300 year old Grandfather

I was still at college when I took on my first paid job on a boat. Although I was at a school of wooden boatbuilding, we were to learn a little of the skills of grp construction and a short course gave us some experience of all required wizardry, which was either smelly, sticky, or itchy, not my favourite.  When a local boat owner however came into the yard asking if anyone would do some small repairs on his motorboat my reservations about the sticky craft evaporated as quickly as Acetone as there was a chance to add to my weekly food budget.  The repairs were superficial cosmetic ones to the hull and we decided which I would do and which would be too much time and would be left and so we agreed a price.  I took way longer than a professional would have done, but I wanted to get it right, I learned that there is no one colour “white” and that colour matching, for beginners at least can be a heartbreaking task.

He didn’t want to pay me.  He said that I hadn’t done anything – he couldn’t see what I’d done.  I knew roughly where each repair was but I had buffed each one out and could have been showing him anywhere on the hull.  An intervention by my instructor saw me paid in the end which I was grateful for.  It’s strange how since that day it took me so long for me to learn that it’s all very well doing a good job for somebody, that’s the easy bit, but getting them to understand what has been and why is equally important.

19 years on…

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This Grandfather clock came to me from recommendation (that always gives me a lift).  The clock is nearly 300 years old and the woodwork is mainly quarter sawn oak with mahogany veneer and marquetry in something like birch or maple.  I was given the clock and asked to put a piece of cove moulding back on which had come off, repair a few bits of veneer and basically make the casement fit for purpose.

Part of the fun with this sort of work is looking for the clues.  300 years is a long time for a piece of woodwork to live through, it is likely to have changed hands many times and been stored in different places and conditions, it is fairly crudely constructed under all the frills and so it is no surprise that the iron nails have rusted in the acidic oak and the structure become weak.  Clues? Well there are lots, shadows of parts that have long since gone suggest alignment has changed, parts that don’t fit suggest that other parts that do fit shouldn’t…..

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Before the operating table I had hoped to manage the job without having to remove or attach any timber, I don’t believe that any restoration work, particularly of this age should be undertaken recklessly.  It was quickly clear though that it was the only option to rebuild grandfather a little, enough to make him strong again.  This meant adding new timber and fastenings.  I wanted all work to be as indistinguishable as possible from the original, it needed to look as though no work had been carried out just like 19 years ago except this time with a digital camera (and a really nice customer).  In the photo above a blow torch is employed as part of the process in ageing the timber, the two pieces in the centre are from the same board, one is “aged” one is not.


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Grandfathers also got a little unstable on his feet.  The iron fastenings have given up and water damage has softened the end grain of the oak.  The faces of the old feet were sliced off and glued onto new oak.  The new oak was then aged so the feet look original but are strong and stable not weak and wobbly, no political pun intended (honestly).

During the process of re aligning the carcass I had to remove five of the six corner strips of veneer to get to the fastening nails.  Whilst I am happy making anything out of timber, the thought of blending in 300 year old veneers in terms of colour was for me the crux of the job, it was the part I admit to be most intimidated by.  I have been more of a boat restorer over the years rather than a boat builder but restoring furniture is different.  The elements will blend in repairs to a boat in a season or two, not so with furniture that is hidden inside the shade of a house.  The process of blending the mahogany goes from grain orientation in the timber selection through bleaching, staining and a number of often surprising techniques to give three centuries of history.  I think to explain them would be to some degree “Unweaving the rainbow” whilst simultaneously showing that my jobs not that hard really.

The carcass now in shape the unnattached moulding fits perfectly as it should, the other side has an added on beading removed and replaced with one that fits to the correct shape (and colour).  The pic with my hand in shows me holding the one that I took off and the one that I made is in place, aged and blended in complete with fake wormholes.

I sent the customer around 60 photo’s in the end and I still manage to not take the ones that show all the new veneers going on and being stained or the beading in its unaged state, but it’s ok.  19 years on and I recieve a kind, grateful email and a posey of sweet peas from the customer.



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