You may recall a few months back that I made a new poplar table for the Pearl, but something in me said that nice as it looked, all new and everything, something looked amiss. I mean, it looked ok, but something was just not right. A little probing around the area where the Pearl was stored produced the original tables. But time and the climate had done it's dirty work. Thankfully, the tables had a good coating of shellac on them, but the hardware was a bit rusty, and the expansion and contraction of the shifting humidity and temperature had rendered two large splits down the middle of both tables. These were not clean splits, either. To make matters worse, the prior owner attempted to glue the two halves of each table together again using some sort of hide glue, with no attempt at wiping the excess and, from what I can tell, no clamping. In a word, it was sloppy.
Whoever did the original repair may have been a good printer, but woodwork may not have been the strong suite.
My original plan was to simply use these tables as a template for a new board. But recently I was challenged via e-mail to try to bring those tables back to life. This suited the overall project actually better than my original idea, so I took up the challenge.
The first thing I did was to perform a simple operation which I learned years ago from my former Pastor's wife, who was an excellent cabinet maker. We restored a tabletop with similar problems by ripping a kerf directly thru the split on a table saw. In my case, because the rip travelled farther than the blade was wide, I had to make two rips. This shortened the width of the table by a quarter inch, but I had two clean edges to glue together. Upon the initial rip, I noted the table was made of Cherry! Hard to tell through a century of dust, ink and crud.
This is the larger of the two tables, the delivery table.
A bead of wood glue right across the cut, spread, the excess applied to the other half of the table.
The two halves are then tightly clamped together. I like pipe clamps because the pipe itself provides a handy level surface for the table which can help prevent the surface from "bowing", at least backward. Lateral clamping may be necessary if the surface bows the other direction, however. The delivery table behaved well. However, the feed table did require two steel plates clamped laterally (top and bottom) to keep the surface level. These I set out overnight to dry and harden.
Today I inspected the results. There were still some fine irregularities in the sides along the kerf, which means that I should have ripped the split wider, but nothing a little wood filler couldn't handle, as the next two photos show.
So, here we are at this point. The tables are glued solid. The wood filler is drying. Next step is to sand. I want to keep some of the original "look", so I am not going to sand the original finish all the way off. Actually, I kinda like the distressed look of wood on machinery. But I want it to be functional and dependable, too. I may re-enforce the repairs beneath each table with iron strapping. It wouldn't be visible from the surface. But then, these tables do not see an awful lot of weight, so I may just wait on that for a while.
The Hardware awaits cleaning, "de-rusting" and repainting with the same black oil based Rustoleum used for the rest of the press.
Final coating for these tables may be orange shellac. I was advised this was the original finish. We'll see if I can locate this product. If not, I will use cherry stain to match the wood, then varnish.
Here are the tables where they are now parked, awaiting sanding.
Well, more to come. Stay tuned.
G. Johanson, Settlement Printer
Florida Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts