Chalk painted drinks tray

Restoration, Renovation and Innovation, Part III: In my humble opinion.

In my experience, whenever someone starts or ends an argument with “In my humble opinion”, that opinion is neither humble, nor correct. So with that as our starting point, in my humble opinion, chalk painting furniture is the worst thing ever. And that is saying a lot considering some of the ideas that have hit the market.

It’s not that I have anything against the shabby chic look or that I particularly hate chalk paint. It has to do with how it is used, or rather, what it is used on and what that represents. All too often, I have seen people painting valuable or rare woods with chalk paint, and that, in my humble opinion is unethical and constitutes an environmental crime. (OK, maybe the last point is a tad dramatic, but this is about stories and strong opinions. Frankly who cares about a dull story or weak opinion?!)

The other day, I was in a décor shop, and a lady was asking the shop assistant where she could find someone who could do a chalk paint finish. Because I am an annoying person, I butted into the conversation and told her I could do it. As the conversation progressed, I learnt it was a Yellowwood and Imbuia dining suite. She hated the yellow look of the wood and thought a chalk finish would make it look more modern and better match her décor ideas. I explained to her that Yellowwood was in fact a protected species in South Africa and that Imbuia was becoming a rare wood. She had not realised the value of the wood and agreed with my opinion that getting it valued first was a far better option than just slapping on paint.

I love going into furniture stores, second hand stores and décor stores to look for ideas and inspiration. I often see vintage furniture that has been chalk painted, badly too I might add, and being sold as something new and exciting. These are almost always solid, expensive and rare woods. Worse still, are the Walnut burl and Rosewood veneers in art deco furniture that get painted over. This, in my mind, is like pasting a glossy print of Marge Simpson over that little sketch of Lisa Gherardini with wall paper glue because Marge has better hair. I have heard the argument that you can always remove the chalk paint later, but I think there are better ways of dealing with furniture. Here are my golden rules  and ideas for when to use chalk paint. 

My first rule, as with any piece, is how valuable and rare is it? Old does not always mean valuable, but it is worth first checking with a professional or getting an idea of the value of a piece before you start painting. It is the patina that many collectors are after and once you have painted over that, its pretty much gone for good.

Check what is it constructed from. Rare woods should not be painted, especially woods like Rosewood, which cannot be traded anymore under a CITES ban, Yellowwood and Imbuia which are protected. Think twice before painting woods that are less rare, but are just naturally beautiful like Walnut, Kiaat or Mahogany. There is a wide choice of alternative finishes that will restore the natural beauty or enhance the appearance of these woods. Even ubiquitous hardwoods like Oak, Ash or Teak can be given a new finish that will show off their beauty. Good candidates for chalk paint are cheap woods from renewable resources  like Douglas Pine and Meranti, but I would consider alternative options before applying paint to something like Oregon Pine. Man-made boards like chipboard, supa-wood or plywood, either bare or with a cheap veneer or plastic finish like melamine are excellent candidates and take well to chalk paint.

Chalk paint does work well as a finish when it is applied correctly. and when the piece that it is being applied to is not a rare wood.
Chalk paint does work well as a finish when it is applied correctly. and when the piece that it is being applied to is not a rare wood.

Consider what condition the piece is in. If it is battered and broken, and ready to be scrapped, consider it a good candidate. But also consider that it is possible to get such pieces repaired and retain the original wood finish. Broken legs, stretchers, and split panels can all be replaced or repaired. Scratches can be removed and dings and dents filled and fixed before a new finish is applied that brings out the beauty of the wood. The dings, dents and bashes can be incorporated into a new finish to add character and show that this piece has seen a bit of life. 

What if you really don’t like the finish or look of real wood or it simply doesn’t match your décor? If it is a rare or valuable piece, consider selling it and buying a replacement before reaching for that brush. If the woods are rare, and you don’t like the look, consider changing it. For example, the Queen Anne Legs that you hate can be replaced without too much difficult by a skilled woodwork. Solid wood tables can be re-cut and re-finished to suit almost any style. Almost anything that is sold wood can be re-purposed to retain the wood. Even if it is just plain ugly, someone out there will like it.

