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Thread: Advice on Trunk Restoration, Please..

  1. #1

    Advice on Trunk Restoration, Please..

    Good afternoon, been awhile since I've been online and even longer since I visited the forum so hello all. This has always been one of the best places online to get quality advice so I dropped by for thoughts on a restoration project I have sat in front of me.
    I thought there was a forum section for restoration but it seems not so I am posting here in the general forum.

    The item is a trunk on stand, nothing spectacular or especially valuable, the construction is rather workmanlike and the design not exactly refined. But, the piece has sentimental value for the owner and she wants it dressed up. Speaking to her I gather her main concerns are maintaining as much of the original material as possible and making it presentable. Technical or historical authenticity is not an issue here..

    The item has a number of wood movement related issues, cracks in the carcass, box joints opening at the corners, wobbly legs, missing bits of trim etc.. most of it I have a good enough idea how to treat. The area I have doubts about is the lid of the trunk.

    The rounded top is made out of one (very) wide board of Spanish Cedar about 7/16" thick, which I guess was soaked or steamed in order to shape it.
    This panel is rather brutally nailed to the lid structure at both ends and the front.
    The panel has a couple of major splits, one of which has diverted across the pretty much straight grain, unusually.

    I'll attach some pics, so you can see the damage. Not great quality I'm afraid, I only have a cheapo smartphone.

    I'll share the options I've considered and I'd be grateful for your thoughts or any other ideas.

    1. Reinforce the cracked areas with butterfly keys from below and inlay a veneer strip to hide the visual damage on the topside. The "graft" could possibly come from replacing the rear rail of the base (least visible part) with new material to obtain some of the original material which is quite faded in color and far straighter grained than material of the same species commonly found these days.
    This approach would give a visual register of the repair from the inside but a clean appearance outside, which I like. It also minimises the loss of original material, important to the owner as value is sentimental and she wants to get the same piece of furniture back at the end of the day!
    I would probably try to extract the nails in this case and reattach with new cut nails, but this could be messy with the existing nail holes close to the ends of the panel. I also have doubts as to whether I should remove the panel and reattach with buttons or similar to avoid future damage as the nails are obviously not providing enough "give".

    2. Remake the whole lid.. as mentioned it's going to be tough to match new material but at least the whole panel will be consistent and the appearance of the old and new sections could be more easily evened up at the finishing stage, rather than being in small patches.

    Hopefully someone can help out.. I don't have a lot of restoration experience and I will stress again that authenticity is not important here.. The owner just wants her trunk looking pretty and polished and without visible damage. Thanks.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Most of those trunks made from thin wood and nails had a cloth, leather, or fur covering. That's what made them strong. That is the treatment I would use.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    Most of those trunks made from thin wood and nails had a cloth, leather, or fur covering. That's what made them strong. That is the treatment I would use.
    Hi Mel, thanks for your thoughts.. It doesn't look like this one was ever covered in that way and I think it may to be too far from what the owner has in mind, which is a finished wood surface.

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Honestly, I'd just clean it up, deal with any structural reinforcement needed and refinish "as is". I wouldn't worry about the cracks in the top, for example. That's character you cannot re-create. No way would I make a new top. But that's me... Merely refinishing after addressing structure will "dress it up" a lot while maintaining a direct tie to its origin as an heirloom.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    Honestly, I'd just clean it up, deal with any structural reinforcement needed and refinish "as is". I wouldn't worry about the cracks in the top, for example. That's character you cannot re-create. No way would I make a new top. But that's me... Merely refinishing after addressing structure will "dress it up" a lot while maintaining a direct tie to its origin as an heirloom.
    Thanks Jim, I tend to agree with your way of looking at it, thats why I like the idea of repairs being visible on the inside.. but you know how people can't get past the concept of a fault and I suspect the owner will want to see the damage "repaired" ie. not obviously visible.

  6. #6
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    I think the key is to first understand what the client is after. If (1) she wants it to look like new, but with the original materials, you have your work cut out for you. If (2) she just wants a reasonable reminder of what it was, then you have options.

    For #1, you need to understand what cause the splitting in the first place. It looks like a cross-grain situation, where the top was nailed down to the rest of the lid which has grain running in the other direction. If the grain needs to stay oriented as-is, then I suggest removing the nails, pulling the curved top off, gluing and clamping the splits back together with a jig, and re-attaching it with proper table top fasteners, like Z-fasteners to allow expansion and contraction. I'd find some cut nails, cut them off so that they don't actually do anythign, and epoxy them into the holes for decoration.

    You'll need to explain the principles at work to the client so that she understands the original maker's mistake. If the original maker was somebody close to her, tread carefully!

    For #2, I would remove the top in the same way (pull he nails) and remake the sections of the lid that the nails attached to on the arched side, but with the grain running in the correct direction. Then you can re-nail it. I would suggest allowing the new material to acclimate for some time before working it though, to get it close to the same moisture content as the top of the lid.

