Furniture Restoration – Veneer Repair and Carving

Furniture Restoration that requires cutting and matching veneer to repair losses on antique wood furniture can be challenging. Veneers were hand cut from the log using a 2 man saw until the 19th century. Thicknesses range from 1/16" to 1/8". The backs were smoothed and ridged with toothing planes, veneers matched and glued with hot animal hide glue using a veneer hammer to squeeze out the excess glue and effect a strong bond that often lasted several centuries. The original makers furniture also used hot sand bags as cauls to clamp veneers to complex curved surfaces. I use these same techniques for antique furniture of 18­19 c.

Irregular shaped patches of well matched grain, closely fit into a corresponding 'grave',
cut with extremely sharp chisels and gouges should be nearly invisible after dyeing, staining, blending with alcohol and shellac colors. Some veneers, figured mahogany in particular have a reflective quality in the grain that must be matched as well. An otherwise perfect patch, on a table top will look right from one direction and be glaringly wrong from the other.

Turned and carved elements such as ball and claw feet, finials for bed posts and clocks, carved crests and splats for chairs, etc. are often missing, broken, dog chewed or weakened by damp and woodworm.

During furniture restoration, matching new wood to old can be daunting.The original mahogany from Cuba and Santa Domingo was extremely dense, fine pored, richly colored and figured. Makers furniture of the later 18th c. were induced to explore what became the Georgian style. That species, unavailable commercially, can be ordered from an outfit that recovers hurricane damaged Cuban mahogany trees in the Florida keys.

The key to carving and most woodworking procedures involving hand tools is sharpening. Properly whetted gouges, better than razor sharp leave clean cut burnished surfaces that
need little or no sanding. Furniture parts turned on the lathe likewise. Clamping small irregular pieces for glue up or carving can involve some creativity. Cut up bicycle tubes and circles cut from bed springs are often effective.

Final coloring, blending and polishing with shellac results in nearly invisible in furniture restoration.