Tavern And Stretcher Tables

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This class of tables covers a delightful variety of sizes and styles, ranging from the extremely rare and valuable oak tables of the seventeenth century to the smaller and more easily found sorts so much in use throughout the eighteenth century. Tavern tables were turned out in large numbers and were the favorite tables in the kitchens of the old homes, where they suffered much rough treatment. They often come to us minus tops, drawers, and feet.

The loss of height, through wear, decay, or the use of the saw, may, in extreme cases, be so great that the stretchers rest squarely on the floor. One, two, three, or all stretchers may have been removed with the saw, or a section cut from the rear of the top, so that the edge at that point is flush with the frame.

Tavern tables are common subjects for restoration, and such work is often accomplished in careless and improper ways. The tops of the small tavern tables and stretcher stands were square, round, oval, octagonal, or rectangular, and were often formed of a single board. These small oval and round tops had considerable overhang and were usually stiffened with a central cleat set across the grain of the top to prevent the edges from breaking off. The larger tavern tables were more likely to have rectangular tops made of two boards with some sort of cleat at each end of the top to prevent warping and splitting. Our illustrations show the four common methods of applying these end cleats:

  1. The very common method of fastening by means of wooden pins, driven into holes drilled through the cleat and three or four inches into the ends of the top boards.
  2. Also a common method: that of inserting long hand-

forged nails through the cleat and into the ends of top board. This was a better method than the first, as the iron nails were much stronger than wooden pins and broke less easily. It is interesting to observe on such a top, how the cleats will be very deeply worn between the immediate areas protected by these nails. Such a cleat may present the appearance of a series of shallow'waves with the nail heads at their crests.

Fig. 8. End Cleats on Old Tavern Table Tops
  1. A less common method: that of cutting across the end of the top a wide tongue which was inserted into a corresponding groove in the cleat and fastened with wooden pins.
  2. A rather uncommon method: that of cutting a number of tenons on the end of the table top and . matching mortices in the cleat, fastening with wooden pins through the tenons.

The last two constructions produce strong, unwarping tops. Both are likely to be found only on the finer examples, more particularly on the tables of Pennsylvania, and seldom on New England pieces.


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The restoration of missing feet on tavern tables is often necessary.

It was not the inflexible rule, but the rather customary practice on tavern tables, to place the stretcher in the centre of the lower squared section of the posts, leaving the stretcher equidistant between the shoulders of the turnings, A—B. The turnings are not always, but very often, the same in design below the stretcher as above, as shown in our drawing.

The feet may have only suffered a slight loss, as through line C; a more severe loss, as through line D; or a total loss, leaving the stretchers resting flat on the floor, as through line C. With such a complete loss, we of course have no means of being sure as to the exact pattern of the missing feet. However, as the pattern of the turning below the stretcher was very often exactly the same as that above the stretcher, except for the addition of a round or oval extremity, we are perfectly safe in thus arranging the restoration.

We should bear these matters in mind, and we may properly restore any degree of loss in these feet. We commonly meet with restored tavern tables improperly adorned with various sorts of strange feet, as in drawing A, having a long turned foot of a design quite out qf accord with the design of turning above the stretchers.

It will almost invariably be found that, if the post of a tavern table be turned above the stretcher, it is also turned below the stretcher. Therefore, any tavern table restored with a square foot below the stretcher, as in drawing B will

Fig. 9. Foot and Stretcher of Tavern Table

be pretty certain to have been wrongly treated. The squareleg tables, quite without any turning, should never be restored with turned feet. The feet should be square sections of wood to accord with the posts.

I have seen a number of tavern tables restored with a ball or bulbous foot, as in drawing C, which is, of course, quite incorrect.

We may carefully estimate the length and design of the new sections for the feet of tavern tables and have them turned with a pin of five-eighths-inch diameter and two inches long on the upper end. The lower end of the old legs should then be sawed squarely off, a hole of the right size bored in their centres, and the turned pins on the new feet inserted and glued firmly in place. It is best to so estimate that the new feet will be a little larger than necessary to cover variations in size and inequalities of shrinkage in the old legs. Any discrepancies between the old and new sections may be equalized after the feet are in place and the glue is dry.

Tavern tables which have lost their stretchers are often improperly restored with narrow stretchers as in Fig. n. At point A, the outer face of the stretcher should be set even with the outer face of the square section of the post. When

Fig. io. Incorrect Restorations of Tavern Table Feet

the upper frame members of a tavern table are set flush with the faces of the posts; the stretchers are also similarly placed.

restoring chairs

Very often one or more banisters will be missing from old banister-back chairs. The split turned variety, which exactly coincides in pattern with the turnings of the back posts, may be of ash, oak, maple, or some other hard strong wood. I have never seen split turned banisters of tulipwood or pine. Soft wood in so small a turning would have been too fragile for such use. These split banisters are made by sawing the proper sort of turned section lengthwise, exactly through the centre.

