Bits and Pieces | A Restoration How-To Project

Editorial and Photography By: Dr. Christopher Cooper

During the restoration of timber elements such as doors, windows, etc., the inevitability of tearing the wood is frequent and sometimes unavoidable. As wood ages it dries out to an extent that renders it brittle, for example when removing a hinge from its housing in a door, the edges of the housing in many cases break off, leaving an ugly scar. Even during the very careful removal of a sidelight during a restoration (see image left) the old paint and putty have pulled away a piece of very brittle wood from the stile (see before and after images above).

I have seen many carpenters and restorationists simply discard the pieces and chalk-it-up to repairing with a bit of putty later. This practice should be discouraged. The historic fabric of the timber element is adversely affected when it becomes nothing more than a bit of putty here and a bit of putty there! Certainly there are times when the wood bits are missing or, in the case of rot, a first-growth timber Dutchman can be employed.

During the removal process of a set of 180 year old butt hinges (for restoration), the old dry timber in the door splintered around the hinge. The best process to repair the area is to glue the piece back in before any paint is removed or the restoration of the door’s finish is allowed to proceed. (see Image 1 above)

With exterior grade glue, apply a liberal coat to the area on the main timber piece (in this case the edge of the door) using your finger as a brush (or use a brush if you’re using non water-soluble glue, see Image 2). Apply the same liberal amount of glue on the piece which has been broken off (see image 3). Fit the broken piece back into the main timber piece, making sure it fits well (see Image 4). Once you are sure that the piece has been placed into position properly, use a piece of painter’s masking tape as a clamp until the glue has had a chance to dry (per manufacturer’s specifications, see Image 5).

After the glue has set up and had time to cure, the area that has been repaired can be stripped of paint. I would recommend hand sanding at the location of the repair because heat and chemical stripper may have an adverse effect on the glue. The repair should not require any putty, needing only to be primed with alkyd primer and top-coated with a high quality paint.

This is a simple little restoration tip which allows as much of the original integrity of the piece to be kept for generations to come. Always good practice!

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