Furniture Detective: Watch the muntins when reassembling antique furniture

This article is a continuation of last issue’s “Take down” column (
Don’t fall to pieces when disassembling furniture), in which the steps involved in taking apart a Colonial Revival bookcase secretary for refinishing were outlined and discussed. — Editor

Assuming that the refinish job has been completed,  it is now time to reassemble this project and admire the final product.

Reassembly is not necessarily just a rerun in reverse of the furniture take-down process. Some things may have changed with the piece during the refinishing, especially if you did extensive repair work, and certain “sensitivities” must be taken into account, such as the aversion glass panels seem to have to hammer strokes in their vicinity. A good place to start is with the “body count” you created upon disassembly.

Go over the list and make sure you have all the pieces within easy reach and that each piece has, in fact, been refinished and accounted for. Then, review your notes from the disassembly process concerning missing, mismatched or broken screws, unusual hardware arrangements and/or other similar quirks of the individual components of the piece.

Finally, before actually putting it all together again, visualize the piece fully assembled to get a mental picture of your final destination. The general rule of thumb is to first assemble all the component pieces and then assemble the piece.

Assuming that you have cleaned and sealed all your hardware, including hinges, pulls and locks, start with the main drawers by attaching the appropriate hardware and locks.

Test fit them in the case. A little silicone spray lubricant is in order here, even if they work well. Now, set them aside and move on to the cubbyhole drawers and door. Fit the drawers to the cubbyhole case, lube them as above, and set them aside. Attach the hinges of the door to the door itself first, as opposed to attaching the hinges to the case first.

Be sure to observe your original marking pattern. You want to be sure that every hinge is in its original position on the door; they are much happier that way. Now, attach the hinges to the case. Set the cubbyhole assembly with doors and drawers aside.

Turning your attention to the drop front, attach any relevant hardware at this point, such as escutcheons, key surrounds, locks, pulls and hinges, and, you guessed it, set it aside.

Next are the glass-paneled doors. The rule here is to install the glass last. Attach pulls, handles, locks, elbow catches, escutcheons and other miscellaneous hardware first. Then, attach the hinges in their proper places. Only after all the hard stuff is in place do you bring out the glass for cleaning before installation. After cleaning, set the glass aside, and install the muntin in the door first.

Muntins are traditionally mounted outside the glass to give the appearance of separate panes of glass in the door. However, if the muntins are in poor condition, warped or cracked, they can be installed on the inside of the glass to preserve them while still somewhat maintaining the appearance of individual glass panels. It’s better than leaving them out altogether.

After positioning the muntins and glass, carefully install the molding strips that secure the glass. Use heavy cardboard or mat board to protect the glass from your hammer  as you tap in the small nails. After both doors are assembled, set them aside. They will be the last items used in the final assembly.

Using a very small amount of water-based craft glue, such as “Tacky Glue,” install pieces of felt on the top sides of the drop-front supports wherever they touch the drop itself.

Then, slide the  supports into their slots from the back of the cabinet, making sure the operator arms move freely in their space and that the added felt does not make the supports bind in their positions. If they do tend to bind, plane a very small amount from the bottom of each support. With the supports fully extended, place the drop front in position, and install the screws in the hinges. Then, install the screws in the support operator arms. Now the drop front should open and close perfectly, and the supports should extend when the drop is open. Adjust as required to achieve smooth operation, and use silicone spray on the supports from INSIDE the cabinet.

Slide the cubbyhole assembly into place from the rear of the cabinet, and nail it from the inside rear to the top deck, making sure that it is level across the top and does not sag in the middle. Next, install the large, lower drawers, and check their fit again. Now is the time to install stop blocks in the rear of the cabinet if the drawers slide in too far.

When everything works properly — drop front, cubby door and drawers  and large lower drawers — it is time to install the lower back panel using small nails.

With the lower-case assembly now completed, slide the upper-case shelves in place from the rear, if they fit in a rabbetted slot, and nail on the upper back panel. Hang the doors by installing the screws in the hinges, and you are now done — unless the doors don’t work. If they bind or rub on the top or bottom of the case, try leveling the piece using coins under various feet until the doors swing freely. Remember, very few floors are perfectly level, and every time this piece is moved it will require re-leveling. If you managed to reassemble this project without breaking something or scratching your new finish job, you have done some good work.

Congratulations. ?

Send your comments, questions and pictures to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or Visit Fred’s Web site:

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


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