The cradle was shipped to Texas in a
"knocked down" state. I laid everything out on
the assembly table as it came out of the
crate and then began piecing it back together. As
you can see, it was not in
too bad a shape for 102.
constructed around 1903 by an amateur craftsman, the original
finish was almost certainly oil or shellac. There was
definitely some type of film finish on the piece, so I first
tested with alcohol and determined that the current finish was
not shellac. I then tested for lacquer with a bit of lacquer
thinner on a swab – no change. I know that the cradle had
been stored in
an last attic for 15+ years, so I was confident it was not
a water based finish, but just to be sure, I tried a bit of Xylene and got
what I suspected - no reaction. This left only one finish that
I knew of - varnish. For those that know
better than I, please correct me if I'm wrong.
for the damage, sections of the decorative figured veneer on
both the headboard and footboard had been
dislodged - apparently many years ago. One
of the decorative crenulations (scalloped edge pieces) had also
broken off many years ago.
More recently, a
couple of the dowels had been "punched through" creating holes
in the face of the footboard. Unfortunately, one of them
was in a section of the decorative hand carved grooving. Also, all but one of the quartersawn white oak staves that once
supported the baby mattress were gone.
the physicians, "do no harm" philosophy, I started out slow and
I began cleaning with a mild solution of
warm water and vinegar, applied with a maroon
That once-over seemed to remove the wax build-up and much
of the surface dirt, but the
grime with the most seniority refused to budge. Since the
apparently varnish, I ratcheted up the ante and switched
to a mixture of turpentine and mineral spirits. This
stronger solution took care of all the remaining dirt and grime
and the finish
cleaned up pretty well - if pretty dull.
the punched through dowel holes were going to require patches of similar
grained walnut, I took the footboard up to Wood World here in
Dallas (no joke)
to search for suitable walnut boards. I was in luck
because they had a ton of walnut in that week, so I had plenty
to choose from. I located a close match for the patches that even had some
figure that was a close match to the damaged decorative figured
Since the original mattress and slats were not longer with us
and I didn't anticipate
that future generations would occupy the cradle for extended period -
especially not with all the hoopla given to "child safety" today,
I had opted to install a solid walnut bottom from glued-up 3/8"
With a new bottom in place, folded up quilts could be used as a baby
mattress for short periods of time the cradle would serve its
new roll better in the spare bedroom as a location to store the decorative bed
pillows when the guest room bed was in use.
I as conserving and not refinishing,
decided to make all my repairs using hide glue so that
everything would be reversible. With that in mind
I also decided not to repair the figured veneer sections, but
to just leave them
as testament to use and as "character marks." I did
repair the two more recent holes in the footboard with new walnut. For
the repair located in the decorative hand-grooving I took the
liberty to use a 60
degree V-Tool from my
wood carving set to match the pattern. I worked up
some custom stain and blended-in the finish on the repairs with Q-tips.
I mixed up some homemade wiping
varnish by thinning out some
Behlen Rockhard Table Top Varnish and applied a couple of coats
to seal in my work. The last thing that I did was apply two
Bowling Alley Wax to give it that silky feel.
The cradle now commands center stage in the guest bedroom. Since my
wife is from a large family, and almost all of them stay with
us at one time or another, the guest bedroom seems a fitting location
since they all get to know their family heritage a bit better.