I found this chest of drawers while poking around a second-hand store in Clairmont. The piece had some minor surface scratches and scuffs on the top, some water damage and a nasty oily spill that had marred the surface.
The french polish had long lost its luster and had taken on that faded and gray look common in pieces exposed to the harsh SA climate and too much sunlight. Aside from a small crack in the skirting near the front foot that had caused the foot to work loose, the carcass and drawers were in excellent condition. The wooden drawer pulls were recently chipped and damaged, and the drawer fronts were badly scratched. I suspect this was caused by people moving around the cramped confines of the shop.
The piece was probably made in the mid 50’s or early 60’s. It was manufactured by the McNamee factory, most likely in their Pietermaritzburg factory. I have seen several pieces from that factory and they all have a similar style. The top is solid Imbuia with a roman ogee profile finishing the edge. The drawers have a beautiful series of horizontal curves that are matched by vertical curved pieces on the sides. The drawer fronts are a single piece of solid Imbuia, attached to the drawer carcass with dovetail joins. The drawer carcasses are plywood that have been lightly stained. The side panels are solid Imbuia and are seated in a frame with gentle curves. Ball and claw feet with a grooved skirt finish the footer. The wood has a beautiful grain and the drawer fronts have been well selected to show the beauty of the wood.
The original serial number or model number is punched in the back, and the original manufacturer’s tag is still attached. The manufacturer’s button is embedded in the bottom drawer.
To start the restoration I removed the feet and skirting which were held in place with old fashioned steel wood screws. The damage to the skirting was probably caused by the piece being dragged across a tiled floor and the foot catching in a grout line or on the edge of tile. I first worked the foot loose from the skirting before gently opening the crack. I added some pva wood glue into the crack then clamped and left it to set overnight. The dowels were drilled out and replaced before gluing the foot back to the skirt.
After cleaning and sanding the repair is invisible. I scraped, cleaned and sanded skirt and feet before resetting the skirting on the base of the cabinet using the original wood screws.
I scraped and cleaned the french polish from the wood before hand sanding the bare wood to a smooth clean finish. Imbuia has a spicy fragrance and the wood takes on a well polished finish as you work through to a 220 grit. I cleaned the sawdust off with a cloth moistened with mineral turpentine before coating the piece with three coats of matt polyurethane varnish. I slightly distressed the surface between coats with steel wool and polished the final coat with steel wool and teak oil. This will will provide a hardwearing finish that will be stain, and water resistant.
I replaced the original drawer pulls with a copper-finish drawer pulls from my local hardware store.
This is a beautiful piece of quality furniture that will provide years of service. It is well constructed and was built by master craftsmen. These furniture pieces were made before mass production, when time and care went into the manufacture of each piece. That shows in the attention to detail in its construction and quality of the wood that was used to make it. These were made to last a long time.