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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is my first project, so any help y'all can offer would be greatly appreciated.

The second piece of furniture I bought when I moved out on my own was a beautiful rolltop desk. The cast iron rolls for the bottom are stamped with the date 1890, so that's the date I'm posting with it. Suffice to say, it's old, and with all the years it's not too surprising that the finish has faded, some of the joints are getting loose, and it's broken in a few places. Since I just moved, I'm taking the opportunity to clean it up, so it's currently in pieces in one of the bedrooms of my house.

I know that I don't want to get rid of the original finish, so I think that the first question is what is the best way to clean it? Then from there, what should I plan to do? Obviously fixing/replacing pieces that are broken, re-gluing any obviously loose joints. Should I be pulling things apart that aren't yet a problem to clean out old glue and re-glue those? What kind of advice do you guys have for this kind of project? Thanks!
 

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This is my first project, so any help y'all can offer would be greatly appreciated.

The second piece of furniture I bought when I moved out on my own was a beautiful rolltop desk. The cast iron rolls for the bottom are stamped with the date 1890, so that's the date I'm posting with it. Suffice to say, it's old, and with all the years it's not too surprising that the finish has faded, some of the joints are getting loose, and it's broken in a few places. Since I just moved, I'm taking the opportunity to clean it up, so it's currently in pieces in one of the bedrooms of my house.

I know that I don't want to get rid of the original finish, so I think that the first question is what is the best way to clean it? Then from there, what should I plan to do? Obviously fixing/replacing pieces that are broken, re-gluing any obviously loose joints. Should I be pulling things apart that aren't yet a problem to clean out old glue and re-glue those? What kind of advice do you guys have for this kind of project? Thanks!
I would wash the desk down with a wax and grease remover first to clean it. Some folks use Naphtha but I prefer Dupont Prepsol Solvent. Then any places obviously nicked, touch it up with touch up markers. Then to refresh the finish wipe it down with a 50/50 mixture of lemon oil and Old English scratch cover for dark wood.

What condition is the tambour? I've never had one in my shop that didn't need some kind of repair. Most have a canvas webbing cemented to the back. On occasion they are made with a wire cable woven through the slats.
 

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That is a very cool piece of furniture. I've made them and repaired them. I would do as little as possible in fixing it up. Try not to disassemble joints if at all possible. Many times doing that to achieve a good glue joint changes the fit of the mating pieces.

Generally, you could wipe it down real well with mineral spirits. You can use a close color match alcohol based dye for a touch up or recoloring areas that need it. You could use most any topcoat other than lacquer based without removing any finish.






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Clean it but do as little actual repair as possible. As you know the more original the more the value.

You may be able to repair loose joints by injecting glue with a needle. Some restorers have been known to drill a very small (as small as possible and still insert a needle) hole in an inconspicuous place and inject a thinned glue.

George
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks very much for the tips! I made a quick trip to Lowe's and I think that I'm ready to get started with the cleaning. I forgot a needle for injecting glue, so that will have to wait for tomorrow after work.

For cleaning, I figured that I would give both suggestions a go. So I took the back panel (will be against the wall) and wiped down half with mineral spirits and half with Naphtha (I couldn't get Dupont Prepsol). I was pleased to see that neither seemed to affect the finish, but neither seemed to clean the yellowish streaks that I see, either. I'm attaching a picture so that you can see what I mean. As far as I can tell, both cleaners seem to work equally well, but it would be great if I could get rid of those streaks. Any ideas?

My plan for tightening up joints, given the advice, is that anything that comes apart easily I'll take apart, but I won't force anything and opt for the injected, thinned glue option instead. Everything is dovetailed, so I don't think that I should have to drill any holes for that. Thanks for the suggestion - I don't think that I would have thought of using needles. Now I just need to figure out where I can get some...

The tambour is the part of the repair that I am most worried about, so I'm saving it until towards the end with the hope that I will feel a little more comfortable with working with wood by then. Overall, it seems to be in pretty good condition, but there is one place that the canvas is ripping, and it looks like the wood pieces are too close together, so one doesn't sit flat on the canvas. (see attached images)
 

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For cleaning, I figured that I would give both suggestions a go. So I took the back panel (will be against the wall) and wiped down half with mineral spirits and half with Naphtha (I couldn't get Dupont Prepsol). I was pleased to see that neither seemed to affect the finish, but neither seemed to clean the yellowish streaks that I see, either. I'm attaching a picture so that you can see what I mean. As far as I can tell, both cleaners seem to work equally well, but it would be great if I could get rid of those streaks. Any ideas?

