Looking back in time we’ve been able to paint a clear picture as to how past civilizations lived their lives, through the study of their buildings and artifacts that were left behind. With limited access to both funds and resources, our ancestors shared a common belief that things were made to last – and last they did.
A passion for preservation
Having both a passion and reputation for restoration and heritage joinery, Falkus Joinery was approached by the Natural History Museum in 2016 and was commissioned to assist in the construction of their new member’s lounge along with a handful of small additional restorations projects.
Over the past couple of years of working with the museum, there has been an abundance of challenges thrown our way, and it’s been impressive to see how the joiners take every challenge in their stride and never fail to deliver.
A joiners guide
We were so impressed with the results that we wanted to catch up with our production manager Chris Stanley and get the inside scoop on the process involved in restoration joinery, the challenges that are presented along the way.
First things first...timber inspection
According to Chris, when taking on any restoration project there will be an initial inspection of the timber to access how much damage there is to the wood and whether or not it can be restored. Often with antique pieces, there will be signs of rot, dry rot and sometimes even woodworm; so it’s important to know if the timber needs treating, to increase its chances of seeing the next hundred years.
We will then need to identify the species of timber and the finish so that if necessary we can match the wood and splice in any new pieces. Ideally, we always try to keep as much of the original wood as possible to retain its authenticity.
Once we’ve finished the inspection and the piece is deemed repairable, we will then speak to the client and discuss what their expectations are and what they want the finished product to look like. Occasionally we’ll find that the client will want the pieces to look brand new and modern, this view is common when working with stately homes, but actually, more often than not they’ll want to keep the characteristics of the original piece.
Splicing and a whole lot of sanding
Two of the most commonly used techniques in restoration joinery are splicing and sanding. Splicing is a term that refers to patching up dents and damage to the timber. Well, aim to try and match the grain as closely as we can so that you can’t see the joint but if all else fails we’ll paint the grain on to give the illusion of an exact match.
Challenges with restoration joinery
Restoration joinery requires a lot of skill, patience and experience, so finding the right people for the job can be very tricky. Even if the damage is small this can be a very time taxing process as there needs to be a lot of care and attention to detail when matching the wood and getting the splicing just right. It’s also important to know how much of the original timber that needs to be cut away and replaced.
Our aim in restoration is to create the illusion of an untouched piece but unfortunately, it is very easy to get this process wrong and when done badly it can be quite distracting and will detract from the character and history of the piece.
It’s a specialist process and some joiners just haven’t got the patience for carefully cutting and replacing timber, especially if you have to match the grain!
“It’s like assembling a very complex jigsaw puzzle but you’re not allowed to see the joints.”
Restoration at the Natural History Museum
For this particular project, we were asked to replicate an arch frame for a hundred-year-old door. We knew that we would have to be very selective with the materials that we were using and so we handpicked a veneer with a subtle grain and a light colouring so that our polisher could colour and match the existing frame.
Due to the age of the frame, there was a lot of sun damage to the existing frame, so when replicating the arch we had to take this into account and match its weathered look.
After a lot of patience and we were pretty pleased with the results.
Matching the old and the new
Matching the museum doors was a much harder task in terms of the colour, as we were attempting to match an ancient timber with a fresh new timber, and even though the new wood had been pieced in perfectly, the grain and the colour stood out like a sore thumb, meaning that we had to call upon a little French polishing magic.
French polishing - Matching at its best
We received this original door from the Natural History Museum with two cut out holes from where the lock used to be. After we sanded the holes we matched and patched up the empty space. As you can see in the image below and as described previously the colour and grain were completely off so we called in our best French Polisher Bradley to work his magic.
Bradley has worked for the joinery for 10 years and is a master craftsman, upon seeing the door he mixed his paints and got to work.
After the first layer was applied it was already looking pretty good and we were confident that after a few more layers it would be a perfect match.
Once the paint had dried we were thrilled with the results, and after the final coat had been applied and dried, we presented the door to the clients who were equally as satisfied.