Restoring an early c19th chest of drawers.

A chest of drawers provides for a great variety of restoration challenges for an antique restorer.  The example shown was described by the owner as a case of  “it needs a few pieces of veneer replacing and some work to the polish…”  but as is usual closer examination revealed many other commonly found problems far beyond the obvious cosmetic work!

A late Georgian chest of drawers

A Late Georgian chest of drawers badly in need of restoration

This particular chest is veneered with mahogany on a carcass made from pine and oak. The edge of the top of the carcass is bordered with boxwood stringing. The scope of work required can be summarised as follows:

  • structural work to

– rectify loose rear feet including replacement of missing support blocks;

– dismantle and re-glue all drawer box structures;

– remove and re-fit the carcass back panel with added spacers so that drawers can be inserted fully ( the carcass sides had shrunk across their width and hence the drawers would not slide fully home);

– build up the worn bottom of the drawer sides and repair the corresponding wear in the carcass dust boards upon which the drawers rest;

  • decorative work to

– replace numerous areas of missing veneer including to the outwardly swept bracket feet and the front face of the carcass;

– replace numerous pieces of missing cock beading to the outer perimeters of the drawer fronts;

– replace three pieces of missing boxwood stringing to the perimeter of the top;

– repolish the water damaged front and top of the carcass and clean and revive the polish to the sides;

– repolish the drawer fronts;

– source, patinate and fit 6 replacement brass knobs.


Some aspects of the work:

Large pieces of veneer were notably missing from the bottoms of three out of four feet, a common problem arising from the chest being dragged across a floor a time or two.  The missing pieces were clearly past replacements judging by the neat i.e not torn, junction with the remainder of the veneer.  This kind of damage suggested that the feet may also be loose and when checked the back feet were found to be so and their internal supporting blocks were missing necessitating the making of replacements.

Due to the thickness, the replacement sections of veneer for the bottoms of the feet had to be cut from solid mahogany and carved to match the curved profile of the outward swept feet.

Veneer was also missing from the front of the carcass by the drawers.  Once again this is a common problem caused by impact of the drawer boxes against the carcass as they are withdrawn and re-inserted into the apertures.  Where pieces are missing at the corners on the horizontal rails that separate the drawers this is usually a sign that the bottom edges of the drawer sides  (the ‘runners’) are worn and also the mating surface of the dust board inside the carcass. This means that the drawer is essentially sitting lower in the aperture and when withdrawn it impacts on the veneer on the front rail below thereby tearing a piece away.  Clearly there is no point replacing the decorative veneer on the front without addressing the worn drawer runners!

Repairs to drawer runners and the mating part of the carcass dust boards is time consuming and  expensive work.  The sides of the drawer have to be built -up by adding new timber to the bottom edges to return them to as close to their original size as is possible. The channel ploughed into the dust boards must be ‘cleaned up’ and timber let-in, or a synthetic resin filler used to take out the wear.

The polish to the front of the carcass and drawers was in a particulaly bad state having been damaged by water which had removed most of the polish. That remaining was badly discoloured by years of exposure to sunlight.  There was no alternative but to remove the remainder and repolish the front.  The top of the carcass was also repolished, this having been badly stained.

The brass knobs were of three different types of a similar style showing that some had been replaced in the past.  Some back plates were missing and all were in a damaged state with many indentations from a hard life.  Suitable solid brass replacements of superior quality were sourced from a supplier.  These were patinated to mimic age before fitting.


Fully restored chest of drawers

The completed chest of drawers, now looking respectable!

I am sure you will agree the final outcome is a vast improvement on the original piece.  Another happy client!

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