My plan for tightening up joints, given the advice, is that anything that comes apart easily I'll take apart, but I won't force anything and opt for the injected, thinned glue option instead. Everything is dovetailed, so I don't think that I should have to drill any holes for that. Thanks for the suggestion - I don't think that I would have thought of using needles. Now I just need to figure out where I can get some...
The streaks appear to be part of the grain with quarter sawn oak. That's the way they stain up. As for injecting glue. For a joint already glued, using wood glue will likely not help much. You need to get a 2 part epoxy into a loose joint.






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The Naphtha should work fine. The Dupont Prepsol solvent is available at places that sell automotive paint. In my town that is NAPA Auto Parts. You would probably have better luck injecting glue to use super glue. It's thinner and wood glue is a poor adhesive for regluing joints. Wood glue works by soaking into the pores of the wood and on a reglue the pores are sealed with the old glue. It will glue a lot better if you can get the joints completely apart and glue them with a slow drying two part epoxy. The yellow streaks are part of the wood grain and are normal quarter sawn oak. If it were me I would take all of those canvas straps off the back of the tambour. That definitely isn't original. The tambour is easy to fix. Just lay them out on a table on some strips of wood equal to the thickness of the knobs on the handle so everything is laying flat. Then put a framing square on the end of it to make sure all of the slats are square with the bottom. You might even put a nail at each end of the boards holding them up to keep the slats tight against each other. Then take about 4 strips of chair webbing and apply it to the back side of the tambour with contact cement. It appears they put a lot of strips on the back because the fabric they used wasn't rigid enough.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The streaks are part of the grain? Ergh... I can't really argue with two voices of experience. Still, I never would have guessed because they don't follow the grain at all. Frankly, it looks like mildew to me. I'm going to attach one more picture just in case it's a matter of me having taken a poor photograph and then I'll stop worrying about it. Though if anyone can give me a term to Google or something so I can understand what it is, I would greatly appreciate it and it would put my mind much at ease.

Is there a two-part epoxy that works really well with wood and will be inconspicuous that y'all would recommend? I went looking for something today, and I didn't see anything that looked specific to wood, and I have bad experiences with epoxies expanding.

I decided that the logical place to start is with either set of drawers, since then as I finish pieces I can build the desk up. They are also the pieces that need the most work - the little cubbies that sit on top of the desk are in pretty good shape, but the supports for the drawers and the joints in general are starting to get pretty loose. Case in point that when I went to start working on the first side, it pretty much came in half when I picked it up. That's actually a good thing, because there's a feature in this one that I've been wanting to examine more closely. If you look at the attached pictures, you'll see that it has some sort of locking mechanism for the drawers. The notch on the horizontal arms will lock into the back of the drawers perfectly. The previous owner used that white piece of wood to prop it up so it won't lock, and there's an armature that actuates it (I pulled the pivot screw out to clean the rust off). There was clearly another vertical piece to this linkage before that goes the height of the drawers, but it is no longer there. What is very odd is that I can't find any kind of hole or anything by which a person could have actuated it once the desk is assembled. Have any of you ever seen anything like it?

Oh, and when I took it apart I noticed that all the larger pieces have a serial number, which I think is cool but don't really know the significance of. Thought it might be of interest to you guys, so I included a picture to share. Thanks for all the help!
 

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The marks are part of the grain. It is called quarter sawn because of the way it is cut from the tree to get that effect. You may not like it but most of us would pay extra to get the wood like that. What happens is the face of the wood you are seeing is in a direct line with the center of the tree. Any other direction the wood is cut looks like regular oak.

The biggest problem working with epoxies is most in the stores say fast set or dries in 10 minutes. When you are working with furniture regluing it you need more open time to work with it. I always get the old fashion slow set epoxy so you don't have to rush to get a section put together. I'm not sure what you mean by the epoxy expanding. That sounds like gorilla glue which is a polyurethane glue. That is a poor adhesive to use on furniture.

As far as the runners for the drawers they are usually pretty worn from years of use and are often made of soft wood to make matters worse. I often take them off and rip a 1/4" off of them and glue a strip of oak or maple wood on top. That way it has a fresh start when you put the desk back together.

As best as I can see the latch mechanism it is made to where the top drawer has to be open slightly to allow the rest of the drawers to open. There should be a spring somewhere pulling up on the verticle bar. The piece of wood at the top cut on an angle is what activates it. When the top drawer slides all the way back it pushes down on the verticle bar locking the lower drawers. That way they only had to install keyed locks on the top drawers.
 
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