One of the pieces I am currently working on is a 3/4 size bed made of Maple that dates to around 1840. The only exception to the Maple is the Pine head and foot boards. This bed is what is called a sacking bottom bed and is often mistaken for a rope bed. The difference is that in a rope bed, the rails would be pierced and the rope would thread through the posts, making up a web that the mattress could sit on. The sacking bottom bed has a canvas with grommets, similar to a modern tarp, that is stretched and tied with ropes. The rails have pegs which protrude for the rope to wrap around.
For a detailed description with drawings, you can follow this link:
One of the things that I find interesting about this bed is its construction. The side rails and the rails below the head and foot board were turned. At each end of a rail, the rails were threaded so that they screw into the posts. What this means is that the bed can be completely dismantled for storage. The flip side of this is that it takes three people to put this bed together! One to hold each post, and a third person to screw the rails in place. The result is that the bed is very tight when assembled, and the original sacking bottom would have pulled the rails so that they got even tighter, eliminating a squeaky,loose bed (a rarity in antique beds).
As time went on and people switched over to a box spring, these beds were converted, and this is the case with this particular bed. The original rails for the bed were discarded and new more traditional rails retrofitted , probably some time in the late 19th century.
The bed was in decent shape when I got it, but needed some structural repairs which meant removing the finish. Below are a series of photos that show the repair work in progress.
Here are two photos of the head and foot board. You can see the holes in the posts where the original rails would have threaded in. The long vertical mortises next to the holes accommodate the hardware for the replacement rails.
On the rails, there were boards added to the top at either end for decoration. One of these boards was very loose and had fallen off. Below is a photo of the boards followed by a photo of the repair.
Both the head and the foot board had cracks in them which came from shrinkage in the wood. Luckily the crack in the foot board was not to severe, and I was able to draw it together with screws that were hidden, minimizing the visual impact of the repair. The head board had a more significant crack that had been previously fixed with an iron mending plate. The plate was removed and three butterfly patches were inlayed into the back side of the head board. Below are some photos of this process. The patches will later be touched up.
The crack in the head board and the mending plate.
The three butterfly patches laid out.
Carving out the mortises for the dovetails.
All three mortises carved out and ready for the butterfly patches
The three butterfly patches in place. The crack was later wedged with wood on both sides.
The rails for the head and foot board were turned out of solid maple. Finding turning blanks that were this large in diameter has always been a problem. As a result when the bed was made, the cabinet maker used a piece with a little bit of bark inclusion. The bark was situated so that it was on the underside and not visible. Over time this bark has fallen out a bit and at the end a significant portion of the wood and bark was torn off. I decided to patch the missing portion of the wood and fill the bark areas. They will eventually be fauxed to look like bark again.
Below is a photo of the damaged area.
Using a router and a special jig I made, I was able to create a flat spot for a patch to fit into.
In this photo, the patch is being glued in place.
Here is the patch, ready for carving.
To round over the patch, I used a hand plane to remove the majority of the material, followed by some chisel work and some final sanding. Here is the patch after it was carved.
One of the rails was bowed pretty badly and to remedy this, I replaced the slat supports with new straight and sturdy supports. There is still a little waviness to the wood, but it reduced the bow to 1/8 of an inch across the entire length of the rail. Here is a photo of the new slat supports being glued in place.
There was a little damage to the turning on the bed. The photo below shows that there is finish on the broken area of the turning. This and other indicators led me to believe that this bed had been refinished in the past, and helped me to make a decision about removing the existing finish. Below are a few photos of the patching of this broken area.
The initial patch glued in place.
The patch after it was carved down.
These last two photos show the bed after the repairs were made and the pieces sanded. In my next post I will show the fabrication of the new slats and also the completion of the bed.
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