Monday, April 21, 2014

Small Project Updates

So as I mentioned the other day, I did some stripping for a few small projects, and here they are!

First off, it's nothing too exciting, but it was a *LOT* of work, and I want to show it off: the living room heating grate. It still needs the thumb latch, and I'm getting a copy cast for it:

Next is the inlay maple desk/table. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to finally have some semblance of a proper desk after 4 years of dealing with a rickety card table. I also took the opportunity to thoroughly vacuum the floor, clean out the computer (inside) case, and clean all the wires.

The desk turned out pretty well. The finish isn't perfect (since it's hand-brushed), but it should be quite durable. I like the edge a lot better without the brown paint, and I also fixed the drawer and replaced the runner boards.

The only problem now, is that my office chair (which I reupholstered last week) is now too low (the lift on it is broken). So I need to fix it, since the desk is now about 2" taller than before. Two inches doesn't sound like much, but it's a big difference.

You can see the office's matching heating grate in these next two photos.

Additional notes: There was a bit of a burn mark in the wood which is still a bit noticeable in the photo above, but it's not enough to bother me. I also decided not to do any modifications to the top (I had thought of routing another profile on the edges, or sanding it flush to eliminate the double bead, etc. I also didn't bother to do any veneer repairs (there was one large-ish chip). Instead, I just used wood filler in a light golden yellow, and it was a close enough match to do all the little chip and nick repairs.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Most of yesterday was spent stripping. Not the sexy kind of stripping, though, the messy kind.

I have several projects that need stripping, and I've been putting them off for a while (mainly due to the weather, since I need SOME ventilation).

Some of the projects include:
- Antique front door
- Two antique chairs (needing new upholstery)
- The living room heat grate
- An antique (1920s or 30s) cedar chest
- The maple table/desk
- The antique Eastlake walnut desk
- Several clocks
- Etc., etc., etc...

There's no way I could handle all these in just one day (it takes hours), so I worked on a few items that have been driving me nuts, namely the maple inlay table/desk, and the living room heating grate (which you might remember had a TON of old paint sloppily applied).

No photos on the table yet, but that was a fairly simple stripping job, since everything comes apart into many small flat pieces (4 legs, 4 aprons, the drawer, and the top). The grate, however, was another story.

The grate was a huge pain in the rear to strip because of all the nooks and crannies. I had to mostly slather it in stripper, and cover it with cellophane to sit for a while. Considering how strong the chemical stripper is, I'm surprised that the cellophane doesn't melt into goop, but I've seen this trick elsewhere, and it worked well.

Grate before (as purchased from an antiques salvage store):

And after stripping, and new paint. I should have taken a photo of the grate stripped (it was a beautiful flashed copper look and in decent shape), but I was tired and looking forward to getting it DONE.

Note: The interior is flat black, with the front parts in gloss white. These are just standard oil based spray paints, applied in several coats.

Not shown are the 2 interior flaps (lever operated shutter), which also had to be stripped, buffed clean of rust, and repainted (also in flat black). Next, I will need to have a new latch cast for the one that's missing. I hope this won't be too expensive, but at work we know a guy who knows a guy who does casting, and he had done a few copies of antique dresser pulls for us, and they were gorgeous. The set of 2 pulls (with back rosettes) was something like 60$ for the 4pcs. I only need one piece, so I'm hoping it will be under 50$, since I can buy a whole other grate for 50$.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Settee Project (Part 4) Finishing The Settee

Note: Originally posted this past Sunday (March 23rd).

The settee has been finished and brought home for a week now (Monday the 17th) and I've been procrastinating about writing-up this last part.

I was excited when my fabric came in. It came in around 3 in the afternoon, and I waited until work was done (4:30) to open it, unroll it, and look at it. I was really lucky to find that although I had ordered only 5 yards, they had sent approximately 7 because it was the end of the roll. As it turns out, I end up needing those two extra yards!

The pattern was a bit brighter and more "lime green" than I had thought, but otherwise, it was pretty much what I was expecting.

Continuing with my seat stuffing, I fixed the cotton (removed some from the front) and finished my rough cover.

Next, I prepared and sewed my cover. Originally I wasn't going to have a piping running across the front edge, but Pierre suggested that I put one to "square-up" the look of the seat.

Because there's a piping there, I wanted to match-up my fabric band. Basically, because there's a sewing there (the seat cover is 3 pieces consisting of the main seat, the piping, and front band) you lose an inch of the pattern if you use the same piece because of the 1/2 inch seam allowances. In order to match the pattern, you need to cut both pieces (main seat and front band) from two separate places on your fabric. Does that explanation make sense? Basically you need to waste quite a bit of fabric to avoid having the pattern mismatched at the piping seam.

