Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Repairing 400 year old furniture

This is an Italian walnut credenza, one of a matching pair that flank the living room on the west wall, possibly Emilian or Tuscan, dating from the early 17th century. The central panel is a hinged door that pulls open from the center knob.

While putting some things away in this, one day recently, I noticed that when I opened the door, the upper hinge slid out of its anchored location in the frame around the opening, due to the weight of the door in the open position. The 2 following pictures show the hinge with the door closed, then open:

From the inside of the credenza, due to the wear of the wood around the "corkscrewed" tail piece of the hinge where it is embedded in the frame, you can see the ingenious method of anchoring the frame half of the hinge in the frame. The wear is also the reason for the movement of the hinge, which would eventually cause the further breakdown of wood and/or iron tail piece and the failure of the door hinge to hold the door in place. (click on pic to enlarge)

Each hinge consists of a piece anchored to the frame, and a piece anchored to the door. The frame piece has a short pin protruding up that holds the door part of the hinge, the exposed part of which is fashioned into a cylinder that fits over the pin. When the door is opened, it can be lifted off the pins of the frame parts of the hinges and set aside.

Repair was accomplished using a 2 part gel epoxy that was forced into the void where the tailpiece was loose. After that cured, a latex wood patch compound was applied over the roughened area and a walnut stain was used to blend the tone of the area. None of the repair is visible unless you stick your head inside and use a flashlight, so I didn't get too fussy making the repair invisible.

It's always tricky to presume to repair something of this vintage. If this were a museum instead of a home, we probably wouldn't be using these beautiful antiques as furniture that gets used as part of a lived-in place, so they wouldn't be subject to on-going wear. But since it does get used, and wouldn't be of much use if the door fell off every time it was opened, I decided to give it a go, with the goal of making the repair completely unapparent to the casual observer or user. From a casual observation of the exterior, it appears that previous repairs had to be made in other places that did not allow for that criterium to be achieved.

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