Democratizing Furniture Conservation at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks


Antique furniture is a portal to the past and these surviving artifacts are the keys to the fading artisanal knowledge of our furniture making forefathers. By being intimately acquainted with the ins and outs of the work of their hands, it’s almost as if we become their apprentices. We see the artisans in their work. As John Watson has put it, “our cultural ancestors… are manifest in the artifacts they left behind. The work of their hands is not only material inheritance, but an indicator of our identity as their creative spirit reverberates in ourselves.”

I can’t imagine trying to learn to recreate historic furniture without spending a lot of time working on the originals. My training was in conservation and all my furniture making knowledge grew out of time in the conservation studio. This is also true of the best makers today. Phil Lowe, Al Breed, Patrick Edwards, etc… They’ve all spent a lot of time restoring antiques. It isn’t until you diagnose a problem, take the thing apart, and repair it that you get a real sense of the work of the preindustrial artisan.

This past spring, Thomas Lie-Nielsen and I were talking shop and during the course of conversation he asked if I’d be willing to teach a class on furniture restoration at his place. As we discussed the details, it became apparent that what we wanted to do was empower students to understand the appropriate treatments for an object that has survived a couple hundred years. I frequently get even accomplished woodworkers asking me about the “right” thing to do for an antique they were entrusted to repair. They intuitively understand the message we hear on “Antiques Roadshow:” There are appropriate ways to do restoration and there are inappropriate ways to do restoration. This is what we have designed the class to do.

My conversation with Tom confirmed my experience blogging at The Workbench Diary. The past five years there I’ve tried to show the lesser-seen details of the objects I work on, the techniques used to preserve the objects for the next generations, and the techniques used to make the originals. Through my interactions with readers I found that there is a real desire to learn to restore antiques with integrity. There is a lot you can learn from reading but conservation treatment operates more on the Goldilock’s principal: Not too little, not too much, but juuust right. This is hard to get from books.

“What’s the right thing to do for this piece?” “What is the right way to restore it without devaluing it?” If you’ve asked these questions I think this class may be up your alley.

Some folks have the (partially true) impression that conservators are a closed community. They don’t want to open and up and share their magical incantations. They keep their specialized training close to their chest by fogging inquirers with ivory tower jargon. Frankly, that’s a bunch of rubbish. This class is my attempt at democratizing the conservation. Come to Lie-Nielsen this September and let me introduce you to a responsible and no-nonsense approach to maintaining the integrity of your furniture for future generations to enjoy.

Besides, what’s better than restoring antique furniture at Lie-Nielsen on the coast of Maine in fall?

Details for the workshop are here.

— Joshua Klein, Mortise & Tenon Magazine

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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3 Responses to Democratizing Furniture Conservation at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

  1. Marilyn says:

    Doh! I’ve spent my class budget this year .. I sure hope this class goes next year (fingers and toes crossed).


  2. Very cool. Period furniture and restoration isn’t my thing, but so much can be learned from those who came before us. Good work and good luck with the class!


  3. Ben Lowery says:

    Reblogged this on b19y and commented:

    “Besides, what’s better than restoring antique furniture at Lie-Nielsen on the coast of Maine in fall?” Indeed.


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