I can’t think of any pieces of furniture designed to withstand a blow from a 12 X 12 inch oak beam swinging downward from 30 feet above…maybe some Stickley items. The damage to the top of our table and its under-girding frame was relatively minimal, because the shock was transferred to the pine platen and then absorbed by the four leg assembly.
Finding a way to define the various elements of a piece is essential for the treatment report that is kept for your records. The central vertical element of this table could be a post, shaft, column, baluster…I would even argue for pylon since is supportive of the load under compression. But, I will call it a central baluster-turned post with a drop pendant terminal, and generally refer to it as “post”.
The base of this table consists of a central turned post, shaped in a series of beads and coves terminating in a pendant drop with two post blocks (or square areas) one at the very top, and another about two-thirds of the way downward. Each leg has two separate areas along its inside edge that are in plane, and it is at these two flat areas that a leg is attached to the two central post blocks, using 3/8ths inch diameter wooden dowels; one dowel at the top post block, and two at the lower post block. At the top of each leg plank a single vertical wooden dowel is inserted. At each of the plank feet, a swiveling wheel assembly was attached with three screws. The four leg planks are laminated in width and were then fret-sawn to an irregular decorative shape; with complex molded inner and outer edges, in the shape of a central astragal flanked on either side by cavettos. The flat faces of each leg have narrow, shallow, linear gouge work.
Leg 1 had a broken “ankle” and was loose at its dowel joints with the post. As a result of the violence of the break, there was a small channel of material loss adjacent to the point of separation on one side of the foot. The severed foot also had a caster that had been snapped at its stem, the wheel of which was just barely attached.
As expected, this ankle separation occurred at one of the three short grain weak points, and may serve as a classic example of design disregarding function and the properties of the material. That said, much old furniture that we see was somewhat ephemeral, its makers were meeting a market demand for a particular taste then in style, and there was plenty of lumber. There were a range of makers to cover the market from the wealthy custom to less so who may wish to emulate them. With the basic form being established, the joinery, quality of materials, and ornament could be adjusted upward or down for the target strata of consumers. I doubt that many manufacturers were building for longevity beyond a lifetime (if that), I imagine that they were busy preparing for production of the next shipment of the most fashionable designs.
Leg No.2 lost a large area of material as you can see. Replacing this while removing as little original material as possible would be a challenge. During restoration I try to replace original material in losses with material of the same species and similar age. I have a small collection of 19th century walnut pieces remaining from larger projects that I keep just for this. Why do this? The theory is that the original walnut and the patch will have undergone similar growth and atmospheric change as contemporaries; when the inevitable expansion and contraction occurs once more, the patch will (hopefully) move in concert with that of the surrounding original material. If that explanation does not suit you, I can only offer a couple of quotes from an ancient Tekton “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old” or “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed…no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good’.” Admittedly, its not as if this carpenter were wood expert Bruce Hoadley, but he seems pretty sharp grasp of materials and their properties, and has a lot of similar pithy advice. Even though it is said that he spent more time fishing than building anything…His idea just makes sense to me.
A handy nomenclature or reference for this blog post as we have four basically identical legs to restore. With Leg No. 3, we have four pieces; the upper leg with hip, the ankle section, a slim middle section at two areas of short-grain and finally the inner-most lower dowel joint section or “hock”. The first step will be gluing the slim center section back onto the lower ankle and upper hip sections since this will be relatively easy to clamp.Once this has dried the more difficult process of reattaching the dowel joint section will be undertaken
Re-assembling the Base
Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection, Call No. / Accession No.1882.King and Yorston.sb
Cooper & Hall’s Catalogue and Price List (Philadelphia), courtesy Winterthur Museum Library, Call No. NK2265 C77 TC
Illustrated Catalogue of Chas. Hollander & Sons (Baltimore, Maryland), courtesy Winterthur Museum Library, Call No. NK2265 H73a