18 November 2015

A thin veneer of success

Another Trade Me purchase a while ago was a small (600mm diameter) side table, advertised as 'solid mahogany', but with a damaged leather top.

When I picked it up it was immediately apparent that, although the legs looked mahogany-ish, the top was most definitely plywood.  A quick look at the underside revealed its provenance - made in England in the 1970's.  Oh well, after some negotiation I purchased it anyway for $30, with the aim to do 'something' with it.  Real leather for a replacement top seemed to be difficult to find in the sort of thickness I was after, so the table sat on top of a cupboard in the workshop for several months.

Then, on a visit to a specialty plywood merchant recently I noticed some leftover loose veneers of Sapele Pomelle or figured African Mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum) for sale for $3 each.  I bought three sheets, each one not quite big enough to cover the table top. 

These are modern machine peeled veneers, only 0.5mm thick and they were already starting to split, but maybe I could come up with an appealing pattern.

By the time I discarded the damaged and split pieces there was just enough for eight triangular sections.  Having never done any veneering before and not having access to a vacuum press or hide glue I though it would be a good learning exercise at the least.  I made up a board using 20mm MDF wrapped in kitchen paper to stop the glue adhering to it.

Then I glued the veneers using standard wood glue and placed the board on top, weighted it with a very flat paving stone and then clamped everything in place.

Unfortunately, as I suspected, the veneer wrinkled quite a bit due to the water content in the PVA glue.

To add to the problem, I managed to sand right through the wafer thin veneer in a couple of places in attempt to flatten out the wrinkles.

Next, the copper plated aluminium claw feet were pretty scruffy - bare patches of aluminium were showing through.  Based on my previous success re-plating the steel wardrobe handles I thought this would be an easy fix.

What I didn't count on was just how reactive aluminium is in a hydrochloric acid solution.  Adding insult to injury, two of the feet dropped off the wire hangers into the etching bath and by the time I fished them out the feet looked like this.

Never mind.  The table is still perfectly serviceable, even with its wrinkly top and missing feet.  Here it is with about six thin coats of shellac applied.

Not a complete success, but a great learning opportunity.

10 November 2015

Bargain Wardrobe

As mentioned previously here, another oak wardrobe was purchased off Trade Me for $29 back in mid 2014.

It was a bargain, but not without issues.  The main one being either past or current borer activity.  There was no way to tell whether the little critters were still alive so it had a liberal application of permethrin and then spent the next year undercover (along with another piece with similar Swiss cheesiness).

With no sign of fresh activity, I began addressing some of the other issues.

Some new American oak trim was installed to match the existing (left hand side door jamb and bottom moulding in photo above).

A new plywood drawer bottom was cut to replace the ugly and broken modern pine one.

And while I was at it the drawer completely fell apart so it was re-glued.


The copper plated steel hardware had completely lost its copper plate, so I thought I would have a go at re-plating it with a hydrochloric acid solution, some old copper wire and a 6V battery.

The 6V battery proved to be too vigorous and the copper did not deposit well, so I had another go with an AA battery (1.5V) and this worked just fine.

The result, while not completely uniform, was a great improvement.

After copper plating.
Next, the loose mirror was re-secured using small triangular section blocks as per the original.  I used a piece of polycarbonate to protect the mirror surface while tapping pins in.

A new plywood back for the mirror was fixed in place and stained to match the carcase.  Then all that was left to do was apply a few coats of shellac (orange shellac flakes mixed with methylated spirits and applied using a brush or 'rubber' (cotton wad wrapped in cloth).

The new wood came up ok, but I still haven't got the stain colour right (new jamb strip on the left, original one on the right, below).

Then there was the small logistical issue of how to get the wardrobe across the gravel driveway.  The cabriole legs prevented me from using the hand truck, but my shop dollies and a few offcuts of plywood smoothed the path so to speak.

The bargain $29 wardrobe now resides happily in our bedroom - allowing for labour, materials, electricity etc it only cost $6029!