror frame. A flat one is even less trouble than a curved molding. If it is an old frame and requires thorough overhauling begin by removing the old varnish and eventually get right down to the wood. There is a varnish remover sold for this purpose, and two or three applications of this, each one being wiped dry or scraped off before the next coat is applied, will soon remove every evidence of the old varnish. When it is necessary to scrape smooth surfaces or parts that work easier than with the liquid remover a steel scraper made to fit the shape of the hand will get rid of all traces of the old covering.
Have the wood that is to be scraped thoroughly clean and then see if any blemishes need filling up either with cement or with a new piece of wood. Any rough or broken places can then be taken out by cutting with a chisel. Be very careful to leave the edge of the veneer or the wood slanting, so that when the new section is inserted it can be slanted in the opposite way and the two neatly dovetailed together. The veneer, which can be bought in large sheets, should be matched as perfectly as possible, with the grain of the original veneer.
Take the piece of veneer, cut to fit the place it is destined to fill, match it carefully and see that all the edges are trim and even; then glue both the frame itself where the veneer is to go and the new piece of veneer; lay this in place and press down so that any bubbles will be got rid of and any unnecessary glue will be pressed up between the joining and rubbed off. The less glue used in fastening two pieces of wood together the better.
When the joining has been made satisfactorily fasten on a wooden clamp and leave the frame for a day or so to set. If there is another dog eared corner or a hole to be filled up and the frame can be worked on without displacing the wooden clamp, the restoring can be continued and the whole made ready for the final touches.
Before beginning to apply the first coat of varnish use fine sand-paper and rub the frame carefully to get rid of any roughness that may remain. In treating old furniture the idea is to get down to the better part of the wood, which shows up attractively after the varnish and a layer of veneer have been scraped off.
Holes that are too small to require wood or veneer filling can be cleverly concealed by cement, a material that comes especially for this purpose and can be bought in mahogany color, or in almost any shade of wood. Cheap furniture repairers use much more of this tinted cement than they do of wood or veneer, and though the deception is covered up very cleverly at first by the varnish and polish, it soon begins to show in ugly streaks and patches.
The cement is melted first and the hole filled, then the surface rubbed smooth, and after the filling has dried the frame or piece of wood is ready for the varnish. To apply the varnish use a clean brush which has no loose hairs, dip it into the pot of varnish and give the frame a regular coat. Leave long enough to dry and then apply another, being careful in each coat to pass the brush twice over the surface in each spit and always in the same direction.
An ordinary mahogany frame, chair arm or any flat piece of furniture usually requires about six coats of varnish, one applied after the other. Let each dry thoroughly. When it is quite hard (you can tell by pressing your knuckles on it—soft varnish will show a blemish) rub the entire surface with the fingers to get rid of streaks and lumps, then put on another coat of varnish and let stand another 24 hours to harden.
The polishing is probably more interesting to the average amateur furniture restorer than any of the other work, for one reason because it is the finishing touch and all the good or bad work preceding will show up clearly, so that it is a matter of great satisfaction to find that joinings have been made with geometrical exactness and that the grain of the wood has been well brought out.
One clever amateur polisher uses a piece of thick piano felt about three inches long and an inch wide. This she dampens slightly, then dips into powdered pumice stone and goes carefully over the entire varnished surface, rubbing and rubbing and grinding down until the varnish disappears and there remains a beautiful rich, smooth surface which looks like well finished wood unspoiled by bright varnish. The present fashion leans toward fine wood finished naturally without stains, varnish and other artificial touches.
It is far harder to handle large pieces of furniture than the smaller ones, although they are often easier to finish successfully than the more delicate bits. When there is a large surface to polish or rub down the whole must be done evenly and each piece finished at once, if possible.
The San Francisco Sunday Call – October 18, 1908