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Jul '21

Home Report: Furniture Project Creep

It started with a piece of walnut furniture. A piece of furniture made by the father of best friend in high school, gifted to me by his younger sister. Growing up together I spent a lot of time in the basement woodworking shop. He bought his walnut straight from the sawmill in southern Missouri and stick-air dried in said basement. He made monumental pieces of furniture, mostly Secretaries, and has pieces in both the Truman and Carter libraries. Fortunately, the piece of furniture I was gifted was MUCH smaller and more manageable. And a bit of a “folly” in the British sense.

While small, the sucker is seriously heavy – be being solid walnut.

I found the drawer pulls “distracting”, and my high school buddy, son of the cabinet maker, wasn’t fond of them either. First job, find more appropriate knobs (yes, I kept the original ones – they are in the drawer with the spare hinge for the top). Normally, his hardware was New England Forged Brass.

I like the way they fade into the surface and let the walnut shine through. Which brings us to the start of “project creep”. Needed a serious reoiling with Watco Danish Oil Natural, the same oil he used on all his furniture. As I write this days later, the outgassing of the oil is still in my house.

Drawers come out both sides, though not all of them, more like every other – the other side being fixed. There is one feature of this piece that he put in all his pieces, the hidden compartments. His daughter showed me the five she knew about. In replacing the knobs, which was a pain because some of the small spaces, I found two more, for a total of seven. Some of the hidden compartments are nested behind each other.

There is another interesting detail to this piece, the pull-out drawer supports (the way that Secretaries support their fold out desks) have Ebony supports in them. At first, I thought it was just a random wood choice from scrap laying around his shop since he worked with lots of exotic woods.

It is a curious design, 3/4 inch walnut on one side, 3/8 inch ebony on the other.

My guess (he’s long dead so I can’t confirm) is that it’s based on the hardness of the woods. Walnut is 1010 on the hardness scale, Ebony is 1780 on the hardness scale. If you notice the notch on the walnut side, it’s so that the “folly” top can swing and lay flat. Once it is flat you push the drawer slightly in to get a solid support.

The project creep started with the oiling and the knobs and continued into the bedroom where it will live with the rest of the walnut furniture (can you tell I’ve been taught the love of walnut).

I have a bed that I bought 30-years-plus-ago, sold, reacquired 15-years-ago after it was in serious disrepair from an overweight guest. It always had a problem with the book matched back panel of the headboard popping out from, well, you know, excited adult stuff. That needed to be put back in place.

The cabinet maker would be aghast, but this keeps happening (the bed is from the 40’s and was handmade), so I finally broke protocol of all wood workers. Like I did years ago when I replaced the slats with an industrial version:

So, the bedframe, which is walnut on all four sides, needed oiling, as did the Cerwin-Vega speakers from my parents Quadraphonic Sound system from the 70’s (my sis-in-law Jennifer has the other two – please don’t let them go if you downsize!). Over the ensuing fifty years I’ve had to replace the woofers twice due to age rot. They still send out great sound (and make nice side tables for the bed). The house stereo is wired to support ten speakers in a 780 square foot house.

The end result, I need to move the pictures over the bed about six inches to the right to re-center them over the bed. OK – it looks great.

The chair in the corners is 50’s, picked up by my oldest brother out of a free box at Bard College in the mid-70’s, and I’ve been dragging it around with me since the early 80’s – was black, stripped it down years ago, stained it walnut, and reupholstered it again (probably 5th time). It has an amazing curved slightly seat that is very comfortable even with not much padding.

Well, that is one home adventure I’ve been working on. The other it has been too hot to actually work on. Building an outdoor sauna in sauna like weather conditions. The bedroom I can do in the comfort of air conditioning and oil fumes.

My buddy mentioned that one of his father’s Secretaries¬†was featured in the background of the dust jacket for Jimmy and Roselyn Carter’s 1987 book, Everything To Gain — Making The Most Of The Rest Of Your Life.

[? ? ?] but have put on a few pounds

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