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Thursday, June 9, 2011

New England Federal Candlestand (1810-`1825) Part 1

One of the pieces I am currently working on is a Candlestand made in Maine during the Federal Period sometime between 1810 and 1825. Before going on to explain the history of the piece, I feel that I should first write a few lines concerning the design of this piece.

The top is square and has a serpentine perimeter that is canted on the corners. The underside of the top is beveled to give the top an appearance of being thinner than it is. The top is fixed to the base with a tapered batten that is beveled and attached to the base with a wedged mortise joint. The column of the base is turned and the vasiform pedestal is beaded, this action being performed on the lathe during the original manufacture. the pedestal is connected to the legs using dovetail joinery. The legs are in a spider shape typical of the Federal period and terminate in a spade foot. With all of these details assembled, the result is a wonderful and unique table.

The piece was handed down through many generations to its current owner, and was reported to have been made in Maine. There is a very similar piece that is included in the Wintherthur collection and is listed as number 381 in the book "American Furniture: the Federal Period" ByCharles F. Montgomery. The piece in the book is given similar dates and under description notes that it was probably made in a rural area in New England. I would have to agree with this statement and the use of Maple and Birch (both northern domestic woods) would back this rural provenance up.

The piece was in really rough shape when it came into my shop. The main problem was that joinery for the legs had broken and been poorly repaired in the past. The top was also loose and the table had been stained red at some point. I do not think that this was done originally, despite the fact that many of these tables were stained red, because the under side of the table was not stained and showed evidence of being stripped at some previous time. Below is a photo of the underside of the table.

The top itself had some water damage, and many knife scratches that had gone deep into the surface. To try to remove would take a great deal of sanding and the scratches lend to the authenticity and history of the piece, so the customer and I decided to leave them and lightly sand the top. Here is a photo of the water damage to the top.
The wedged mortise and tenon joinery had loosened over time and someone had tried to repair this with a hot glue gun. This was an inappropriate glue to use and an ineffective repair. The photo below shows this.
The same glue was used to repair the bottom where the legs meet the pedestal. Missing portions of the joinery were replaced with wood putty, resulting in a messy and once again ineffective repair.The next three photos show this work.




After the finish had been removed, the next step was to dismantle the table and remove the prior repairs, so that I could see what I had to work with. the base of the pedestal was severly damaged and roughly 1/4 of it was missing. This needed to be patched with real wood to create a strong joint. The rest of the post shows this process. The next three photos show the damaged area in detail.


I Built a jig that would allow a router to move over the top of the broken area and remove some of the surface so that I could have a flat surface to glue my patch onto. This jig was made from scrap lumber and can be seen below with the pedestal clamped in place.
This detail photo shows the affected area before it was routed flat.
This photo shows the affected area after it was routed flat. I hit a few nails, but the blade seemed to be no worse for the wear! You can see that in the turned section to the right there is an additional area that needed to be repaired. That was dealt with the same way and can be seen in the following photo.

Now that I had a flat surface, I could clamp new wood to the base. I used reclaimed maple flooring to make my patches. They can be seen being glued in place below.
Here is a photo of the patches after they were glued in place and ready to carve.
The pedestal would have originally been turned on a lathe, but it would be very hard to center it again to return the patches, in addition to the fact that the batten on the top was not removable. Instead of turning the patch, I carved it by hand. Below is a photo of the patches carved down to a roughly cylindrical shape.
It is hard to see, but in the next photo the patch is scribed where the carved lines will be put in.
Here is the patch carved and ready for sanding
After the patch was carved, I needed to cut the dovetail mortise in the pedestal to receive the leg. to get the placement of this just right, I measured the diameter of the pedestal (9") and divided it by three (3"). This gave me the location to cut my dovetail. To make the process go a little faster. I used my router to create a flat shoulder for the leg and also to cut the dovetail mortise. I then fit it to the legs dovetail by hand and glued the leg in place.
Below is a detail photo of the patches before they were stained and with the legs put in place. The photo at the beginning of this post shows the repaired table standing on its own three feet! The next post will show the finish work and the completed table.


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