Monday, March 15, 2021

More Than One Way To Cane Chairs

 I guess you could say that at my age I am an "old dog."  People always say that "you can't teach an old new tricks."  Well, I am happy to say that this idea is not always true.

I have been hand caning seat furniture for my entire career.  I can't remember the first time or even how I figured it out, but for over 50 years I have done it the same way every time.

If you search online for videos that show how to cane you will find the exact method I have taught myself.  That is to start weaving front to back, then side to side, then front to back.  The fourth step is always the most difficult, since the next side to side weave has to go over and under each of the two front to back strands.  This always pulls them out of place and makes it difficult to get an even pattern.  You need to use  your finger nails to push them back in line, and that is difficult and takes time.

The fifth step is weaving diagonal one direction and the sixth step is weaving the opposite diagonal. 

The seventh step is to attach the binder cane around the perimeter, or in some cases to use round spline to plug the holes.  Depends on the style of the chair.

During my career I have relied on Cane and Basket Supply in Los Angeles for supplies.  They were established in 1934 and are still in business.  They are friendly, efficient and helpful.  Susan usually answers the phone and takes my order which I receive the next day or so.  I appreciate the established relationship I have with them and like to support them as much as I can.  Here is the link:

Cane and Basket Supply

Lately I have been getting a lot of cane jobs, both pressed and hand woven.  It seems that I might be the only business left in San Diego which offers this service.  In any event, when I ordered cane a few weeks ago, the topic of the process of weaving somehow came up.  I mentioned to Susan how I did it and she immediately said that she was taught a different method.  I couldn't believe that there was any other way to do it (thoughts of an old dog!) and she patiently explained what she meant.

"The third step is to weave the first diagonal."

As I write this statement, I am stopped in my tracks thinking about what she meant.  It was like someone telling you how to tie your shoes differently.  After all, you think you know the correct way to tie your shoes!

So the next day, after I received the cane, I was determined to try her method.

First I wove front to back.

Then I wove side to side.

Then I wove the first diagonal, like Susan suggested.

At this step I was stopped in my tracks.  I did not understand what to do next.  I just stood there and looked at what I had done and my impulse was that it was so wrong that I needed to just tear it out and start over.  Fortunately, I did not.  I just decided to quit work and go home.

During the night, as I slept, I thought of the cane process.  At some point before I woke up I had resolved the struggle and realized how smart this method was, compared to what I had always done.  By weaving the first diagonal, the relative position of both the horizontal and vertical strands remained in place.  It was also much easier to weave the second horizontal when the time came, as you will see from the next photos.

The next morning at work I confidently approached the chair and applied the forth step, adding cane front to back.

This is a close up.

Now it was surprisingly east and fast to weave the second horizontal.

Just be sure that the diagonals fit nicely between the horizontal and vertical corners like the arrows show.

Now it was time to weave the second diagonal.

You can see from this closeup how both diagonals fit nicely between the horizontal and vertical strands.

Adding the binder is always the last step.

I was pleased with the results and happy to learn a new more efficient method of caning.  I still do not expect to ever make a profit or earn a living just with cane work, but I do find it relaxing.  

Perhaps if I ever actually do retire, I can take up basket weaving...

Monday, February 15, 2021

Not A Leg To Stand On!

There are several components of antique furniture which take a beating over the years.  Often it is the drawers that show their age first.  The constant opening and closing of the drawers during use causes the wood to wear down quickly on the sides of the drawers and creates uneven grooves in the runners.  At the same time that the sides wear down, the bottom of the drawer starts to drag on the blades of the case, and if the drawer stops are nailed in place on top of the blades, the nails will eventually saw completely through the bottoms of the drawers.

I am not even mentioning the shrinkage of the drawer bottom which pulls out of the dado in the front, which then allows the bottom to fall out when the drawer is over loaded with junk.

Just a note: Traditional drawers were intended to hold clothing...not books, or dishes, or a large coin collection or fishing weights.  Just clothing.  I have seen it all.  Nothing would surprise me.

However, there is another part of furniture which is often more damaged than the drawers and that is the feet.  People push furniture around without lifting it, they bang the feet with vacuum cleaners, they put things in storage for years and let the feet sit in standing water, they tilt heavy cabinets up on their side putting pressure on the legs, they sit in chairs and lean back or twist the chair around without getting up...

Again, I thought I had seen it all, until this latest project appeared.

A collector in Colorado saw a good French Regence Commode in an auction in San Francisco and placed the winning bid.  He then hired a mover to deliver the commode to his residence on the top of a mountain. This mover put the commode in his truck and placed the heavy marble on top, wrapped it in blankets and drove to the client's house.  I doubt that the mover even checked the feet to see if there was any previous damage or bug infestation.  He also did not consider putting the valuable marble in a wood crate and packing it separately.  It is fortunate that the marble did not break as well.

When he arrived and opened the door there was a surprise.  All the feet had broken off and the commode was sitting on its bottom.  This was no real surprise.  The surprise (and mystery) was that 3 of the 4 feet had somehow completely disappeared!  Since the two front feet had original mercury gilt bronze mounts, of course they had also somehow fallen out of the truck and probably are laying on the road between San Francisco and Denver.  The only surviving foot was a single back leg, which we used as a pattern.

The client delivered the commode to us for restoration at the end of 2019.  But before we began the process of making new feet we thought it was appropriate to photograph it while it rested in a handicap zone...

When we returned to work Patrice indicated he wanted this job, and I went to work on the legs of a wonderful French Louis XVI commode.  So Patrice put the commode upside down and took much of it apart.  Since the legs were badly damaged by years of bugs, we immediately had it fumigated with methyl bromide.  Patrice also had to lift up much of the veneer to get to good solid wood and attach the new leg elements.

At this point it was necessary for Patrice to make a duplicate leg blank, which was sent to Paris for the new replacement mounts to be properly fitted and shaped.  It was about that time that everything shut
down due to the global pandemic.  All we could do was wait and see what would happen. 

The surface veneer was sawn period kingwood, which is a controlled species due to C.I.T.I.E.S.  However, I have a good supply of this and other similar exotic species in stock which I purchased in Europe years before they were listed as endangered, and legally imported them to my workshop.  The original veneers which were carefully lifted were put aside, and when the replacement leg blank was ready they were glued back in their proper position.  It was necessary to "age" the new kingwood with acid to match the color and patina of the rest of the surface.

Finally we were able to receive the replacement bronzes from Paris and spent some time to "age" them to match the original surfaces of the rest of the piece.  All the bronzes (except our two feet of course) were completely authentic and original to this commode, so it was important to complete the set.  

This photo shows the new bronze during the process, but before it was a complete match.

Here is the end result.  Now the piece can stand proudly on its own feet.  

Meanwhile, I was occupied with the legs of my Louis XVI marquetry commode.  They were originally veneered in purple heart, but the veneer was so badly damaged it was necessary to replace it.  I have posted videos on my YouTube channel (3815Utah) about my method for veneering columns using Old Brown Glue.  In this case, the legs were solid oak and tapered.  The same process worked perfectly.

I also had to match the faded color of the old surface, so I used a two part bleach to get much of the color out of the new purple heart veneer.  Then I added finish and color to get a good match.  This is what it looks like now.  My job was much easier than that of Patrice...

It was fun work and Patrice and I ended up completing our respective projects at about the same time.

PS:  The photo at the top of this post is one of my original art sculptures.  It is a piece of a tree that I cut down for firewood many decades ago.  I just didn't have the heart to throw that particular piece in the fire...