This secretary came out of my parent's house in upstate New York. I had grown up with this piece of furniture and I remember hiding inside it when I was small enough to do so. I found out only recently that the secretary was a family heirloom which my mother acquired after her grand-dad passed away in the 1980's.
Photos taken before restoration to illustrate condition
1. Disassemble and Clean
I first removed all the doors, drawers and pieces of hardware from the secretary. This gave me a better idea of the condition of the piece and how best to make repairs. During which I found some fun things...
Hand written text on the inside of the drop down door. Possibly some math equations and what looks like a small drawing of a flower.
Another shot of the inside of the secretary drop down door. You can see hand writing in pencil, splotches of black ink and old lacquer that is peeling.
This is the inside of the door catch - made out of cast iron and steel. You can see the springs which keeps the latch closed.
At some point, someone had added some shelves out of masonite and plywood.
After removal of the plywood shelves I discovered beaded backboards, lots more ink stains and two small photographs, previously hidden.
We believe these two are Watson Smith and Jeanette Blair-Smith, my grandmother's grandparents on her father's side. Therefor, my great-great grandparents.
I made two small dutchman repairs on the top left and bottom drawers, replaced the bottom rail of the main door and fixed the right stile which had split at the joint. I also added two door stops.
3. Strip old finish
The original shellac finish on the secretary was in bad shape. Areas on the sides had begun to craze and darken. The woodgrain was barely visible. To strip the old shellac I soaked paper towels in alcohol and plastic wrapped them around the wood. The alcohol dissolved the shellac, leaving a sticky residue, which I scrubbed with a scotchbrite pad. Finally, I sanded all of the surfaced with 220 grit to get any last color left on the surface of the wood.
As I was removing the finish, I found something jammed behind the bottom drawer... another photograph!
Unfortunately, I was unable to identify which one of my ancestors this child is.
4. Clean Hardware
I removed the drawer pulls, hinges, door catches and drop down chain and cleaned them with a combination of alcohol and never dull. They then got buffed and shined with wax. One of the door catches was broken so I took it to my local blacksmith to repair.
5. New Finish
I used a mixture of two water based stains to achieve a nice reddish brown color and then finished the piece with several coats of blonde shellac. 400 grit sandpaper and paste wax are the final touches.
I found some writing on the inside of the secretary that looks like it may have been a recipe for a finish.
I also found the maker's mark on the bottom of one of the drawers. The name of the cabinet shop is hard to make out but it clearly says "Stewiacke" which is the town in Nova Scotia where it was made.
I made a few small frames for the photographs to put on display inside the secretary.