Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 155, July 2018 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Restoring a Rocker
By Marshall Knox
Roanoke, VA

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

I was recently asked to restore an old rocker that was made by the owner's grandfather. When I received the rocker it showed the patina in places of a rocker that had seen a lot of years. I asked the owner about the chair’s history and her grandfather who had built it. She told me that her Grandfather, Clifton Reed was born September 30, 1885 and died December 10, 1949. He lived in Marshall County, Kentucky near the small town of Benton where he had been a farmer and built houses. Her brother said their grandfather had built 10 or 12 houses in the area using hand tools. It was said he was adept at using a square and sawing straight lines with a handsaw. From what I could see initially, the chair appeared to have been built by someone with a good deal of woodworking skill.

My approach in restoring the chair was to begin with a detailed examination. This revealed nails that had been driven through each mortise and tenon joint, some damaged wood in one of the rockers, and some cracks that appeared to be superficial. The chair had also been partially sanded in an attempt to refinish it, removing some of the original finish and color as well as the patina gained in its long life. The joints in the chair had become very loose and allowed the chair to sway about four inches to each side.

The restoration process required a methodical approach. I began by numbering each part of the chair.

I then worked through each joint in the chair, pulling nails and cleaning each joint.

Once the joints were cleaned and apart, I cut oak veneer to resize the tenons. These were glued in place using hot hide glue, since that would have been the glue used when the chair was built. Each joint was resized individually insuring a tight fit. Once all of the joints had been worked, I dry fitted the entire chair without glue or pegs in order to be sure that they all fit well. While I was dry fitting the chair, I drilled each mortise and the corresponding tenon in preparation for draw boring on final assembly.

The process of draw boring required that I drill the mortise and then mark the tenon. I would then pull the tenon out and make a center point to drill the hole one sixteenth of an inch closer to the shoulder. This allowed the oak peg to draw the joint tightly together. I also cut oak pegs and sized them using a dowel sizing plate that I built for the purpose. The chair was then reassembled using pegs and hot hide glue. The entire chair was then cleaned with denatured alcohol using a scotchbrite pad. This removed the dirt and shellac from the surface allowing me to tone the entire chair to a uniform brown color which it appeared to have been.

The finish was applied in several steps. I first applied a Transtint dye disolved in denatured alcohol using a brown dye with a little amber yellow added. This was applied with an airbrush to tone the wood where the patina had been removed by sanding. I then sprayed a coat of amber shellac to seal the chair. Once that had dried, I used 0000 steel wool with Briwax (dark brown) to remove any imperfections in the shellac top coat.

I completed the restoration by making a seat frame out of oak, using drawbored mortise and tenon joints. I then used fiber rush to weave the seat. It was sealed with amber shellac.

The seat was installed in the chair in a way that would allow it to be replaced with the original cushion type of seat that was originally used. The slats which had supported the cushion were also replaced.

I made a small plaque that gives some of the history of the chair and installed it on the lower rail on the back.

The chair is ready to go home.

You can email Marshall at mbknox@hotmail.com. You can also view his Show Us Your Woodturning column in the December 2015 issue of The Highland Woodturner.

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