Get new furniture custom made from inexpensive materials and have fun painting it. Either build it yourself or contract someone to make it. A chalk paint finish on cabinetry, tables and chairs made from cheap wood, scrap wood or man-made boards can look really nice. This is an inexpensive alternative to ruining an expensive or rare piece of wood. Chalk paint is a forgiving finish. If you make a mess of it, sand it down and start again. I have made several bathroom cabinets and applied a chalk finish with a good layer of wax to protect the surface. These have held up much better than similar enamel coated finishes. The construction materials were cheap pine shelving and they last much better in a damp environment than the expensive melamine products sold in bathroom stores. Chalk paint and pallet wood are a great combination.  My wife is a chalk paint enthusiast and has refinished mirror frames, chalk boards and a beautiful serving platter. 

A serving platter my wife made. The base is reclaimed pine, and the platter was custom made for chalk painting. The starters were delicious, by the way.
A serving platter my wife made. The base is reclaimed pine, and the platter was custom made for chalk painting. The starters were delicious, by the way.

Mixing and matching finishes can also create interest, especially when mixing an expensive or rare wood with a not so expensive wood. We had an old ball and claw side table that somehow ended up in our possession. To this day, I know not whence it came. But I used it for years as a small step for getting to those places just out of my reach, including as a painting aid. When I finally had a closer look at its construction it turned out to be a solid mahogany top, over “less-than-nice-and-not-real-mahogany-but-brown-enough-to-match” legs. After cleaning it up, and sanding it down, I chose to apply a chalk finish to the legs. I added an ultra gloss polyurethane finish to the top. The combination works well and it now does service in our lounge. A mini farmhouse-style occasional table.  

At a deeper level, there is an ethical debate here. We live in a world that is increasingly grappling with what sustainable living means. I often think that people consider sustainability a way to maintain the status quo. But having lived through South Africa’s electricity crises, the Cape Town water crises, and the increasing talk of how plastics are finding their way into the food chain and the damage plastic is causing to the oceans and us, I am more convinced that this is a very wrong view. We have to seriously consider how we live and how we consume products from the natural world. We should carefully consider all our actions and the impact that they have on the broader world.

It’s only a table, you may argue. Its 50 years old and falling apart, and would have been dumped anyway! How does slapping some paint on it affect the world? Wood is a natural and in some respects a finite resource. It should be respected and treated as such. Hardwood trees take a very long time to grow, and deforestation, logging and human expansion into wild areas is rapidly depleting these resources and the ecosystems they support. I think there is a thin line between painting a Rosewood veneer and shooting a rhinoceros for its horn. Both actions result in the subject of these actions being gone for good. I don’t have children to leave the planet to, but would sincerely like to leave the planet in a better condition than I found it.  And I think that is the true point of sustainable living.

Saving old pieces of furniture is just a small contribution to that ideal. Respecting the materials, they are made from, and the craftsman who made them is just as important. But hey, that’s just my humble opinion

Restoration, Renovation and Innovation, Part II: When and Why?

There is a lot of grey between a renovation and a restoration. When I think of restoration, I tend to think of it as bringing a piece back to its original condition. This would involve using the original materials, and authentic replacements if needed. Renovation, is a partial or complete overhaul of a piece, giving it a new look or purpose with little to no regard of its original look or purpose. You can be as creative and innovative as you want.

When considering a renovation, I very much follow the same thought process as for a restoration. The most important consideration is whether the piece is rare or valuable. I rarely consider renovating very old or antique furniture. These may either be valuable, or well on their way to being valuable.

Vintage and retro furniture made from real woods make excellent candidates for renovation. Even inexpensive furniture can be given a new lease on life with a little bit of creative thought. Faux finishes like melamine and thin veneers can be upgraded and updated with some a splash or two of paint or wood stain. Repairing and renovating old furniture can be a huge cost saving especially for people on a tight budget.

Shortly before we were to get married, we purchased our first apartment and needed to furnish it. Being short of cash, and on a lab worker’s salary, we gratefully accepted a gift of an old 3 piece lounge suite from my wife’s family. It was a Pine and foam set that had been finished with a dark varnish. It had ugly 70’s style floral print cushions which I strongly doubt were ever fashionable. The foam seats were long past their best and never fitted properly to start with. Despite its looks, and its scratches and dents, it was a solid and functional piece of furniture.

Long hours of scraping, cleaning and sanding got the wood back to its bare state and got rid of the dark varnish. The cleaned Pine was stained a rich mahogany colour and a matt polyurethane finish completed the look. We purchased new foam seats and backrests that better fitted the seats, and my mother-in-law kindly sewed modern stylish cushion covers. Total cost for the renovation was a few hundred Rands. It went from dull, drab and downright ugly to modern, bright, clean and stylish. The furniture served us well for a number of years before we could afford an upgrade and was the favourite seating place for our golden cocker spaniel. The job must have been well done because this is still doing service in a family member’s home some 20 years after I completed the job. Sadly, this was before I owned a cell phone, never mind a camera, so I don’t have any pictures of it. (Yes, I am as old as the pieces I renovate!)

