Restore an 1872 Chestnut chest

Submitted to Community Café

This small chest came in with a 6 inch split on the corner, a missing corbel on one side and a couple of cracks that were getting out of hand; in addition to the usual out of square drawers. Plus two of the pulls were deeply chipped.

When I took the pulls off I saw they were stamped 1872 and given that the chest was made of chestnut and held together with square cut nails I don't think that was the model number of the pulls but the date of manufacture. Especially since the owner told us it had been in the family for 5 generations.

Unfortunately it had been poorly refinished, probably in the 70's given the nature of the remaining finish. It was also left in a garage for years. Thankfully it hand never been painted!

After stripping the old finish using a chemical cutter and steel wool I did the mechanical repairs. The "butterflies" or "bow ties" are a traditional way for checking a cracking panel. To recover the split and missing wood on the corner I took a piece of material from the interior of the case (where else are you going to find 150 year old chestnut?) and blended it in to hide the split. Since the corbel is shaded by the case I made the replacement out of new material but stained it to match using shop blended colors. 

Finished the inside of the drawers with bullseye shellac. Shellac is a great product for trapping musty smells like tobacco (remember when folks used to smoke all the time?). Shellac would have been the period correct finish for the outside as well but the customer wanted something harder so we went with Watco satin lacquer. The top of the case got the "finishing the finish" treatment but not the sides as the effort would not have been obvious.

For the two chipped pulls I used bondo to rebuild the missing material and then sanded the bondo into the correct shape using a dremell tool and sand paper.Again mixed shop made color using dye in shellac to get the color just right.

I really need to remember to take before and after pictures for projects like this.

It should be in good service for another 50 years. Remember glue drys out over time and joints have to be reglued to keep older pieces functional.