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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Late Federal Mahogany Card Table (ca.1825) Part 1: The Repairs

Recently I have been working on a Mahogany veneered card table. After looking over the piece and comparing it to other pieces I believe it to be American and dating to around 1825. There were no easy indicators to use in the identification of the country of origin, so I needed to dig a little deeper. The veneer and the legs for the card table are made from Cuban mahogany. The secondary wood is a hard pine with the exception of the cross piece which holds the top to the base. This, I believe is White Pine which grows in the Eastern U.S. The presence of this piece of wood points towards construction in a north eastern state. In addition, the over all style of the piece has an American feel (English game tables from this time looked to be more ornate). The legs of the piece are Sheraton in style and have a spiral turned decoration. The apron and the top are veneered in mahogany and the use of undecorated flat surfaces and exquisite crotch veneers points towards the American Empire period in furniture. It could be said that this piece is a transitional piece from the Federal into the American Empire period.

The game table came to me with several problems. This post will concern the major repairs to the piece. Separate posts will deal with veneer replacement and the finishing process. Below are two photos of the table as it came to me:

The major problems included significant veneer loss, two very broken legs, loose joinery and cracked and warped top surfaces. I employed a variety of techniques to repair this piece. While inspecting the piece, I realized that the finish on the piece was not an original finish and that repair work had been completed at sometime in the past. With this knowledge, I decided to remove the existing finish in order to make all of the repairs. The result will be an appropriate finish and overall a much better looking piece.

The first step was to repair the legs. Below is a photo of the broken joinery on two of the four legs. The pieces that broke off were missing and so I needed to patch the missing portions with new wood. Below is a photo of the two legs and the broken joinery.
I used the same process to repair both legs, so I will detail the repair of one. To give myself something to glue to I first needed a flat area to apply the patch. This was done by using a router and a simple jig I built to create the flat surface. Because less wood was missing from the top of the turned section, I made the patch in two steps which also increased the surface area for gluing. Below is a photo of the leg in the jig, ready to be flattened.
This photo shows the same leg after the area to be patched was flattened.
This photo shows the patch being glued in place. The photo was taken at a side angle showing the stepped shape of the patch. Cuban Mahogany is no longer commercially available, so I use a very tight grained Honduran Mahogany. I do have Cuban Mahogany veneer which I will use for the veneer patches.
Here is a photo of the patch from the front after the clamps were removed.
This photo shows the patch after the turned section had been hand carved away and lines drawn out for the molding to be shaped. Originally this was done on a lathe, but it is very difficult to re-mount a leg and have it centered, so I carved the molding by hand.
Here is a photo of the molding carved. It will be further refined after the legs are glued in place. The last step in the repair of the legs was to recreate the mortises for the joinery.
This photo shows one of the legs that was cracked being glued back together.
Most of the joinery on the base was lose, so I knocked it apart to clean the old glue. I used hide glue to glue the base, which was the glue originally used. Here is a photo of all of the components of the base ready for gluing.
This photo shows the base being glued up.
Both of the top surfaces were cracked and also warped. I used two different techniques to fix the warps and stabilize the cracks. the cracks will be wedged later with Mahogany. The bottom surface has only one side visible, so I was able to put butterfly patches in the underside to stabilize the crack. Here is a photo of the butterfly patches laid out on the underside. After they were traced with an Xacto blade I set the patches aside.
Here is a photo of the patches next to the carved out areas they will fit into. The clamp is holding the boards on either side of the crack flush.
Here is a photo of the patches glued in place. No clamps were required because the patches fit snugly into place.
The top surface is veneered on both sides and both sides are visible depending on whether the top is open or closed. This presented a challenge because I could not have butterfly patches in the veneer, So the answer was to go in through the side of the top and insert metal threaded rods into top which bridge the crack and keep it level. Afterwards these rods are sealed inside with Mahogany patches so that they are unseen. This next and last photo shows the rods being inserted with glue. The clamps hold the two boards on either side of the crack flush.
The next post will show the veneer replacement and the fixing of the cracks.


  1. John Mark, You're amazingly talented! What a gift!

  2. Wow…outstanding service and products to meet our office needs. I Love all and the colors you choose are perfect. I want this furniture for my new house. Thanks a lot for sharing
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