I have a friend whose house is stuffed full of old furniture, all of it great candidates for renovation. All of these have sentimental value for her, with this “piece belong to aunt so-n-so, and that piece the thing that her mom bought when…”.

When moving into a new house, she had retrieved some of her furniture out of storage from her brother’s barn. Unfortunately, some if it had gotten badly damaged from a leaking roof in the storage shed. One piece in particular caught my eye. After much back and forth, my friend agreed to let me take it, rather skeptical of what I was about to do. It was a solid Oak mid-century corner drinks cabinet. The top and side had gotten wet while in storage shed, and the drawer runners had broken off. Other than that it was in good condition.

Water damaged, scratched and sad :(
Water damaged, scratched and sad 🙁

The varnish was scraped off and the top and sides sanded to remove the water stains. I repaired the drawer slides. I love art deco, and thought that the piece would look really nice with a slight art deco look. I took some high gloss black spray paint and framed the door and coloured the feet. I stained the rest of the cabinet a rich dark mahogany colour before finishing it with three coats of gloss poly-urethane varnish. Some metal polish on the drawer pulls brought them back to life.

Well on its way to a new life with a makeover and sporting trendy back lines!
Well on its way to a new life with a makeover and sporting trendy back lines!

At the same time, I took 2 old picture frames from my friend. They were well beaten and looked ready for the scrap heap. These were gilded wood and plaster frames. The first one was in bad condition and needed to be re-glued. I chipped the plaster off and I sanded and cleaned up the Pine. I painted it with some off white PVA, and as it dried, I wiped it down to create an authentic distressed look. The plaster on the second was in much better condition, and I filled the chipped and broken off plaster and sanded and cleaned it up. I primed it with a white water based primer and then took a great deal of creative licence to colour and paint it. A red border matched my friends red sofa. My friend loved them, I had fun and we saved two pieces that would have otherwise been thrown away.

Saved from the scrap heap. The distressed and the happy.
Saved from the scrap heap. The distressed and the happy.

These are good examples of makeovers: taking an old and tired piece and with a bit of creativity, making something fresh and exciting. You are limited by as much as what you can imagine. Take the case of the giant round Oak table I wrote about earlier This was a complete transformation of an outdated and unwanted piece of furniture into something elegant, stylish and modern. Nothing went to waste. The left-over off cuts were transformed into stylish articulating lamps, stained black and fitted with built in wireless chargers. They now do service on our bedside tables (which themselves were made from cut-offs from floor boards). 

A funky black wood stain still revels the grain pattern. A built in wireless charger gives me place for my cell phone to sit.
A funky black wood stain still reveals the grain pattern. A built in wireless charger gives me place for my cell phone to sit. All from leftovers.

Renovation has a lot of benefits. Its fun to do and there is no end to how creative and innovative you can be. If you mess it up, its not a big deal since in many cases these were pieces that were destined for the trash heap anyway and mistakes can be fixed. Its easy for kids to get involved in this. Renovation is friendly for the environment. Reusing and recycling pieces keeps them out of landfills or incinerators. Many of these pieces of furniture are made from exotic and rare woods. Recycling the wood means trees and energy are saved and carbon footprint is decreased. It saves you money. The cost of renovation is way lower than buying new furniture and renovating a piece of furniture can increase its value. Sentimental pieces can be saved and the life of these pieces long extended. And there is something really special about owning something you yourself created. It is always much better to have a story to tell than “Yeah, bought that the other day”.

In my last piece in this series, I will talk about chalk paint as a starting point for my final point about sustainable living.

A head turner and conversation piece with many years life still to come.

Restoration, Renovation and Innovation, Part I: When to restore.

I love old-timey things, and I love to restore and bring these things back to their former glory. I have already posted about some of my tools, and a few furniture pieces that I have restored over the years. This is the first in a three-part piece on my approach and philosophy when it comes to restoration and renovation.

I normally consider several factors before tackling a restoration. This is not an expert list, or by any means exhaustive, but I do hope these factors give guidance on when to restore an old piece of furniture, tool or collectable and when to leave it be.

