40 years to refinish

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Project by johnstoneb posted 07-22-2012 02:31 PM 1441 views 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started to refinish this secretary when I was in high school. Then life got in the road. I moved it and all the pieces several times. My daughter got married I looked at this in my basement and decided it needed to be finished.
It is built from solid Walnut. The desktop under the upper cabinet is a 26” wide single piece of walnut. It was probably built in the mid to late 1800’s in Missouri. My mother’s great grandmother was married in Chicago and then moved and lived in St Louis, MO for quite awhile before moving with her daughter to Jerome, ID around 1908. This moved from MO to Southern Idaho then Northern Idaho with my mother. She used it as a china cabinet and desk for years before replacing it. When I started on it the cases were still tight and in good shape other than scars and dings. The drawers were another story. They were falling apart. The bottoms were falling apart. None of the hardware matched. I removed all the finish, the desk top, finished taking apart the drawers and cleaning them up. The upper section had a crown molding around the top. The hinges and some of the lock hardware holding the doors was hand made. I was able to save and reuse all that and was able to find a reproduction key that fit the lock on the doors. On the lower desk drawer unit The drawer fronts were put on blind dovetails. I was able to save those and the drawer sides and back. The drawer sides and back were made out of a softer wood that had aged to a gray. I took some creative pathching but I was able to reuse all of the sides and back. I was able to glue up and use some of the drawer bottoms but did have several drawer that I used 1/4” plywood in. I was able to some nice looking reprodution pulls and locks for the drawers that looks period correct. The escutcheon plates behind the drawer pulls hide a myriad of sins from various different drawer hardware that was put on and worn out over the years. It was originally assembled with square nails and screws. The screws were machine cut. I managed to save all the screws and nails and reuse all of them. I did have to replace the molding that locates the top unit to the desk, ( I didn’t get a good match on the stain on that molding. I felt I would rather have it that way so people would know it had been replace and the folding desk top hides it most of the time.) All the rest of the molding was reuseable. I refinished it with polyurethane and put some modern glides on the legs to keep the bottom of the legs intact when sliding it on the floor and carpet. It is now in my daughter’s house being used for her law books. Ready for another 150 years.

This unit had no makers marks on it anywhere that I could find. I believe it probably was made by a local cabinetmaker.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

2 comments so far

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 4918 days

#1 posted 07-22-2012 03:30 PM

Very nice job Bruce.
It looks like it’s ready for another 100 years !

View Ken Fitzpatrick's profile

Ken Fitzpatrick

376 posts in 5366 days

#2 posted 07-23-2012 12:57 AM

Like a fine wine. It cannot be finished before its’ time. Beautiful and worth the wait. Life gets in all of our way and we set priorities. Sounds like you set the right ones. Raising a family always comes first. Thanks for sharing.


-- • "I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm."....... Calvin Coolidge

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