    Hopefully that make sense.

  7. #7
    Well, Jeth you are welcome. I think it most likely just got an extreme sanding after the stripping. Even when chests were replaced by suitcases it was the leather, cloth, vinyl, etc. that kept them from falling apart. It might be ok for light duty without a covering.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeth chiapas View Post
    Thanks Jim, I tend to agree with your way of looking at it, thats why I like the idea of repairs being visible on the inside.. but you know how people can't get past the concept of a fault and I suspect the owner will want to see the damage "repaired" ie. not obviously visible.
    I think that's an unrealistic expectation of the owner, quite honestly. You probably want to have a sit-down discussion with her so she understands that the only way to make it pristine is to literally rebuild an identical trunk with all new material.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  9. #9
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    I agree with Jim but would like to add a few comments of my own. I own 2 trunks, one is around 300 years old and the other one about 200, even back then craftsmen were well aware of wood movement and tried to avoid forcing wide panels in place. They had access to lumber we can only dream off but yet they ripped 50" wide quarter sawn oak slabs into narrower boards and inserted splines along the edges to deal with expansion and contraction. These boards weren't even bent they were planed to create the rounded shape.
    If the cracks in this wide panel would be forced shut using modern day tools I would guarantee new ones would appear soon in near by areas. The best solution is probably to stabilize the cracks using butterfly keys on the inside to keep them from expanding - it is character not a defect, it's wood not plastic.
    Btw., it's the finish that makes a piece shine.
    Last edited by John Lankers; 08-29-2016 at 10:08 AM.

  10. #10
    Hi Jeth,

    I'm no restoration expert but for that big crack in the top I would tape the inside and carefully fill the crack with some clear epoxy from the outside. You could even color it to "sorta match" the color of the wood.

    Best of luck!

    Tim

  11. #11
    Thanks Peter for your reply.. You pretty much echo my own thoughts which helps me to feel a little more confident in my decision. I was aware of the cause of the splits and mentioned that i was considering the necessity of refixing the panel with buttons to allow it to float. Thought the idea of gluing in some"dummy" nail heads is a nice one, looking at the panel the nails have been randomly placed, the holes have become large and ugly and I would prefer to cover it all up. So my current plan is to remove and reinforce the panel, prepare the surface to create as even a curve as possible then veneer over it (am thinking of trying the iron on technique to avoid making up a former or shaped cauls for clamping) with a thin layer of similar material to cover up all the ugliness. I will then re-fix the panel using wooden buttons to allow movement. Does this seem viable?

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Tim McCarthy View Post
    ...I would tape the inside and carefully fill the crack with some clear epoxy from the outside. You could even color it to "sorta match" the color of the wood...
    This was my thought as well. Interested to see how it turns out, whatever you decide to do.

    Erik
    Felder USA Territory Representative: Central & South Texas

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by John Lankers View Post
    I agree with Jim but would like to add a few comments of my own. I own 2 trunks, one is around 300 years old and the other one about 200, even back then craftsmen were well aware of wood movement and tried to avoid forcing wide panels in place. They had access to lumber we can only dream off but yet they ripped 50" wide quarter sawn oak slabs into narrower boards and inserted splines along the edges to deal with expansion and contraction. These boards weren't even bent they were planed to create the rounded shape.
    If the cracks in this wide panel would be forced shut using modern day tools I would guarantee new ones would appear soon in near by areas. The best solution is probably to stabilize the cracks using butterfly keys on the inside to keep them from expanding - it is character not a defect, it's wood not plastic.
    Btw., it's the finish that makes a piece shine.
    Thanks John, I share the concern that cracks would reopen, or others form, if simply glued up under clamp pressure.. I intended to use butterfly keys to reinforce and stabilise the damaged areas before veneering over.. and deal with the root cause of the wood movement issue by fixing the panel in a "floating" fashion.

    Bare in mind that I'm based in southern Mexico, this is a colloquial piece and even contemporary pieces are built with methods that might seem 'primitive' or naive at times. Its definitely ne big board, though looking at it it has a streak of sapwood in the middle, which suggests it may have actually been formed out of a bigger chunk of wood rather than bent into shape.

  14. #14
    I did explain to her that the emphasis would be on preventing further structural damage and dressing it up.. In another reply I just mentioned my location-southern Mexico.. Folks here are used to seeing rusty nail heads and fairly "rustic" finishes on woodwork so I don't think the expectation will be too high.. She just wants it to stay in one piece and protected/dressed up with some finish. This never was a fine piece so I don't think 'Pristine? is the aim. Thanks for your thoughts Jim..

  15. #15
    Not sure Mel.. I mentioned the lid panel thickness at about 7/16", but the rest of the carcass is fairly substantial, about 7/8".. It being a fairly basic piece In this area of the world I would doubt it was ever covered.

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