But firstly, what is a restoration? A restoration typically involves bringing a piece back to its original, or close to original condition or function as possible. Restorations should not change the fundamental design elements of the piece and where possible should use as much of the original components as is practical. Where substitutes are used they should be authentic to the period and should not detract or distract from the overall appeal of the piece. Any repairs should blend seamlessly into the original. When considering whether to restore a piece, I usually run through the following check list.

How old and how rare is it?

People often use the term antique to describe anything that is old. However, something is only considered an antique if it is older than 100 years. Anything less than 100 but older than 20 years is considered vintage or retro. I normally avoid working with antiques because I am always worried about destroying the value. I would certainly not work on a rare antique without careful consideration of what effect it would have on its value. While antique does not always mean valuable, the last thing the owner of any antique wants is to destroy value through a careless restoration. That value is not always monetary, it could also be sentimental. I am a little more liberal when it comes to vintage pieces. These pieces are usually solidly constructed from high quality wood by master craftsmen and take well to restoration, while others were mass produced and are quite ubiquitous.

What material is it made from?

Many antique pieces are made from rare hard woods that are now endangered or not commercially available. This includes woods like Rosewood, trade of which is banned under CITES, and Yellowwood which is protected in South Africa. Although not on the CITES list Imbuia is on the IUCN Red List. Vintage pieces, especially ball and claw furniture, are often made from this beautiful wood. Art deco period pieces are typically made with hardwood veneers, especially Walnut burl, and Rosewood and incorporate composites including chrome, Bakelite and mother-of pearl inlays. These materials are often hard to come by and therefore difficult to restore.

What condition is it in?

A piece in museum show condition should be left in that condition. However, an antique piece with broken and missing pieces or loose joints is a good candidate for restoration, providing its not going to affect its value. Care should be taken when refinishing or repairing a piece not to destroy the patina. It’s often the patina that collectors are interested in or that give pieces their value. The ease with which it is to find replacement parts or substitutes should also be considered. 

Do I know what I am doing?

I once attempted to restore an old valve radio. I know nothing about valve radios, and despite a wealth of information online and some understanding of electronics, I could not figure out how to do this. I abandoned the idea being afraid that I was going to either electrocute myself, burn the house down, destroy the radio or all three. I still have it though and will probably get a valve radio expert to repair it at some stage. If I am not sure what I am doing, I would rather leave it alone or consult an expert.

Restoration of an Art Deco drinks cabinet

We inherited an Art Deco drinks cabinet from my wife’s Grandmother. We are not quite sure how old it is, but it stood for 60 odd years in their house starting in the late 1940s. We think it originally belonged to my wife’s great grandmother who moved in with her kids shorty after they setup house. We have owned it for a little under 15 years, so that makes it somewhere between 70 and 80 years old if not older. It’s not quite an antique yet but it is old and not far from being an antique.  There are still a lot of Art Deco pieces in circulation, so it is not really that rare. There are no maker’s marks, identifiers or serial numbers on it.

It is constructed from block board sandwiched between thin sheets of plywood, common construction for Depression era furniture. The top coat however is a Walnut veneer with some burl on the doors. When we inherited it, it was not in great condition. The cabinet stood in the entrance hall in the grandparent’s house, and the right hand side that faced the front door had taken something of a beating. Sunlight had faded the finish and it had started to craze. The top had some deep scratches. At some point in its history, someone had re-varnished the top, and had not done a great job. The occasional spray from heavy Joburg thunderstorms coming through the front door had caused water damage on the side. The veneer was chipped and cracked and in places had peeled off completely. We brought it to Cape Town when we moved down in 2008. It is a remarkable piece of furniture, and we have often had people walk into the house and walk straight to it to admire it.

My wife was not that keen for me to restore it because of its sentimental value and was worried about the project not ending well. I felt confident that a restoration was possible. After our first Cape winter, I was concerned that the change in climate was causing the piece to fall apart. Large portions of the block board on the base were de-laminating and the cabinet was in danger of collapsing. The veneer had degenerated further and large sections had peeled off completely. One weekend, while my wife was visiting family in Joburg, I started to restore it as a surprise for her return.

I scraped off the old varnish and re-glued and fixed the broken block board with PVA wood glue. I repaired and re-glued the peeling veneer. The veneer, already smooth from being scraped was sanded through to 1000 grit with water paper to create an ultra-smooth and shiny surface. However, I was not satisfied with the colour of the finish. Some of the veneer had taken on an uneven colouring and my repair job on the veneer introduced further colour variations. The solution was to use a walnut wood stain to even out and standardise the colour. A further sanding with steel wool after the staining was followed by three coats of a high-quality polyurethane silk varnish. The scratch and water proof finish had the gleam and feel of what I think the original art deco finish would have had. The original brass hardware was cleaned and repaired and re-fitted.

