Sunday, November 03, 2013

Amazing Firewood

Hmmm... how to start this post. I guess I should start at the beginning. My boss Pierre is good friends with a nearby antiques restorer, Enrique. Enrique has already given me an old shop vac, and he's been doing some major cleaning around his shop lately. In the midst of this cleanup, he's gotten rid of a lot of old scrap wood, and other "garbage".

I believe a lot of this old wood was burned at a get-together a few weeks ago, and it was Pierre who told Enrique to save a few pieces that I might be interested in, which were mainly a bunch of "old doors".

This was maybe a week ago, and I finally got to see them and take them home yesterday (Friday). In addition to the old doors was an old gilded frame, and just before coming, Enrique asked over the phone if I'd also want an old desk.

These were all going to be burned as fire wood. If this is what was thrown out, I can just imagine what he kept.

Most of the doors are quite large (nearly 4 feet tall), and most are over an inch thick. Most of them date to the 1800's, but a few may be old enough to be in the 1700's.

I quite liked this set. Enrique said they were nice, but too plain.

These look very, VERY old. Possibly early 1800's, definitely French Quebec, and likely from an old buffet/hutch.

These are probably the oldest ones, and possibly into the late 1700's. They have very rough carpentry (all hand planed, and hand carved). The back has a lot of rough tool marks. They are stained very dark, but I think they may be yellow pine?

Back panel detail:

This one is quite nice. It has sort of a Gothic or Arabesque arch, old blue paint, and the back is grain painted.

The back has the letters Y (or J) B.

This is the smallest, and roughest of the bunch. It has woodworm, rot, and some broken parts.

Here is the lovely gilded frame:

It needs work, but I should be able to cast/copy a good portion, and use it to duplicate the broken sections. What's nice about it is that there are 3 or 4 shades of gold used on the frame, and it's quite deep and elaborate.

The frame is quite large as well. Here you can see it propped up in the living room, and it's nearly the height of the love seat.

There was also this lovely inlay panel:

It seems to have been cut out from something, since all 4 edges are rough, and it's too thick to have been a door, so I'm not sure where it was taken from. It could potentially make a nice little table top.

It has some losses, and a rough surface, but I think it can be saved.

The show stopper, however, is the desk.

The desk will need a TON of work to restore, but it's a very interesting and lovely piece. It appears to be mostly walnut, so if you can use your imagination, it could be really gorgeous once it's done.

Here was just the empty base (which has completely fallen apart and is barely being held together by a few tiny wooden strips) right before I put it all back together:

And here's what I've got to work with. As-is, it's missing several major sections, such as the bottom skirt (toe-kick), the drop-down lid (writing surface), the left side lid support, and the right side slant (triangle piece).

The interior drawers have curly birch veneered fronts, and the original ring pulls.

I was glad to see that I have one of the two lid supports, because I have never seen any like these.

The left one is missing. Enrique said he might still have it somewhere, but I won't hold my breath.

The top is in very rough shape. There are several spills where the wood has swollen-up, and the finish is toast. I'm also wondering if it might have had a bookcase top, since there are shadows, and a track where there might have been a back board (it has been filled-in with a strip of pine).

Left side slant is cracked.

Both bottom sides are separated (the 2 boards that make-up the side came apart at the glue joint):

The right side also has a huge broken chunk at the front (bottom), which will need to be patched/repaired, and a broken chunk at the back, which won't show under the toe-kick (I may still patch it).

Missing right-side slant:

The 8 handles from the drawers are missing (matching ring pulls), and two of the 4 keyhole escutcheons are also missing. Luckily these are made of wood, and I should be able to copy them on my lathe.

All of the 10 drawers have hand-cut dovetails at the front AND backs.

Something interesting, and that I'll have to be very careful with, is the hand written calligraphy labels (on thin fragile paper) over some of the pigeon holes. They are in French, and have titles like:
Lettres privées (Private Letters)
Comptes (Accounts)
Lettres reçues (Received Letters)
Lettres envoyées (Sent Letters)
Reçus (Receipts)
Divers (Miscellaneous)
Certificats d'Arpentage (Survey Certificates)
Terres de la couronne (Crown Lands)
Rapports (Reports)
Bureau des Arpenteurs (Office of Surveyors)

I am not quite ready to work on this project, but I decided to at least clean it up a bit, so I removed all the worn-out and chewed-up felt, clean-off the dust, and you can also see in this photo that all the pigeon hole dividers are loose, and will need to be reglued.

I also removed the two later hinges, and you can see that the desk originally had 3 smaller hinges.

It should be a fun project, but I have other ones I want to finish first, like the grandfather clock.


  1. The doors, especially the rounded top door, would make a great head board for a bed. You've got some work ahead of you, interesting pieces!

    1. Hi Sara, I don't think the doors would be wide enough (maybe only about 40"). I would prefer to use them on a reproduction cabinet, but I suppose that "decorative use" would still be better than seeing them used as firewood. ;)

  2. Creo que has conseguido un buen escritorio de oficina de finales del siglo XIX, tienes por delante un gran trabajo de restauración, espero verlo, saludos Valentín.

    1. Valentín, Hopefully the translation is fairly accurate:

      Sí, será un hermoso escritorio una vez restaurada del es. Definitivamente voy a compartir avances y fotos una vez que empiezo a trabajar en ello. Gracias.

  3. Beautiful stuff! I'm so glad you got to rescue it all.

  4. Whoa, congratulations!

    The hinges on the oldest doors look a lot like the ones used on both interior and exterior doors in continental Europe for a long time (actually well into the 1960s). How are they attached to the doors?

  5. could you use a pair of those pretty doors on a replacement bookcase top for the desk?

    1. I thought about that, but they're too high. the bookcase is nearly 50", and most of the doors are around 45, then I'd also need extra height for the top/crown/apron, and it puts me well over my 100" ceilings, plus the proportions would be waaaaaay off.

  6. Oooohh, treasures!! How neat! The doors from the 1700s, amazing!! And that desk is awesome. What are you going to do with all the doors? ...It just amazes me what people will throw out.

  7. Yeah, burn it. ;-)

    That's an absolutely amazing find and I can't believe it was deemed "firewood." Really, all of that is simply awesome and you've got a great find! Congrats.