restoration

Mentors

Recently I learned that Fred Schindler died.  This picture is us from 2013.  I recount my earlier faulty conclusion about his demise here.

I have always considered him not only a dear life-long friend but my greatest mentor in the finishing/restoration trade as he hired me when I was 18 (?) and I worked for him off-and-on for five years (the “off” of that was when I moved to attend college).  He said he always appreciated the fact that when I asked him for a job and he asked me what I could do, I replied, “I know how to sand and sweep the floor.”  (I learned over time that guys asking for work would promise the moon regarding their abilities, always falsely.)  I could do a little more than that after two years as a “scratch and dent man” but did not want to over promise my abilities, which were nowhere up to the standards of his shop.  I knew of Schindler & Son because one of the furniture stores I had worked for used them for special custom finishing projects.

As far as I know Fred was pretty much self-taught but he was the best finisher I ever saw when it came to matching a new surface to an old one.  And the business had plenty of old surfaces to work on, as probably the premier antique restorers for old money Palm Beach clients including Charles and Jayne Wrightsman whose collection of classical French furnishings was unparalleled. The business was so successful that the shop phone number was unlisted.  The velocity of projects there was mind-numbing in retrospect; I probably restored/refinished a couple hundred antiques a year while working there.  Conversely, while at SI I generally conserved a piece or two, maybe three or four, every year.  The wealth of that experience at Schindler & Son formed a foundation for all my work ever since.

While Fred was selfless in transferring his knowledge and skills, his father Fernand (“Pop”) was a bit pricklier and reticent but even he and I formed a close bond.  Being the victim of good upbringing, I treated Pop with respect and admiration, and he reciprocated by teaching more about marquetry and furniture making (especially ancient French Furniture) than I can even fully comprehend.  Pop was retired by the time I came on the scene, but he showed up for a couple hours almost every day, guiding me through scores of restoration projects.

My regard for this father-and-son team is such that one of the Roubo books is dedicated to them.

With Fred’s death I have been recalling three other great work-related mentors of mine — Frank Tautzenberger, a curmudgeonly Hungarian immigrant who seemed about 200 years old and operated the warehouse corner repair shop in the first furniture store I ever worked and shuffled around in bedroom slippers making damage disappear; John Kuzma, the master of the foundry pattern shop who taught me about the meaning of precision; and Bert van Zelst, my long-time unit director at SI who showed me what disciplined curiosity looked like.  Each of them imparted an unspeakable wealth of knowledge and insight, and oh the stories I could tell…  Perhaps another day.

When I contemplate my own role as a mentor to other craftsmen and measure it against what these men did to for me, alas I come up short.

Farewell for now Fred, I will see you soon enough in Paradise.

Sometimes You Just Wind Up With Kindling

Somewhere along the path Mrs. Barn picked up a rocking chair that I have managed to break three times, and is now destined for the kindling box down next to the woodstove.  The first damage occurred when I put my behind through the aged embossed paper seat, which I replaced with some leather from my leather scrap drawer and some random upholstery nails.  So far so good.

Last summer I sat in the chair and leaned back to rock and the proper right stile snapped off several inches above the seat, so off it went to the repair pile in the barn.  The break was the worst type of damage, a cross-grain break in brittle wood.

 

I spent portions of four days on this repair, first reintegrating the element with glue just to establish the previous configuration, then excavating in order to inset a beefy spline running several inches past the break in both directions.  Though completely intrusive this is really the only way to regain any kind of structural integrity to a broken piece.

I observed during this process that this was perhaps the most brittle wood I had ever encountered, it was impossible to get a clean cut as the wood shattered as soon as I touched it with a newly sharpened tool.

Once the spline was inset using epoxy adhesive I sat in the chair to make sure the repair would hold before I invested any time in the cosmetic work to make the repair disappear.

In a moment after putting my full weight on the chair the originally damaged stile snapped off about two inches below the inset spline, and the other stile immediately followed suit.

Sometimes you really are left with nothing but firewood.  I’ll have to find a replacement because this was Mrs. Barn’s favorite porch rocking chair.

Busy day tomorrow, hospital check-in at 6AM (two hours away from us) knee surgery at 8:30 (hopefully, the covid swab on Saturday put my sinuses into full warpath mode ever since) probably cranky the rest of the day.