Restoration of a Chest of Drawers

Below is a Utah Pioneer Chest of Drawers (ca. 1860) made of local pine with its original painted and grained finish to imitate crotch grain mahogany.  Judging from the construction techniques, ornamentation and painting the piece was probably made by a Scandinavian craftsman.  All material is cut out on an up down saw mill and the finished surfaces hand planed.  Cut nails were used in the construction and an inlet bone escutcheon plate protects the keyhole and is painted over.  

The top two photographs are before any restoration work was done.  The lower two pictures show the completed restoration.  All of the dovetailed drawers required restoration work on their lower running edges and the bottoms needed repair and repositioning.  The top drawer had a lock but the key was missing, a new key was fitted.  The touch-up work was done with pigmented shellac with a shellac finish, which is reversible and is an important curatorial consideration when working on old pieces.  The lightest color, a bright orange / red (red iron oxide & shellac) is used to infill any missing basecoat and allowed to dry.  Then shellac with burnt umber pigment is used to add the missing grain, matching the surrounding grain.

 Front View, before restoration       Side View, before restoration

Before Restoration


Front View, after restoration    Side View, after restoration

After Restoration

The following are details of the drawer construction and restoration work.  New wood was added where necessary.  Note angle of dovetails and wedges added to the dovetails.  Picture on right shows the bone escutcheon plate inlet into the wood.  The outline shows where the wood has shrank and the bone is proud.

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Note Dovetails and wedges        Detail of Dovetails        Bone escutcheon plate under paint

The left picture shows the outside of the back of a typical drawer, showing through dovetails and the repair to the bottom.  The center picture shows the saw marks from the blind or half dovetails in the drawer fronts.  The grain of the wood of the bottom of this particular piece runs from front to back instead of the usual side to side.  As the wood shrank, new wood needed to be added to the edge of the bottom to make the drawers serviceable.  Photo on the right shows the complicated mortices for the half mortice lock.  The lock is made of wrought iron with a thin sheet of brass riveted to the top surface.  See Repairing Drawers.

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Rear corner of Drawer showing repairs        Detail Inside, note saw kerfs past layout lines        Detail of Half Mortice Lock

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