To make things even worse, I cut my front band WRONG the first time (the pattern ended up in the wrong spot), which wasted most of 2 yards of fabric that could have been used as my side arms or possibly the back panel. I was very upset with myself, but we carefully planned out the other pieces, and it turned out okay.

Once the seat fabric was finally put together properly (photo above) and tacked in place, I started working on the back. It's at this point that I realized that all the added height of the finished seat made it VERY difficult to add the webbing, burlap, and other "foundation" work on the frame. It should have been in place after the springs were covered, and the edge roll was reattached, but before any stuffing was done on the seat.

It was difficult to do, but I managed to get the back webbing and burlap installed.

Next was redoing the "lumbar roll". This was a padded roll of straw wrapped in burlap. I have never seen one like this, and neither had Pierre. It serves as extra support at the base of the back. I simply transferred the straw into a new burlap sleeve, and sewed it shut on 3 sides.

It was then tacked on the bottom rails, and hand-stitched to the back burlap/webbing (as before).

Here's a detail. Also note the added piece of webbing on the arm. Originally the fabric was just pulled around the burlap and stuffing of the side arms, but having a webbing here (folded in half) helps add a lot of strength in this area. Other sofas often have a wooden rail here for this purpose.

Re-installing the horsehair and moss padding.

After the moss/horsehair was a layer of new cotton, followed by the rough muslin cover.

Finished fabric:

Work on the arms was next. Burlap was added (tacked only on 3 sides - none where the webbing strap above is), followed by the original horsehair padding. This was the only photo I got of this step.

I reused some of the original cotton for the arms. I had wanted to do the same for the back panel, but it was unevenly worn, and I didn't use it there. The reason: the old cotton is more compacted, and has fewer gritty imperfections than the new stuff. It's also a bit thinner, and I wanted to keep the arms relatively "slim".

Patterns were cut from the existing old covers (beige stripe ones) and used on the rough covers as "test fitting" since they don't need to be 100% perfect. This is prior to nipping and tacking them in place.

Rough arm covers installed:

Some adjustments were made to the patterns, and applied to the finished arm panels. These are also made of 3 pieces (top "wing", piping, and lower arm). These were matched and mirrored for height, but not matched with the back panel (which I could have done if I were super picky, and if I had a lot more fabric to work with). Additionally, the top wings were loosely matched with the arm as best as possible (the arm end where it meets the wing has a large curve, so getting a match is difficult). The left arm has a near perfect match because of the large leaf pattern that flows well into the bottom piece, but the right one was harder to match.

Side note: the seat's front band had been only temporarily tacked, since the arms wrap around under it.

Finished inside arms, along with the finished front band. This shows the piping being installed around the perimeter.

Side panel installed. Note: these are always tricky to install. There is a combination of 4 different fixing methods used on this single side panel:
- Cardboard "blind tacking" strip along the top horizontal section of the arm.
- Ply-Grip (a flexible metal edging) used along the curve of the wing top.
- Metal tacking strip along the front edge (basically a metal bar with nails in it, where the fabric is wrapped-over and tacked down).
- And a simple row of staples tacked down the backside of the sofa, as well as on the bottom edge.

Next, the back panel.

I wanted to stick with historic materials, so I used stretched burlap panels as a stiffener here.

The shallow curve was carefully tacked using cardboard strips (along the top), and metal tacking strips on both sides.

The last step was the bottom fabric. I used our "better" bottom fabric, which we use on our antiques, and hand tacked it in place.


Finished sofa as seen in my living room (note that the colours from the shop above are closer to the actual colours, and they look darker/dimmer in my house photos below).

My Settee Project (Part 3) Frame Repairs & Foundation Work

Note: Originally posted March 16th, now reposted with just a few edits.

Alright, it's time for part 3 of 4 of the Settee project. I finished the settee yesterday (Saturday the 15th) after another 11 hours of work on it. I went into work at 8:30am, and I finished the loveseat at 7:30pm (quick note: I may go back and forth between loveseat and settee but I'm always talking about the same piece of furniture).

I might have posted the finished piece today, but I forgot my camera at work with all the final photos. Fortunately I have many of the other photos still to share for this third post.

This post will deal with the restoration of the frame, refinishing the legs, and all the steps involved in the reupholstering of the seat (installing webbing, springs, tying, stuffing, etc.)