 

Restored to its original condition, with all the original hardware.
Restored to its original condition, with all the original hardware.

Running through my checklist, was this a good candidate for restoration? This was old, but not antique. It was not rare, and while we couldn’t determine an exact value or manufacturer, I felt confident I was not destroying a long-lost art work of high value. Its sentimental value outweighed any commercial value and the intention was to retain it, not sell it. It had started to deteriorate, and repairs would be needed to extend its life. Despite my wife’s misgivings, I do sorta-kinda know what I am doing and have successfully restored several pieces of furniture. Ten years later and it still looks good. My wife was happy with the outcome, and I am sure that it will be with us for more years to come. The piece was restored to as near as possible its original condition with all original components being refitted.

I have already written about the restoration of a mid-century chest of drawers. This piece was not nearly as old, valuable or sentimental as the drinks cabinet. But the same principles apply. However, while doing this restoration, I did allow for two minor changes. Instead of a French wax finish, I substituted a polyurethane varnish. I felt that the polyurethane would show off the colour and beauty of the wood more than the French wax, which while beautiful, tends to hide the grain and colour of the wood. I also felt that a scratch and water-resistant finish would be more desirable considering the piece’s intended use. I did distress the finish slightly, so it created something of a patina. I could not match or repair the damaged drawer pulls, so I substituted with new brass drawer pulls with an antiqued finish that matched the age and condition of the piece and enhanced the overall appeal.

Beautifully restored with a patina to match its age.
Beautifully restored with a patina to match its age.

Generally, I consider these successful restorations. The spirit, style, look and feel of each of these pieces was maintained. Wherever possible the original materials were restored and reused, and the reason the owners of these pieces valued them was maintained. At least one was saved from deterioration and being tossed out.

In part II I will talk about the When’s and Why’s of refurbishment.

Hand Tools

Hand Tools and Toy Chests

I started to take woodworking more seriously as a hobby when we moved into our first house. I bought a collection of cheap power tools at an auction, some of which I still have, and setup a small workshop on our back stoep. This being a townhouse complex, I was limited as to how much noise I could make, and greatly restricted by how often I could get my wife to come and hold a piece of wood while I cut it. Despite the restrictions I made a couple of pieces of furniture including a bed-set complete with bed base and side tables. I also made a cot for my brother’s first born girl. Looking back, I don’t think either were very elegant, but they were fit for purpose and matched my skill level. I also learnt a great deal building those; mostly that if I was going to get anymore serious about this hobby, I was going to have to invest in more tools and gain some serious skills. Over the years I have been fortunate to accumulate a lot more of both.  

Until recently, most of the tools I have acquired have been power tools. Power tools are simple way to get the job done in as short a time as possible. There is a short learning curve to figure out how to use them. With the wide range of tools and prices to suit almost any pocket, anyone can get started as a maker. YouTube and other websites are a great source of learning materials, and other social media sites like Pintrest and Instagram are amazing sources of inspiration. 

However, I have recently started to experiment more and more with hand tools. This has partly been driven because of a desire to make better quality pieces, but also out of necessity.  Two recent factors contributed to me learning how to use a hand plane. The first was  when one of my workhorse tools, my Ryobi planer/thicknesser died.  It had served me well for over ten years and, like all my Ryobi tools had performed above and beyond what it was made for. It would no longer feed wood through the thicknesser and when I stripped it to find out why, I discovered that the shafts on the gears had worn out. I guess I could probably have replaced them, but decided it was time for it to be retired. 

My wife  found a Makita thicknesser online and purchased it for me as a “late Christmas, early birthday, now stop bothering me and go to your workshop”, present. That solved one half of the problem. I still needed to be able to flatten and joint boards. I was about to start working on a project making a toy chest from Kiaat, at the time that my Ryobi planer/thicknesser died.

I own two hand planes: a German made  No. 3 plane I inherited from my wife’s grandfather and a Stanley Bailey No. 4 that belonged to my dad. Besides shaving doors to fit into door jams, I had never had any success with planes in the past, mostly from ignorance and lack of skill. (In fact it was for fitting new doors in our old house that I originally borrowed the No. 4 from my dad, and had failed to return it. I guess after 15 years, he is not going to miss it and I can consider it mine. Sorry Dad.) The second factor was Eskom. No power means no power tools, and load shedding was having a devastating affect on my woodworking efforts.

