With the first split successfully re-integrated it was time to turn my attentions to bringing it all together. Since the previous damage(s) resulted in enough loss to the fracture margin the two pieces would not align perfectly, I needed to bring them into proximity using shaped cauls.
My first attempt used a plaster mold made along the outside of the larger piece. I simply wrapped the wood piece in shrink wrap and cast plaster, hoping to use the resulting piece as a clamping and aligning form. I just was not happy enough with the result.
Instead I used the actual tubing from the gun, around which the pump action made the forestock slide back and forth along the tube. To make sure I had the right amount of clearance, and to provide the perfect clamping form, I wound the tube with three layers of waxed paper. This worked perfectly.
Putting the wrapped tube inside the larger of the two broken pieces, I brushed the West epoxy onto both gluing surfaces, the placed them in contact with each other.
Using rubber bands I gently moved the two pieces into the closest configuration possible, and when that was accomplished I used some small pieces of masking tape to hold everything firm, and let it sit overnight.
The next morning I mixed a small amount of epoxy and added some more to fill the voids in the break. The following day I smoothed off the excess epoxy with dental tools and needle files. The result was acceptable.
To add an additional level of robustness to the stock I prepared a piece of nylon sheer drapery to served as a “bandage” on the inside of the repaired split.
When it was ready to apply I brushed some epoxy on the inside wall of the forestock, then saturated the “bandage” while it was sitting on a piece of mylar then moved it into place.
With the small sheet of mylar and the epoxied bandage in place, I used a tube balloon, inflated in situ, to provide the necessary gentle pressure to make sure the epoxy saturated nylon sheer was in direct and intimate contact with the surface.
When I dismantled the glue set up the next morning I was delighted to see that it was successful. A minute with some fine sandpaper wrapped around a large dowel to smooth the inside surface and the structural repair was completed.
The salvaged forestock slid perfectly up and down the tube.
To be in concert with the restoration of the other parts of the shotgun, I lightly cleaned and sanded the outside of the re-unified forestock before applying a couple coats of Tru Oil finish.
I returned the repaired piece to Bob and he was delighted with the end result. He will complete the coatings homogenization.
On my recent jaunt through The Heartland I stopped to visit my old friend RickP in northwest Arkansas, and got to see in person the amazing table Rick researched over a two decade stretch and constructed from around 2010-2013.
The original table, shown above, was excavated from the c. 800 B.C. archaeological site of Gordion, Turkey.
The table is a tour de force of design and fabrication, and one of the most astounding examples of contemporary woodworking I have encountered. While the design might be almost three thousand years old, the fabrication is obviously contemporary, as Rick is gladly still with us and approximately my vintage. The detailing on this table is simply eye-popping.
To me the most compelling overall design feature is the means by which the original builder three millenia ago figured out how to make a four legged table compatible with what was probably an uneven, perhaps even dirt, floor. What they did, both the original maker and Rick, I mean, was to combine two of the legs into one foot, in essence turning the four legged table, which would always be a problem on an uneven floor, into a three legged table, which would never be unsteady.
The original table was constructed of boxwood, if I recall correctly, while Rick used ancient kauri wood for the base and walnut for the top. In keeping with the flavor of the wood, Rick used kauri copal resin as the finish, employing a varnish component far more ancient than even the original table.
Rick just sent me a copy of the paper he presented at the American Institute for Conservation Annual Meeting two years ago, where I was part of a presentation at another session of that meeting even though our paths did not cross there. Rick’s paper will be available at some point at the archive for the papers from the Wooden Artifact Group of the AIC, and I hope in the meantime that Rick can someday get it into the more popular woodworking literary world.
I mean, who wouldn’t be fascinated by the prospect of replicating King Midas’ table? I know there are features of the table informing my future furniture-making designs.
Immediately on my return from Cedar Rapids, I reloaded my duffel with clean clothes and headed off for week of work near Mordor on the Potomac. The purpose of the trip was completing the conservation of the second of the two tortoiseshell-veneer mirror frames. The process for conserving the second frame was conceptually similar to that employed for the first one a couple of months ago. The only substantive difference was that the areas of damage this time were larger but fewer and “cleaner”than for the first mirror.
As before, once the mirror was in the work space the first task was to systematically work my way around it to document the specific areas of interest (read: damage) for the treatment.
Once that was completed I proceeded to clean the surface in order to remove the accretions of oil, a traditional but ineffective, somewhat deleterious maintenance protocol and get it all ready for the next step. These depositions were dealt with easily through the damp wiping with naphtha on cosmetics pads from the pharmacy, almost instantly removing the molasses-like oil and dirt amalgam.
