Desk after repairs

Desk after repairs

The client called and inquired about the possibility of repairing a desk that had been damaged and I asked her to send some pictures. The photographs I received showed a lower frame of a desk with the front rail and one leg detached from the balance of the frame. There was also some evidence of damage to the veneers on the desk, but all in all it looked like it was worth saving. What did concern me was what I could see of the joinery – it looked damaged and weak by design. Only closer examination would reveal if this could be saved.

Fortunately, none of the earlier repairs had included the use of modern glues or epoxies and I only had the original hide glue to contend with. Likewise, the finish was all shellac, also reasonably easy to repair and restore. In the picture of the apron tenon below, you can see how a finish nail was driven into the joint to try to repair the table.

failed tenon and earlier repair

failed tenon and earlier repair


A split in leg and mortise detail


lower rail, tenons had failed and needed to be rebuilt

A split in the leg had to be repaired before I could address other joinery issues, and all of the mortises needed to be cleaned out.


Once all of the joints were cleaned and the tenons on the lower rail were reconstructed, I could glue the table base back together using hot hide glue.


I also began to repair loose veneers in the case sides, door fronts and drawer, again using hot hide glue.

On the edges of the desk top, the veneer had peeled away on about 75% of the surface and needed to be replaced. This was replaced with new veneer, trimmed to fit and colored using shellac and dyes.


When I took the desk apart to examine it, I found some old papers stuck in the hollow space behind the desk drawers. An old life insurance bill from the early ’40s and what appeared to be a drivers test with both questions and answers typed out. Looks to be from the ’20’s or ’30’s. These papers will be given to the client along with the desk.


desk top and gallery. All the banding on the desk edge had failed. Note the ephemera found stuck behind the drawers.


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