That weekend, I hauled out the No. 4 and after a couple of YouTube tutorials, figured out where I was going wrong. I sharpened the blade, set it, tested it and suddenly, was jointing boards by hand. I also figured out that this was the wrong plane and started hunting for a No. 7.  It took about 2 minutes online to find what I needed. It seems that there are a large number of people selling old tools on online platforms, and high quality and vintage tools are easy to come by. I found a seller, and made a deal. That Monday, after work, I passed by his place and collected my new plane.

My "new"Stanley No. 7 on the way home.
My “new “Stanley No. 7 on the way home.

It was not in working order, and needed a little TLC to bring it back to life. Like my vice, it was rusted and a little rough around the edges but a solid vintage tool. I stripped it back to bare metal and cleaned up the rust. A couple of coats of hammered enamel later and a few hours of work flattening the sole and it looked like new. The only problem was I couldn’t get a decent edge on the blade. The blade was too large to fit into my honing guide and wider than my sharpening stone.

It looks a little rough, but these tools were made to last a lifetime, or two.
It looks a little rough, but these tools were made to last a lifetime, or two.

A trip to the local hardware store turned up a really neat sharpening wheel that attached to the drill. It was water-cooled so did not overheat the metal. I tried it on my chisels first, figuring I could always fix those easily if I messed it up. It gave them a neat, clean edge that I could hone using water-paper and a sheet of glass. My No. 3 and No. 4 blades were next and I soon had a collection of silky smooth wood curls collecting at my feet. But the No. 7 was just too large to fit into the rig. I had to improvise, and built my own sharpening jig using some carefully angled wood. Once I had that sorted was able to bring the plane to full use.

My newly refurbished No. 7 ready too go. This is a beautiful tool.
My newly refurbished No. 7 ready too go. This is a beautiful tool.

And so I learnt how to joint and flatten boards by hand. It is a lot of hard work, and not something I intend doing very often. I have a great deal of respect for craftsman who earned their living this way in the pre-power tool era. Power tools are great at getting a board to 90% ready for a good finish, adding hand tools  gives me that extra 5% for a great finish. Skill will eventually get me that last 5%. 

Jointing boards by hand is not for the feint of heart. it takes some serious effort, but the end result is well worth the effort.
Jointing boards by hand is not for the feint of heart. It takes some serious effort, but the end result is well worth the effort.

I managed to finish my project on time. It was for a couple that were expecting their first baby. They asked for a toy chest. The Kiaat was reasonably flat to start with but not flat enough for the thicknesser. A couple of passes with the No. 7 got it flat enough to go through the thicknesser to get it to size. I jointed the sides using the No. 7 and ran them through the table saw to get them perfectly square. A few passes with the No. 4 and the saw marks were cleared creating a tight fitting joint. These were joined into panels using biscuits and PVA wood glue. More biscuits and some pocket-holes got the chest assembled. A few passes over the joins with the No. 3  to clean the edges and it was perfect. A live edge lip completed the lid and 4 coats of polyurethane for a long lasting satin finish completed the piece. 

The finish on this is beautiful. Several coast of silky polyurethane and a polish with teak oil and it creates a hard wearing surface that is water, stain, and baby resistant.
The finish on this is beautiful. Several coats of silky polyurethane and a polish with teak oil and it creates a hard wearing surface that is water, stain, and baby resistant.

For the long haul, I purchased a second hand industrial quality 8 inch jointer. It has been refurbished and I am still tweaking it, but can flatten and joint relatively quickly now. The No. 7 and No.4 are in regular use to create clean sharp sides and finish joined boards.

Happy to have a new jointer. It still needs some tuning and restoration, but it runs really well.
Happy to have a new jointer. It still needs some tuning and restoration, but it runs really well.

As for my other hand tools: I dug out the Stanley sureform that accompanied the inherited No. 3, and replaced the rasp blade. Its now regularly used to cut and rough shape pieces. I also sourced a Stanley No 80 Scraper for adding a silky smooth finish. I have started using chisels more often. My planes are now in constant use and mounted in easy reach of my vice.  I am still some way away from hand cut dovetail joints, but that is starting to look less and less intimidating.

The vice with a fresh coat of paint, waiting to be mounted

Record Vice Restoration

I  found  an old Record Vice 52 1/2 in a second hand store on Route 62 somewhere between Oudtshoorn and the middle of nowhere.  I managed to buy it for next to nothing. It was hidden behind a pile of rusty old tools, and I think the shop owner didn’t realize how valuable it was. The mechanism was jammed solid, and it had some surface rust and pitting, but was in really good condition otherwise. I had been looking for a vice for some time, and had not found anything that met my needs. This was perfect. 

