Apr 23, 2014

1927 Singer Sewing Cabinet Restoration Pt. 1 - Assessing the Damage

Warmer weather is here!
The garden is planted and although free time is still hard to find, I'm making time to turn my attentions back to Freddie Mae, or more specifically, her cabinet.  

 It wouldn't be right to put her back into a time ravaged cabinet, now that she's been revitalized, would it?

Step 1 Assess the damage.

Like other singer cabinets of it's time, this one rolled off the factory floor with a pristine shellac finish.  But time and water have taken their toll.
(shellac really doesn't like water, and that's it's downside) 

Looks pretty bad doesn't it?  Believe me it's worse in person.  

The bad news: 

The top is in bad shape.  In addition to the obvious water damage, there are speckles of what I believe to be white paint on the top plus, the veneer has lifted in a few spots.  

The bottom line is that the finish on the top can't be saved.  It'll have to come off.  But that's the upside to shellac.  It'll be pretty easy to remove and I think, I can manage it without loosing too much of the patina.  

The good news:

 Aside from a few small scratches and some dirt, the sides are in good shape and won't need to be stripped.

  The plan:
  • Disassemble the cabinet.
  • Use denatured alcohol and very fine steel wool to remove/level the worst of the shellac on the top.
  • Clean the rest of the piece with my new favorite homemade fine furniture cleaner.
  • Apply a fresh coat of boiled linseed oil.  
  • Add a fresh coat or two of shellac.
  • Buff with superfine steel wool to remove the "brand new" feel.
  • Apply a coat of good quality furniture wax.
  • Put it all back together.
Next Up:
Pt. 2 -Why You Should Disassemble Old Furniture  

Apr 21, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 4 From Grassy Spot to Garden Plot a.k.a "Can you dig it?"

Perfect Grassy Spot - check
 Soil Test - check
Following the Rules for Gardening with Clay - check

For weeks we dug off an on as time and weather permitted.  We took the garden section by section.  Digging the clay, amending the soil, breaking up clods and tossing the worst clay chunks aside.  My little guy had a blast digging into the soil with gloved hands and his tiny little guy sized shovel to mix in the compost and break up the chunks of clay.    

Once a section was prepared it was planted and watered. We made use of the bricks and pavers, left by the previous owner, to create a border and pathways.  In the center, we created a mulched path edged with brick to provide a knee friendly work area.  

Everything was coming together so well, and I thought to myself:
"Nice!  But......."  

" if I extend the garden another 4 feet off of the closest paver path, it would look even better and we'd gain 24 ft of planting area."
"Yep, I'm sure I can knock out that last section in an hour or so."

 With Hubby and the kids otherwise engaged, I started digging.  Minutes later, I hit a little snag.

3 coaxial looking cables ran across my newest garden section.  buried at a depth that varied from 1"- 6" beneath the sod.  One end disappeared beneath the fence and into our neighbors yard ominously pointing toward the corner of their house, the other end pointed to a distant utility pole.  

Theory 1:  That's my neighbors cable line.  
(I like them, better safe than sorry.)

I put down my shovel and picked up my phone.  The next few days saw a parade of utility trucks and technicians with their brightly colored spray paint cans.  Each utility marked their lines and a week after the digging had stopped the verdict was official.  

Theory 1 was busted!  

No one had a clue what these lines were for, or why they were there.  ATT didn't claim them.  Our WOW/Knology/Cable technician said "Yep! They look like cable lines, but they don't feed your house or your neighbors.  The only way to tell is to cut into them, and I'm not comfortable doing that."  He also said that distant utility pole they seem to go to is too far away to provide a strong enough signal for either house if they were connected.

Technician: "Just try to work around it."

Me to myself:  "Seriously?!  That's all you've got? I've been twiddling my thumbs for a week for this?"
(Shaking head thinking about the wasted week when I could have been digging.)

Then it rained and my little hole became a little pool. 

While I waited for things to dry out, I worked on some other projects including one involving power tools and wood stain, which I might show you someday.  While working, I  came up with another theory about the cables.

 Theory 2:  Garden Gnomes are stealing cable from the neighbors.
(hmm....  now that I'm typing that something else occurs to me.  Perhaps I need better ventilation for those projects involving wood stain.)

Eventually, the ground dried up and I was able to "work around the cables" to finish the garden plot, put up a trellis, and get the last section planted.

I can't wait to see what it looks like all grown up!

Apr 18, 2014

Adventures in Gardening - Pt. 3 Four Rules for Gardening with Clay

Remember this picture from our soil test?

See the mason jar of orange-brown liquid in the back? 

 That's our soil sample mixed with distilled water, shaken and left to sit for about an  hour.  Over a month later it looks about the same.  The soil particles still haven't settled completely.  This is pretty common with clay soils.  

For those of you not experience with the red clay soil found in North Alabama,  it is special stuff.  

  • It stains clothing well enough to be used as a dye.  
  • Holds on to water and minerals well.
  • It's pretty good for making bricks.  
  • Slightly purer deposits can also be used to make pottery (granted according to my potter friend Wendy the pots are quite fragile).  

In general, it's pretty useful stuff.  But as gardening goes, it's a pain in the tooshkuss! 

 Many home gardeners around here avoid working with the stuff all together.  Instead, the build raised beds that they fill with truck loads of commercial or home mixed "garden soil."  That can get pricey fast, but if you have money to burn, it's a fine choice.  

We have 3 kids.

 (translation:  we have no money to burn)
We are on a budget, and I'm trying to do this as cheap as possible.  That means, working with what I have and following the rules for gardening with clay.

  Rule #1  Never dig wet!  
Ignore this rule and you'll end up with huge heavy inseparable clods that dry as hard as brick.

Rule #2  Don't dig dry!

If you dig when it is completely dry, the ground is already hard as a brick and if you can manage to get your tools into the ground, you'll have hours of back breaking work ahead of you.   

So when the heck should you dig?
  About 1-4 days after a good soaking rain in the Fall is about right.

You have to find a sweet spot of soil moisture when it's wet enough to dig, but dry enough that the clods can be broken apart by hand or with tools.  The first season you work the soil, expect to spend extra time breaking up clods, and know you will end up with some pieces that won't break up at all and will dry into pebble or rock sized bricks.  These are usually the bits with a higher clay content.  You'll know them because you can knead them in your hands like putty.  I try to pull these out by hand now or later when it's time to plant.  I've also used these "super clay" bits in the past as chinking/mortar in brick borders.

What's that you say?  It's not Fall.  

You're right, it's spring!  So there is an added challenge of trying to time this "sweet spot of soil moisture" in between the frequent torrential downpours, tornado watches, and schizophrenic temperature fluctuations of a North Alabama Spring.  Not an easy task, but not impossible.  

Rule #3  Amend! Amend! Amend!
By nature, clay is sticky, prone to compaction and slow to drain.  So slow in fact that this 6" deep hole in the garden, where we started digging and had to stop (more on that later), is still filled with water nearly a day after the rain stopped.

 The fix for all of clay's problems is to add as much organic material, like compost, as you can.  Add more each year, and over time, you'll end up with some pretty awesome stuff.  We bought compost this this year, but are starting a compost pile for next year's garden.

Rule #4  Keep Out!
Once the soil is amended,  your little tootsies should never touch it again.  When you step on soil, it gets compacted and the plant's roots have a harder time growing.  Clay compacts easily enough without you walking on it, and you can't have strong plants without strong roots.  So incorporate paths to work from into the garden design and stay out of the growing area.

Up Next:  Pt 4 - From Grassy Spot to Garden Plot