The incursion of oil underneath the lifted tortoiseshell veneers was resolved through gentle insertion of a toothpick or bamboo skewer to lift the affected area, then the insertion of blue shop paper towels and wicking them with naphtha, sometimes several times, to remove enough of the contaminating oil to render the glue margins acceptably clean.
The lifted tortoiseshell was re-adhered to the frame substrate with 192 Special grade of hot animal hide glue from Milligan & Higgins, and pressed into proper configuration during gluing through the application of shaped polyethylene foam block cauls, with two pieces of food vacuum-pack wrapping membrane in between the tortoiseshell and the foam caul.
Once the glue was hard, I removed the cauls and separating membranes, cleaned off any wandering glue with distilled water on pads, then applied Mel’s Wax to the entire surface, which brought the mirror frame to life!
In a way, the most challenging part of the project was the transport of 300-year-old mirrors the few miles from the client’s home to my work space safely, and the handling of them at each end. To accomplish this I fabricated a custom tray/litter with XPS bumpers and supports below and above the engraved and mirrored glass, with the whole unit being suspended in air through the gentle application of winching straps.
Safely completed and transported and re-hung in the client’s magnificent home, I joined the client in celebrating the project and the beauty reclaimed for the mirrors, and was delighted to be photographed alongside the second one.
The final steps for conserving the tortoiseshell mirror frame were to make sure all the excess glue was cleaned off and the surface was given a final gleaning and polishing with the incomparable Mel’s Wax.
As I mentioned earlier, the tortoiseshell veneer was very fragile in general, and the simple gentle tasks of cleaning and polishing caused three new areas to pop up, so I had to deal with them immediately as well, exactly as described int the previous post.
Mel’s Wax goes on effortlessly, and in the end yields a near-flawless archival protective surface. It goes on like sunscreen lotion, then goes dull as it dries, and buffs perfectly with almost anything. Paper towel, flannel, linen, cotton rags, anything.
As always, the very last thing was to strap the mirror to its litter, take it back to the client’s house, and hang it up. I must say, it does look pretty good.
I will work on the second mirror once the storm of Studley calms down.
Recently I had the chance to work on a fairly snazzy roll-top writing desk, which needed a bit of conservation. It was built around 1770 by arguably the greatest furniture makers who ever lived, and is prominent in the collection of the elegant museum dedicated to European fine and decorative arts.
A short section of cross-grain molding had become detached, and part of my charge was to examine the desk from top to bottom to assess its overall condition. I did, and it is in fine shape.
As was clear from the back of the moldings and the ground under them, this was not the first time these pieces had separated from the mother ship. I counted three distinct campaigns of glue, and there could have been many more.
The pieces fit their place nearly perfectly even dry, with only the tiniest bit of rocking due to the excess glue under them.
My strategy was to soften the extant glue and remove only a bit of it, so I poulticed the glue line on the desk with some blue paper towel, cut to fit the space precisely and moistened with water.
I did the same to the backs of the detached pieces.
After a quarter hour or so the glue had softened and swelled to the point I wanted, and I removed the worst of the clumps and left the remainder in place. For adhesive I turned to my long time fave, Milligan and Higgins 192 Special grade hot animal hide glue. I had prepared this the days before the treatment, soaking it first in water overnight, then cooking it twice the day before I went. A little dab of that, a minute of holding them in place with my infertips to gel, and I was done.
I packed up and left, reflecting on the fact that the opportunity to care for furniture from the greatest menuisiers of all time is exactly the reason I started down this path 43 years ago.
The tortoiseshell surface of the mirror frame was replete with areas of delaminated and detached (lifted) shell veneer, with even more numerous areas that were delaminated but not detached as they were still adhered at their margins.
This was particularly prevalent at the seams of the shell pieces.
Nevertheless as most of these regions were stable I left them alone. They are not at imminent risk, so I can always return to them should the situation change.
The main concern was those pieces flapping in the breeze, or in danger of becoming so. Those were the areas where I needed to introduce adhesive underneath them, then clamp them in place until it dried.
I chose Milligan and Higgins 192 Special hide glue for my adhesive; it has more than enough shear strength, and is much more tacky quicker than the standard hide glue (eliminating the need to add glycerine as a tackifying plasticizer). I soaked it overnight, 1 part glue to 2 parts distilled water, then cooked it twice on my coffee cup warmer before using it.
With my fingertips, or often with bamboo skewers and hors d’oeuvers toothpicks I gently lifted the edges of the tortoisehell and inserted my glue brush underneath, working it until there was excess glue present.
