Junk Shop Finds


Surprising Possibilities of Dilapidated Mahogany

Two ardent amateur collectors of old mahogany recently entered a shabby looking shop together in search of a bureau of a type they scarcely dared hope to find, and, to the amusement of one of the two, the other pounced eagerly upon a very dilapidated chest of drawers and a bureau in equally bad shape, and got them for $4.50 and $5, respectively. In response to the query. “What can you possibly do with such junk?” she said:

“You know all those pieces you admire at my house? “Well, some were worse than these, and I have done them over myself on rainy days, only having an old carpenter come in for a few hours to put in braces where needed. I have a regular scraper that every hardware shop can supply, and a file to roughen it up when needed, and with this, some boiled linseed oil and a cabinetmaker’s glue-pot-on-heater, I work wonders and amuse myself for weeks at a time.”

“Sometimes, when in a hurry, I try a varnish remover, a liquid, and I never will forget my first experience with it. My mother had insisted that I put on heavy dogskin gloves to save my hands and finger nails from the destruction she feared, and I had Indian red hands with mahogany red nails for weeks, as the ‘remover’ carried the glove dye into the cuticle. I had to wear white gloves to every function, and even to meals at home, to hide those awful paws.”

“With the scraper I get the best results, and I have aprons that cover me from head to foot and to wrist. Under these I wear bloomers, for I spend much time on the floor, and am so busy that I even forget to eat. When all the varnish seems to be scraped off I rub on some boiled linseed oil quite sparingly, and then scrape again, and you would be surprised at the way the varnish continues to come off. It seems to exude from the very pores of the wood. This has to be done over and over again until no trace of varnish is to be found, a day or so lapsing between each scraping. The final coat of the oil is then rubbed in well, and a dull lustre ensues that brings out the grain of the wood most beautifully. On this finish scratches do not show.”

“To veneer is quite an easy task, for veneer can be bought at a cabinetmaker’s by inches or by the foot, in all widths and in various thicknesses, and also traced off into different shapes common to ordinary designs of chair corners, etc. This veneer cuts easily with scissors, and by matching the grain, for which only little ingenuity is required, a patch can be put in so that the joining will be invisible to the one who does not own the piece or has not done the work.”

“To reduce blistered veneer is the hardest thing for an amateur to do successfully, for a wee bit of the veneer has to be slashed out, and done so that the meeting edges will exactly fit, which means a very nice calculation and a firm touch for cutting. To put the glue under the blister with the feather ordinarily employed is difficult, and in these cases I squirt it in with a hypodermic syringe. A blister cut and glued has to be neatly bandaged, too, and bandaged very tight at that, and left for two days to set.”

“All these minor operations have to be performed before the scraping, and before doing anything at all I spray all nooks and corners with a deadly mixture of corrosive sublimate and whiskey, which no microbe or other organism ever survives.”

“I have become so interested in this work that l buy pieces I have no use for just because I know from their shapes that they have once been aristocrats, and I hate so see them derelicts. These when done over make delightful wedding presents. Sometimes, too, I find odd posts and chair legs charmingly carved. These I always buy and save for the day when I shall have time to do wood carving. Such models are useful, and besides they will serve as part of a piece ultimately.”

New-York Daily Tribune – October 2, 1910

—Jeff Burks

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4 Responses to Junk Shop Finds

  1. woodworkerme says:

    this is what I do most every day, its fun.

  2. Thank you for this. My landlady during college, a wonderful gracious woman (who died an untimely, tragic death) did this sort of thing, and had a houseful of lovely antiques to show for it (and operated an antique shop in town, specializing in vintage clothing — one of her clients was Johnny Cash whom I bumped into when paying the rent).

    She’d strip furniture w/ raw lye once upon a time, always doing the work herself.

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