When I last left you, I was finally down to a bare frame:

As you can see, someone had sanded all the finish off the 4 legs. The legs (as well as the entire frame) are made of solid birch. Birch is a very common wood used for upholstery frames. The legs were originally stained to look like mahogany. You can still see some of the stain on the tops of the legs, as well as some of the stain that overlapped onto the wooden frame pieces (originally applied with a paint brush).

The entire frame was loose, so it all had to come apart.

While most of the frame pieces were in good shape, I repaired several sections that had chunks of wood torn out, or large missing chips (especially ones on corners). This included one entire strip along the right-hand side rail, and 4 smaller patches. These were fitted with the use of a router, and patched with small pieces of birch, glued with carpenter's glue.

Once all the patches were fitted, and trimmed, all the old holes in the frame (from thousands of tacks and staples over the years) were patched with a urethane glue. This is a modern "construction adhesive" that we use for the same purpose at work, and it dries to a hard rubbery consistency, which helps hold staples better than something like wood filler (which just crumbles).

The frame was originally held together with hide glue (aka "hot hide glue", or animal protein glue, which is made from hides and bone, and has been used for over 1000 years). Because of this, it was easy for me to take apart, and reglue with new hide glue. I prefer to use hide glue for 4 reasons:
- It keeps the piece historic.
- It is reversible (it dissolves in hot water).
- It sticks to itself, so you don't need to painstakingly scrape all the old glue joints.
- It is an ideal glue for chairs and high-wear pieces of furniture because it creates a rock hard immovable joint similar to epoxy. A lot of other modern adhesives have a flexible joint, which eventually fails (especially when used on chairs).

The drawbacks to hide glue are:
- It's a huge mess (although it cleans up easily with water).
- It takes a few hours to prepare the glue before you can use it.
- You have to apply it while it is hot (and be careful not to overheat it), and clamp it within just a few minutes.
- It needs to dry for at least 24 hours.

Let me just say: This was a HUGE pain in the ass to put together by myself on the living room floor. I could not find all my ratchet strap clamps, which made things harder, but I eventually managed. I used a tourniquet diagonally in the frame to ensure that the frame would stay square while it dried.

You will also note the refinished legs. These were stained with some aniline dye stain that I had on hand (the same one I used on the bathroom vanity), and top coated with hand-brushed shellac (6 or 7 coats) and wax-polished (again, to keep it historic).

One of the two small arm patches:

At one point, someone had taken a chunk out of the centre bar and fitted it incorrectly, so I filled-in this section with a block (mostly just for looks).

Here was the repaired frame once I brought it to work, ready for upholstery:

The first step was the installation of new jute webbing. We use this webbing on all our antique restorations, and we prefer to use as much as possible, to help make the upholstery last longer. If you will recall from previous photos, my sofa originally had only 4 vertical straps per side, and 3 horizontals.

Once the webbing is installed, the springs are attached. Usually we use "hog rings" which are metal rings, crimped to the springs and into the top layer of webbing. For this sofa, and simply out of personal preference, I chose to hand-stitch the springs instead. This is way more time consuming, but I just prefer it. This is the hand-stitching as viewed from the underside.

Here's the 4-way tie which I did on "day 2" at the shop.

The original spring ties were just a 4 way tie (as shown above), but I definitely wanted an 8-way, which is far superior, stronger, and will prolong the life of the upholstery. The 8 way was finished on day 3.

After the springs were done, they were covered in burlap, and then the burlap was hand-stitched to the tops of the springs to keep it in place (they had it done this way on the original as well).

The next step was to install, restore, and re-stitch the front edge roll. The original edge roll was simply wrapped-over in fresh burlap (I used a double layer), and re-stitched over the top to preserve the original shape and firmness.

Half way through the first row (and yes that's a big-ass needle):

Edge roll finished, and top-stitched to the burlap/springs. The edge roll took several hours to do.

The next steps involve the re-stuffing of the seat padding over the springs. You will notice some white cloth which I didn't mention. This was just another layer of canvas added over the burlap to help contain the straw/dust. The first layer of stuffing is about an inch of straw (yes STRAW).

Slightly more is added at the front to fill the small hollow behind the edge roll.

After this is the layer of moss and "lower grade mixed hair".

Followed by the lovely black horsehair (with a few previously repaired patches in a light coloured hair). The whole thing then gets loosely stitched all the way through into the burlap over the springs, to keep all the stuffing from shifting around.

The last layer is cotton (aka cotton felt), followed by a thin muslin cloth. In this photo, I had way too much stuffing over the front, and I had to redo the front part again to square it up. Not shown is also a thin layer (a band) of original moss stuffing which was stitched over the front of the edge roll.

Continued in Part 4!