I then pressed down the shell by hand to swab off most of the excess glue, then laid down a piece of this plastic sheet (I really like food vacuum packing membrane for my gluing barriers; I bought several rolls on ebay for about fifty cents) followed by a shaped caul of polyethylene foam.
I made the cauls from scraps of foam left over form various projects, hollowed out with a few strokes of a convex rasp.
When in place, their concave shape provides admirable clamping pressure on the convex surface of the mirror frame.
I placed a foam caul over each section being glued, followed by a piece of plywood backing and a clamp. Extreme clamping pressure was not needed, only enough to hold the shell in contact with the substrate until the glued hardened. I left it over night and removed it in the morning.
I was fortunate to have success with every glue-down, not always a certainly when working on a contaminated surface and substrate.
Once I finished with documenting and photographing the mirror frame, with special attention given to the areas of fracture and delaminated tortoiseshell, I began the process of cleaning it.
Like a legion of its brethren, this mirror had undergone a longstanding and typical process of being oiled periodically in order to spruce-up the appearance. In this particular instance, I believe the oil used was olive oil. Unfortunately, this process also contaminates every presentation surface, and if there are any cracks through which the oil can wick, the gluing margins as well. Equally unfortunate is that oiling tortoiseshell provides at best a temporary luster, while producing a long-lasting gooey residue that adheres airborne particles to the surface.
To address this I cleaned the entire surface of the mirror frame three times with naphtha on soft disposable shop towel pieces, until I was satisfied that the surfaces were clean. Somewhat more challenging was the incursion of the oil underneath the areas of lifted tortoiseshell. For these I not only needed to dissolve the oil but the transfer it to a spongy material in order to imbibe the oil into the sponge.
Once again I used the blue paper shop towels, cutting small pieces to gently slide into the openings of the fractured and lifted tortoiseshell with a thin spatula. Once in place, I used a dropper to wick naphtha into the paper sponge and let that wick up to the end, underneath the delaminated tortoiseshell, contacting, dissolving, and transferring the oil into the disposable sponge.
After a couple iterations of this, with two or three hours of contact each time, I let it dry thoroughly and tested one area and found it to be adequately cleaned in order to proceed.
I’m currently working on the first of a pair of matching 5-1/2 foot tall mirrors which have suffered some pretty extensive delamination of the tortoiseshell veneer.
One of the most critical issues for artifacts like this is to get them safely from Point A (the client’s home) to Point B (my studio). For large planar artifacts like this I always construct a litter to which the artifact will be lashed so 1) I don’t have to handle the big clumsy thing any more than necessary, and 2) provide a safe housing for the artifact in transit.
My long time woodworking pal Tom was able to help me get the mirror down off the wall and into the litter easily. The litter had clean foam pad/slats onto which the mirror was laid, and once in place blocking was glued to the slats to lock the mirror in place.
Once the blocks were set (I used hot melt glue) I added loose battens to the top of the mirror, directly in line with the slats underneath it. This allowed for gentle restraints without adding any undue stress to the 300-year old engraved glass.
Using some upholstery webbing I had, I draped it over the battens and screwed it to the frame of the litter, snug but not tight.
One the packing was complete, we went straight out the front door and into the rear of the van and a half hour later it was resting comfortably in my basement studio at my daughter’s house.
Another project new to the studio is this three-foot-tall carved wooden figure of St. Joseph. My task will be to sculpt a new arm, which means I will need to look at a lot of similar sculptures, then fabricate a new one to make the sculpture seem whole.
One thing I will probably do to make the task “read” more sensibly is to apply an easily removable whitewash over the entire surface so that I can concentrate more fully on the form. I will also try to discern a color scheme to see if there was polychrome or if it was simply painted to mimic plaster or marble.
As I mentioned recently I have been blessed with a rich buffet of challenging conservation projects. While not all of them are tortoiseshell, it does seem to be a recurring theme.
This project is a two-part carved tortoiseshell vessel (it has a inner, smooth cylinder to hold whatever it is supposed to hold) I believe to be a brush or writing implement holder, but I could be wrong on that. There are several sites on the outer carved shell that are missing some carving, and a number of other locales where the shell is fractured. It is a challenge to be sure.
This place is missing the carving. It is roughly the size of the fingernail on my pinkie. Good thing I know how to do this stuff.
A second and perhaps even more challenging project is this molded tortoiseshell box with a split in the top. What makes this project so problematic is that the margins adjacent to the split are not aligned, so there is some fundamental material manipulation involved.
As the project moves forward I will be updating you on both what I am doing but why I am doing it. Amusing that a sheer nylon drapery is integral to both solutions.