(Pictures are on ABPW.)
This bureau came to be in my shop when my wife's Aunt moved into an
assisted living facility about five years ago. She's about ninety and
all I know is that it was in her parent's home before it was in hers.
She thought, "Tom might be able to do something with it."
I don't know for sure but I figure that it may have come from one of
the old furniture stores in Philadelphia, rather than straight from a
maker's shop. There are no maker's marks or tags on the piece. It
shows some handwork in the drawer dovetails and carving. The primary
wood is mahogany and the secondary is mostly poplar. There are no
dust panels and the drawers simply ride on cleats, of which few are
It has a white marble top, flecked with gray, which is not shown in
My best guess is that it was constructed somewhere between the 1880's
and 1920 but that is a flat out guess.
I finally got around to giving it a lookover this morning and the old
thing has been through some hard times. Some of the molding detail
has been broken off or abraided. The drawer runners are either gone
or worn down to nothing. The bottoms of the drawer sides are either
hollowed out or broken off.
It does have an interesting burl veneer on the drawer faces, which
doesn't show much, due to the condition of the finish.
The essential joinery appears to be solid.
The wheels on the bottom fit to the feet with tapered shafts, almost
like a Morse taper.
This isn't a piece that I am particularly attracted to on the merits
of its design or execution. My real interest in it is in fixing it up
for my daughter to have some day, simply because she would be the
fourth or fifth generation of her family to have owned it.
If it weren't for that, I'd probably toss it.
My question is: How far should I go and what methods should I use?
My WAG on this is that it would take about fifty shop hours to bring
it back to pretty much how it looked when it was purchased.
I don't think it has any historical value, except in the family sense
but I could be wrong about that.
Years ago I worked on some furniture that did have historical value
and I would make my repairs in such a way as to be reversible and so
as to be obvious that they were repairs. I'm not sure that's the way
to go with this piece.
My initial thought is to make the repairs as nearly invisible as
possible, so as to have it look the way it did when it was new.
I thought to knock the sides off the drawers, trim off the hollowed
out bottoms of the sides, put a quarter inch maple rub strip on and
sand the old and the new together - then shellac, rather than leave
them raw, as they are now.
I figured to make new runners out of maple, instead of the original
Where surface moldings are broken or missing, I thought I'd run new
ones and blend them in with the old.
I haven't tested the finish yet but I thought to clean it up real good
as a first step and then decide how far to take things. It is either
shellac or a kind of varnish but is certainly not lacquer. I would
like to get that burl to pop.
Anyways, these are my poor thoughts. I am looking for wisdom and
opinion, which I have often found to be in plentiful supply on the
Thomas J.Watson - Cabinetmaker (ret.)
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email)