What do you do with the drunken table?

By Helen Robertson

This George III circular tilt-top mahogany pedestal table arrived in the workshop in a legless state. There was a considerable amount of loss around the base of the pedestal, where the legs had broken out of their dovetail joints but, other than some play in the hinges and some surface damage, including ink stains and burns, it was in good condition.

Above: before treatment

To enable the client to make a decision with regards to the style of the replacement legs, a series of test legs were created. After discussion with and feedback from the client, the final leg design was agreed.

Before the legs could be shaped all areas of loss to the extremities of the dovetails were replaced. This was essential to define the shape of the dovetails which would be shaped into the legs and to maximise the adhesion area for fixing. The losses were carved out of mahogany and adhered with Bencon® Epoxy Resin over an animal glue barrier layer.

Oversized legs were cut and the dovetails carved to fit the existing pins. Once in place, but not glued, the table was stood to make sure the feet were central to 120 degree marks on a circular template.

Templates were drawn up from the test leg and placed to the appropriate angle and height. The legs were then band sawed to size whilst retaining clamping points for later gluing.

The legs were initially shaped, using rasps, spoke shaves and files, whilst retaining the clamping points. They were adhered with animal glue and clamped as in photo 4. Once fixed the clamping excess was taken away and the final shaping completed.

Finishing: An initial dark wax layer was applied and sanded back to fill the grain. A Van Dyke & Grey water stain mix was brushed on and sealed with a transparent button polish & matting agent blend. The legs were then distressed and finally waxed with a little dust rubbed in to soften their appearance.

A steel spider was cut from an oxidised sheet and shaped using the back of one of the trial legs. It was then attached with period screws and hammered into its final shape. It was finished with dry pigments in shellac to achieve a corroded appearance.

Before the top could be refitted the play needed to be taken out of the hinges. This was achieved by melting Capa® plastic pellets in boiling water and shaping into bushes. These were fixed into the hinge areas, over an animal glue barrier layer, with the insides waxed to avoid friction.

The prominent ink marks were cut back in intensity using a fibreglass pen and coloured to reduce their impact. The charcoal in the two burn indentations was scraped away to give a stable surface and the loss was built up with Milliput® Epoxy Resin over an animal glue barrier layer. These areas were coloured with water stains and sealed with shellac. The remaining original finish was re-amalgamated with finishing spirit and finished with a coat of matted transparent button polish and mellow wax.