The straight types of molded banisters are sometimes made of maple, but very often of pine or tulipwood— being straight, a soft wood was considered of adequate strength. As there was a wide variety of reeding and molding planes, we find many pat- f^aMfe £ terns of reeding and molding Incorrect on these straight banisters. If we need molded banisters and have not on hand one of the complicated planes now made for such purposes, we may call on a professional to turn them out to our patterns.

Missing slats from two-, three-, four-, and five-slat chairs may be very nicely restored with sections of the wide rims of the large wool spinning wheels. These wheels may often be purchased for trifling sums, and the rims are usually of

oak and ash of about the required thickness for chair slats. The curvature of these rims allows us to fashion a slat without any steaming or bending. If we should require a maple slat, it may be steamed and bent, as we describe in the restoration of Windsor chairs, or we may readily find a slat from a dismantled slat-back chair.

The methods described for restoring missing feet on tavern tables are applicable to restoring lacking feet of turned chairs. The bottoms of the rear legs of old turned chairs are, nearly always, a plain turned cylindrical section, while the front feet should conform to the pattern of the turnings in the upper sections of the front posts. A comparison of the chair we wish to restore with illustrations in the works of Nutting, Lockwood, and Holloway should quickly show us the proper design for any lost feet. Yet, as is the case with tavern tables, we shall note many turned chairs improperly restored with curious and inappropriate feet. The new feet of chairs should be turned with a pin of five-eighths-inch diameter at the top, and should be glued into a hole bored into the bottom of the old posts.

The loss of the finials from turned chairs is a most serious one. Unless a chair is of impressive size or great rarity we should hesitate about buying a specimen thus mutilated. However, if chair finials must be restored we should consult the authorities on style, and choose the design for our finial which seems the right one. Finials should be turned with a pin, and applied in the same manner as the feet of turned chairs.

Dutch Feet and Spanish Feet are, of course, not turned, but are worked out of the solid wood. In restoring these a piece of wood of suitable size and partly shaped is set with a pin into the end of the old leg, and, when the glue is dry, the foot is worked down to exact size and shape with coarse wood rasps and other suitable tools.

It may be remarked that any amateur furniture restorer

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who sets out to restore a Dutch-foot table or highboy which has lost all of its feet and six inches of each leg, will be aware, before the work is finished, that he has attempted "some job."

Any sort of foot which is not turned may be restored by gluing on a suitable block and afterward cutting and working it down to the required size and shape. Square-tapered, round-tapered, spade, Dutch, ball-and-claw, scroll, and Spanish feet are all treated by this method, but to finish off the last three varieties some knowledge of carving is needed.

A very common restoration is replacing the missing feet on tripod-foot tables and stands. On such pieces, instead of doweling on a block, it is best to "halve on with glue" a suitable sized piece of wood, arranging matters so that the longitudinal joint comes at the side of the repaired leg. After the glue is dry, the lower part of leg and foot may be worked down to the proper shape and two or three tiny screws set into the lower side of the joint. These little screws at such a point are most valuable aids in preventing a later loosening of the glued joint.


Often we may find pieces which have lost one or more drawers. Very early examples will probably have flush drawers, the lipped drawers being a later type, followed again later by flush drawers.

side-run used prior to 1700

The very early drawers were made with a groove at the side, this engaging a strip of wood fastened to the frame. It is most unlikely that we shall come across many pieces of American furniture of so great an age as to be constructed with side-run drawers.

Almost all drawers likely to come into our hands will slide on bottom runs fastened to the frame at each end. On some pieces we may find the drawer arranged to slide on a wide slat or board, placed in the centre of the drawer; but such construction is unusual. The sides of the very earliest drawers were rabbeted and nailed, or very broad dovetailing nailed in place appears. Many variations occur: drawer sides rabbeted and nailed to the front; only nailed at the back; broad dovetailing nailed at the front; and rabbeted and nailed at the back.

Dovetailing in cabinet work grows progressively narrower and finer as time passes until about 1800, the sides of nearly all drawers were fastened at all four corners with small dovetailing glued in place. Narrow and small dovetailing may be safely considered an evidence of relatively late work.

The bottoms of very early drawers were nailed to the sides. Later, the bottoms were nailed through the sides of the drawers, the front edge being thinned off and inserted into a groove cut in the drawer front. Still later, the bottoms were thinned down on three edges which were inserted into grooves cut into the front and sides, while the fourth edge was nailed to the back.

The last method of construction was commonly used in the mahogany furniture of the Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Empire periods. The early flush drawers stood use and wear much better than the lipped drawers, which often have badly broken edges and corners. Frequently the lip at the end of the drawer has, in breaking off, carried away several inches of the front surface of the drawer. Such a piece is a pest, and, unless it is of some rarity, we may do well to pass it by. If we try to go over a chest of four badly damaged lipped drawers and restore all their edges, we shall find it tiresome work with a patchy and unpleasing final result. However, if such work is necessary, we may set in narrow strips of wood to replace the lost lips, later bringing


B NARROW DOVLTAILINCr TYPICAL OF LAThNrSS From a Mdhoganv Bureau of about 1840

them down to proper size with a rabbeting plane and sandpaper.

