This article is intended to be like the kitchen drawer everyone has that is packed with indispensable items (they must be indispensable or you would have cleaned them out by now) but you can’t always remember where they are or they are too much trouble to dig out so you just struggle on without them. Maybe the following items will remind you of more of the small things that you may have misplaced that make life a little easier, at least as far as antique restoration goes.
When trying to remove wooden buttons or plugs from older furniture don’t scar up the wood by digging out the plug. Instead, drill a 3/32-inch hole in the middle of the button, insert a #6 Phillips screw and extract the screw with a pair of pliers or diagonal cutting pliers (dykes) using a small wooden block as a fulcrum. Then all you have to touch up is a small hole, which can be filled with a wax pencil.
Speaking of wax pencils, don’t forget that Crayola makes a wonderful assortment of wax fill sticks. They just call them crayons instead of wax sticks, but they work just as well for small stuff like 3/32 holes in plugs. The color selection is also very good. Plain old “magic markers” from the office supply store also work very well for minor touch ups. Basic colors of brown, black, orange, green and red can be blended and the solvent in the markers is compatible with most furniture finishes. They work extremely well on small nicks and raw edges.
One of your most useful little tools can be found at the local auto parts store. This is an ordinary hose clamp, the kind used on the radiator and heater hoses in your car. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and they are extremely useful for clamping a split chair rung when a “C” clamp just won’t get the job done. They can also be used on split legs when the caster has snagged and put too much pressure on the leg. In fact they are just the ticket for almost any round object that needs clamping or stabilizing and most hose clamps can be interlocked to produce one clamp about as long as anything you would ever need. Use a piece of Pirelli webbing inside the clamp to keep from marring the wood surface. Pirelli webbing is the 2-inch wide rubber strapping used in upholstery padding. If you can’t find any Pirelli webbing use strips cut from a bicycle inner tube, an old basketball or something equivalent.
Pirelli webbing also is excellent to use under the faces of the wooden blocks you use with pipe clamps and bar clamps to keep the blocks from slipping on a smooth surface. The webbing will also give you some help by providing traction for the blocks on slightly curved surfaces that need to be clamped.
Speaking of things under clamp blocks, remember to use waxed paper under the blocks whenever they may come in contact with wet glue. Having a clamp block glued to your work is not good form and removal can be a real problem. Sometimes it gets rather awkward trying to manage a long clamp, two clamp blocks and pieces of waxed paper all at the same time. Give yourself a hand by wrapping the waxed paper around the blocks and staple it to the back of the block. That frees up part of one hand.
Of course you know to clean up excess wood glue with a wet rag. However, sometimes when you use the wet rag it leaves a thin smear on a finished surface. After using the wet rag wipe the same area with a clean dry rag to remove the smear. It also helps to frequently rinse out your wet rag with warm water to minimize smears.
The warm wet rag can also be useful the day after clamping when you remove the clamps and blocks. Almost always there will be some excess glue hiding under the clamp block or seeping out from the edge of the waxed paper. Rather than scraping or sanding this excess off and creating the need for touch up, try using the wet rag. The excess glue is usually thin enough to still be susceptible to removal by water. Then clean up with the dry rag.
Wet rags are also the thing to use to remove wet water spots such as spills or rain drops on bare wood. If you use a dry rag on bare wood a spot will remain even after it dries. A wet or damp rag wiped across a wet spot will allow the bare wood to dry evenly and produce a uniform color. Be sure to wipe a large area or preferably the entire surface if possible to avoid streaking.
A hard thing to do is to disassemble a chair, clean out all the old glue, reglue and clamp and have the chair turn out to be square and level with all four feet on the ground when you are all done. Very few floors and almost no work benches are perfectly flat, but virtually all table saw beds are. After you clamp a chair, place it on your saw table while the glue is still wet and see if all four feet are flat on the table. If not, adjust your clamping arrangement until they are. Also, sight the front and back rails with your engineer’s eye to make sure they are parallel. The same with the side rails. All four feet can be on the ground but the chair still may not be square. Sighting the rails will give you a chance to correct it while the glue is wet.
Don’t throw away your old sanding belts from the belt sander when they get dull. Cut a piece of plywood the right size and slip the old belt on the block of wood. It will provide you with a great shaping tool for attacking those really tough edges.
While you’re at it, remember to use silicone spray on your drawer slides, including that junk drawer where you’re keeping all those handy supplies!
His book “How To Be a Furniture Detective” is available for $18.95 plus $3 S&H. Also available is Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 S&H) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques by Fred Taylor” ($25 + $3 S&H). For more information call 800-387-6377, fax 352-563-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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