It looks a little rough, but not in bad condition considering its age. Nothing elbow grease, Wynn's Clean Green, sand paper and Q20 can't fix.
It looks a little rough, but not in bad condition considering its age. Nothing elbow grease, Wynn’s Clean Green, sand paper and Q20 can’t fix.

After a couple of squirts of Q20 into the mechanism and a quick whack with a rubber mallet, I managed to get the screw turning. And then disaster. There is a spring that presses the half nut onto the worm drive. Trying to get that moving, I managed to snap the spring. A quick internet search, and I was able to find that parts for these are readily available. Problem solved and I could carry on. 

Munki-kat. She supervises many of my projects and does regular site inspections to make sure that health and safety standards are adhered to. Quality is supervised by her mother Soxie-kat.
Munki-kat. She supervises many of my projects and does regular site inspections to make sure that health and safety standards are adhered to. Quality is supervised by her mother Soxie-kat.

I stripped it down and started cleaning the parts removing the hardened grease and decades of  saw dust and rust. After a bottle of  Wynns Clean Green, loads of Q20 and a wire brush and under the watchful supervision of my cat Munki-kat, I had the pieces cleaned, shiny and ready for a coat of paint. I decided to go with a black hammered enamel finish, rather than the original Record blue. As a bit of fun, I painted the quick release green. 

Before and after shots. The broken spring can be seen next to the vice in the bottom right picture.
Before and after shots. The broken spring can be seen next to the vice in the bottom right picture.

I managed to source a replacement spring from the UK for 25 GBP. But the shipping to South Africa was 120 GBP! That was almost 10 times what I paid for the vice and almost half the price of a new one. A quick call to a friend in the UK, and he bought it for me and had it shipped free to his place.  We were meeting in Germany on our next business trip in month and agreed to the exchange over a beer. After my return, I fitted the spring and the vice made fully functional. 

I found this very comprehensive blog post about the vice at the Small Workshop.  From this post I am guessing mine is a model VI. It’s not really possible to date it beyond the model number. Being a little bit sentimental I would prefer to think of mine as being one of the first of those models, and significantly older than me.

The next issue was figuring out how and where to mount it. I found this piece of laminated pine construction lumber sitting among a pile of wood I inherited from my good friend and neighbor who had recently passed away. He was an excellent woodworker having trained as a shipwright in his youth. He made many of his own tools, and had a love for all things old-timey, especially hand-tools. I thought that if he were alive, he would have loved to see this being put to such a good use. 

Laminated construction plank
Construction plank I found in my wood stash.

I cleaned it up with belt sander before I cut it to size with a circular saw. A quick run through the jointer-planer gave me dead straight boards. I joined two boards together to make the top using biscuits and PVA wood glue. Once it was dry, I cut it to final size on the table saw and rounded the edges with a round-over bit using my table router. The sides were joined to the top with biscuits and wood glue, and because I was worried a little about the stability, I added some pocket holes for extra measure.

Cleaning up the plank with the belt sander
I used a belt sander to clean up the old varnish off the plank and make sure there were no surprises for the blades on the jointer and thicknesser.

I mounted this to my workbench and bolted the vice under it. My workbench stands a little under 90 cm high, and the final height of the bench a little over 110 cm. I am just short of 6′ tall, so the small work top makes an excellent platform for marking and assembling small parts without my back taking strain. The vice sits at a perfect height for planing wood as I can get my shoulder behind the plane. 

The completed workbench with vice attached.
The completed workbench with vice attached.

Having this simple tool has made a huge difference in the workshop, and I love the little worktop with tool storage underneath. Munki-Kat too has given it a stamp of approval with a rating of Purrrr-fect.

Oak Table

The Beast!

“Well, what do you think?” asked Neville, my newly acquired co-conspirator and fellow furniture fundi. He was standing next to a round oak table in his furniture store. It was bulky, yellow and possibly the second ugliest table I had ever seen. The only one rounder and uglier than that was the one that stood in my parent’s voorkamer for 20 odd years. “I am struggling to sell it.” He said. “Most people are not interested in round tables, and those that are say it’s too big. I am not sure what to do with it. The owner wanted to dump it and I thought I would try and do something with it. Any suggestions?”

