Ramblin' Dan's Workshop

The Sanctum of Fine Art and Invention

Piano Stool Restoration

DSC06488I started work on a restoration of a piano stool that my wife acquired from one of her friends. It is supposed to be an antique. Well, it is quite old so I suppose that makes it technically an antique. That's the restored stool in the picture to the right.

It’s the type with a single screw in the middle that when the seat is spun, it changes the height of the seat. Four spindle legs all turned on a lathe and cast iron claw feet grasping large glass marbles that contact the floor.

When I started the project the totally ugly existing finish appeared to be coal furnace fly ash mixed with glue. It was impervious to water, alcohol, paint thinner and acetone. That rules out normal antique finishes. (See first picture below.)

The seat was split and a repair attempted sometime in the past. Common nails were pounded in and covered with what appears to be a white putty. The putty was also rubbed into the crack to fill it in… I think the dirty dark coating over everything was an attempt to cover the poor work.

The center screw is badly rusted and I must have dumped out a quarter cup of rust from the center hole. I think the stool has been under water for some time or was rescued from a dump or a very wet barn. It definitely has not lived a nice quite protected life in someone’s living room or parlor.

My grandfather used to rescue “antiques” from the dump and drag them home for restoration. That’s why I know what to do. Been there done that. Usually they were old chairs but we did find a fancy wooden tea cart that he restored.

Luckily this stool was put together with hide glue which is a “reversible” glue. That means it can be softened and taken apart say… a hundred years later for repairs. I have fully disassembled all the glue joints so the stool is back into “kit” form.

I’ll repair the cracks. It looks like I will have to strip the finish and start back at the wood. Not recommended for real antiques, but in this case there is little choice. There are no maker’s marks or labels and the crude hardware tells me it is not or ever was a high ticket collectable. It’s old and will look good when I am finished. Gloria is thinking about making a cover for the seat.

Update - I think I have discovered what the impregnable finish may be. There is a black faux finish that is actually a plaster material that is used to "antique" furniture. It is intended to make something look like it has years of old paint that has weathered and worn. It leaves a very crude finish. This can explain why solvent stripers wont touch it and why I get a gray chalky residue when I try to rub in a solvent.

I have defaulted to a mixture or paint stripper and vigorous scrubbing with soap and water. Then steel wool to remove the crumbly residue. I cannot get it back to clean naked wood. The seat and top are mahogany and I can't tell what wood species the spindles are, but they don't match the mahogany. Probably a much stronger wood. The stool was never intended to have a natural finish and back in the day, mahogany was considered a soft, easy to carve secondary wood, not fit for a fine finish.

I am going to try a very black stain as I assume the stool was intended to be very dark. It has been suggested to just paint it black. Thus it may end up a paint job. I will try a more traditional finish before I resort to a paint.

Below is a picture of all the disassembled and broken parts. Here is a work in progress;

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First step is a complete teardown. This is what everything looked like once I took it all apart. Parts are cracked and broken and the existing finish is horrible. I am pre-staining and avoiding the glue joints. I need to have some idea how the finish is going to look when done. I applied an ebony stain with very light wiping. Finish will be shellac then urethane varnish.

I applied another wipe stain over the first coat of shellac to make it dark enough. Gloria wants a traditional varnish final finish rather than stop at shellac. The piano stool will have flaws but when you may be 150 years old, you should have some flaws!

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The top of the stool (not the seat) is in the clamps waiting for the glue to set. There was stain on the split faces so it has always been there. The top and the seat are both glue-ups of several boards, not solid wood. This was a bad original glue joint. The legs are upside down just to let the stain dry. No stain on top yet. Here is what it looks like after the repair and refinish. The lead picture at the top of the page is also an "after" photo.
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All the broken parts fixed an a finish that should be close to original and still shows it's age. The feet are very unusual and probably unique compared to what is made today.

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