We shall frequently find pieces in which broken lips have been planed off so that the drawer front is flush. Sometimes the edges will have been molded in simulation of a lip; sometimes treated to look as if they had a beaded edge. Such pieces are not desirable.

The drawer runs on old pieces are often badly worn and the drawers do not slide properly. Although we dislike to discard any original parts, if we wish such pieces for daily use in our homes we may have to install new runs, this being an easily accomplished detail of restoration. If, however, our piece is a "show piece," more to be admired than to be used, we may leave the old runs in place and so save these w<3rn and interesting structural parts.

The bottom edges of drawers, where they come into contact with the runs, are also frequently badly worn, but these may easily be repaired with a narrow strip of wood glued on and fastened with several wire brads driven through the strip into the worn edges.

THE RESTORATION OF CARVING Unless we are somewhat familiar with carving, we shall be wise to retain the services of some professional if our work in restoring such details is at all complex. However, on some minor restoration of carved work, we may set in a piece of wood of suitable size and later carve it according to the old design. For some of this work plastic wood does very well, as it is strong, dries hard, and may be easily carved. I recently repaired with this material a very dilapidated cock pheasant in the crest of a mahogany looking-glass and he is now a rather convincing and presentable bird.

RESTORING VENEERS AND INLAYS It is probable that about the only veneered furniture on which we shall be called to make restorations will be of mahogany, walnut, or rosewood. If we collect veneered furniture, we shall note that it suffers greater harm from hard use, age, and dampness than does furniture constructed of solid wood. The veneer on all corners and skirts, and on the edges of drawers and feet, will often be found knicked and broken. The veneer on table tops will frequently be loosened and blistered from dampness or carelessness with hot cooking utensils. I have often seen, in old homes, a collection of growing plants in pots installed on a veneered table or chest of drawers. Such a use would, of course, in time be ruinous to any veneered piece.

As previously mentioned, we should not attempt to spend much money and time in restoring the more common type of veneered furniture, if it is in very bad condition. At the best, a much restored piece of veneered furniture will present a more or less patchwork effect and the common pieces are not worth the effort—they are too easily accessible in fairly good condition.

If we should be so lucky as to acquire a six-leg highboy of the vintage of 1710, we would be very willing to restore, to almost any degree, its lost or broken walnut veneer, but when we consider taking on a wrecked chest of drawers of the Victorian era, which has stood in a leaky barn until the thin veneer hangs loose like the bark of our native shagbark hickory tree, we shall do well to hesitate before making out the check.

The restoration of entire or extensive surfaces of veneer such as the top of a mahogany table will probably be rather too ambitious an operation for most amateurs. Small patches and knicks may be cut out so as to leave straight, sharp edges, and all old glue removed from the surface. Then bits of old veneer, cut to proper size, may be set in with glue and held in place a moment with a hot flatiron. The heat will quickly dry the glue and obviate all need of clamps.

The use of old veneer is recommended for these small repairs, as the color is dark and the surface is filled with old finish. New veneer, which is light in color and unfilled, will give us considerable trouble in coloring and finishing. However, we should see that the old veneer restoration is of the same thickness as is that of the piece we are treating, and that all old glue is scraped from its under surface. New glue anywhere applied over old glue does not adhere well. Very small breaks in veneer are often repaired by pressing in stick shellac of exactly the right shade with a hot iron as has been previously explained.

This does very well on flat surfaces, but stick shellac is brittle and, if used to replace veneer on the edges and corners of posts and drawers, is likely to chip out under everyday use. Plastic wood is preferable for such repairs, as it is much stronger and less brittle than stick shellac.

Veneered pieces often suffer, particularly on their tops, from blisters and waves, the result of dampness or the careless spilling of boiling water. These blisters look very much like those which appear on the hands of the amateur gardener who, after a winter of ease, decides in April to personally spade his entire vegetable patch. Sometimes they are broken, but often quite intact. If broken, dirt may have worked into them and so prevent their being glued again into a smooth surface. If the blisters are broken, we may work in some glue with a thin splinter of wood and hold down the loosened spot for a few moments with a rather hot flatiron.

If we find that the blister will not return to a level position, it is a sign that dirt has entered the break. In such a case we may try carefully cutting the veneer on three sides of the blister—two cuts being with the grain, one cut across the grain—lifting the flap thus created, scraping out the interfering dirt, and again gluing the flap of veneer into place. If the blister or wave is unbroken, and the cause of the upheaval was not a lack of glue, we may simply try standing a hot flatiron on the offending spot until the iron cools. There is always in all woods, unless kiln or oven dried, considerable water content, and the hot iron will sufficiently vaporize this moisture to dampen the old glue and firmly cement the blister in place.

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