Saturday rolled around, and so did Neville, trailer in tow, along with the ‘The Beast!’, as it came to be in my mind. We hauled it off the back of the trailer, down the drive and got stuck at the door to my workshop. We couldn’t get it in. It would have to be dismantled outside and brought in in pieces. Ten minutes and a thousand wood screws later, the top was off and rolled into the corner of my workshop. After carefully maneuvering the base through the door and having it take up most of the floor space, I came to the realization, that I needed a bigger door and a bigger workshop.

As with most projects when I don’t know what to do, I ignored the problem and hoped that it would go away. But ‘The Beast!’ was not going anywhere. The top sulked in the corner of my workshop demanding my attention. Mostly because I kept having to roll it out of the way every time I needed to get to my stores. The base just sat there tripping me up every time I walked past it. Eventually, in frustration, I took apart the cross braces, folded the legs together and stuffed it in front of the sulking top. Which simply meant that I now had to move two pieces of The Beast! every time I wanted something out the stores. “Enough!” I cried, “You win! I will deal with you now!” after the tenth move of the day.

I had not looked it over properly yet, and began my inspection. The table top was made of 20 mm  thick solid Oak.  At some point in its 40 odd years of existence, the jointing had started to fail, probably because of shrinkage and the movement of the Oak. Several bad attempts had been made to repair it. The first involved gluing the separating pieces together. Clamping a round table together is really difficult to start with. Without the proper tools it becomes a nightmare. The first attempt had involved spreading wood glue into the crack and then applying vertical pressure across the separating pieces to hold them together. When that failed, nails, a couple of wood screws and a few self-tappers followed. Surprisingly that too failed to solve the problem. But a bigger problem appeared to be developing. The stretchers had started to work themselves loose, and these needed to be repaired. The expert solution was to first glue and then nail square strips of wood into the stretchers. With the base stabilized the repairer expertly glued four pieces of thick meranti onto the oak, and screwed that in place with the 1000 screws we had to remove to get the top loose. Despite the messiness of the job, it managed to get the table past its 40th birthday. I am just grateful that no one has had to do that to me, just yet.

I loaded the top onto my table saw, as this was the only surface I had big enough to hold it. Measure. Ponder. Measure. Ponder. Go play with the dogs.

The problem was I had never squared a round table before. It was too big for my table saw so I would have to use a circular saw. I wanted to to cut it so the grain kept its neat straight lines. Eventually I worked out where the center of the table was, and measured my first cut. I would be able to cut it square and remove most of the damage caused by the expert repairs without loosing too much table top. With one side squared, the others took shape and voila. The Beast! had been reduced. If nothing else, it was easier to move it around my workshop. The top now measured a respectable 1 sqm.

I ripped four 40 mm thick strips out the long grain left over from the removed ends and cleaned the varnish off them before running them through the thickness planer. I flipped the table top over and cleaned and scraped the underside before gluing and screwing the strips onto the edge. This provides a solid look and feel to top and a neat edge. The surface of the table was in pretty good condition, despite its age. Shrinkage and bad repairs aside, it had clearly been looked after. But the yellowed varnish had to go. I first scrapped the surface using a shaving hook, followed by a Stanley blade. I sanded the bare wood till it was smooth, oak-white and beautiful. A quick turn with the round over bit and the router to smooth the edges and it was done. I then turned my attention to the legs.

Each leg was 75 mm thick. They were joined together with a 150 mm wide stretcher, mortised into the leg. These ran diagonally under the table. A brace across the bottom added further stability to the legs. I cut through the center joint on each piece separating the legs. I removed all the additional glued bits, screws and nails before cutting the mortise joints flush against the edge with a tenon saw. I scrapped off the varnish and ran each piece through the thickness planer to square them up again.  I squared the top and bottom on the table saw and made sure each leg was the same length. A quick pass on the router table with a round over bit and the legs were ready. I ripped each stretcher to 75 mm wide. I removed the varnish and squared each piece on the thickness planer before rounding the edges.

I used pocket holes and pva wood glue to attach the stretchers to the legs and used more pocket holes to attach the top to the base. A couple of coats of teak wood stain, followed by three coats of a mat polyurethane varnish completed the look.  And with that, The Beast! was truly vanquished. In its place stood The Elegant Lady. A sleek modern looking four-seater table, perfect for open plan living.

This piece has sold.  The asking price was R4400.00. I can create tables like this, from virgin wood, or trim and shape existing tables or reclaimed materials. These can be made to any dimension you need. Prices will be supplied on request when assessing your needs.