What Wood You Do!

Preparing to work on Morris Chair

“One of the things that I enjoyed about your shop was that it wasn’t Antique Roadshow. You were preserving antique and vintage furniture with the idea that they would again be used and be affordable. That was cool”. Nothing could have summed up Redeux Vintage Furniture better than those words said to me this afternoon by master woodworker, Gary R. Wood.

Inspired by necessity (mine) and begun in a garage, Redeux was a dream realized. Starting in late 2007, I set out to furnish my home by finding older, American- made furniture and restoring it to the point that it would become attractive and usable furniture. There were just two problems: I had very limited funds and no real training! But, No Brains, No Headaches. Why worry?

Scrounging junk shops throughout Connecticut and beyond and accepting furniture that was no longer wanted by friends, the adventure began. An older brother of mine was a master mechanic of sorts and he could fix any machine on land or water. If he couldn’t find the correct part for something he would make it. Yet, he never had any formal training in this. He could just “see” how something worked. To a far lesser extent, I could “see” how furniture had been made and also how it had been used through the years. Unlike my brother, however, I could not and cannot still, make anything. I can only preserve or restore furniture made during a time when things were mostly made by hand. I also very often get a sense, from tell-tale signs of use, of the past owners.

My first piece was a Federal reproduction of a chest of drawers made sometime during the 1920-30’s. I still have this piece and have become attached to it…my first-born, so to speak. Next, was a bedroom suite from the 1960’s. The difference in style and quality from the piece made 30 or so years earlier was striking. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but beggars were not going to be too choosy. So, this furniture was restored and, as luck would have it, someone loved it and, at the time, was more in need of furniture than I. So, it was my pleasure to send it off to a new home. 

Fast forward a few years. I studied everything I could find on vintage and antique furniture styles, manufacturers, woods and finishes. I started a blog, chronicling the furniture I had found and was working on. Each piece had a name: American Princess (a dainty chest found in an old shop in Maine), The Three Legged Dog, yep, a “distressed” dresser also missing a leg. After some innovative restoration and a complete makeover, The Dog was in a new home the afternoon he appeared on my blog site. The Jigsaw Puzzle presented a real challenge. Found in a used furniture outlet in an abandoned factory, this was nothing but a pile of oak boards and a marble slab when I first saw it. But, again, no brains, no headaches. It laid in the back of my garage workshop for nearly a year before I decided to take a closer look at it. No nails, no screws, no pegs. How the heck was this put together, I wondered? Back to researching furniture made around 1870 I went and soon found similar looking pieces. They had all been put together using special horsehide glue. Well, using an array of clamps, braces and straps and an ample supply of this old-fashioned glue, this dresser was eventually properly put together. Whoever originally made this had to have been a genius.

There were mistakes. Oh, yes. I sanded some things only to deeply regret it later (you can’t restore 100- 200 years of patina). I experimented with some stains, mixing my own “custom” colors. A sideboard/server stained purple was a sight to behold, I can tell you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that it looked like purpleheart wood. Luckily, a young couple just loved, loved, loved it. It matched the color of their newly painted dining room! That was a one-off color, believe me.

A very fortunate bit of luck during that time period was to learn of and attend refinishing classes being taught at a nearby wood-workers club. The instructor was Gary R. Wood, of New Hampshire. Master refinisher, restorer, preservationist and antique-reproduction maker, Gary Wood is an ideal teacher. Less is better, was his often-used motto. Preserve the past. Experiment. This was music to my ears. His frequent question to students, “What would you do?”, always got us to thinking and, sometimes, laughing about what to do about a particular piece or technique. So, after a number of classes I had a bit more of an understanding of how to better approach the art of preserving and refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture -even if, at first glance, the beauty was hidden.

This afternoon, after not having been in contact for several years, I called Gary at his shop in New Hampshire. What a pleasant surprise it was that he remembered me and my old shop, Redeux. We spoke of what we were both now doing. He is still creating and preserving beautiful furniture, of course, but he has also started a new adventure. Gary is teaching Middle School children about woodworking. Who knows, maybe one or two of these kids will find the joy in the wood as did Gary and countless generations before. I told him of our move here to Staunton, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of quality “older” furniture available here that was just waiting to be brought back to life was exciting news for Gary. Ever gracious, Gary gave me some tips and sources for some neat products to use in my restoring efforts.

Below are some photos of pieces I have recently worked on or have just begun the restoration process. Also, I have just acquired, through auction, two interesting pieces that will be kept for our own use. I’m not sure where this will all go, but it is great to be again working on pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time.

Morris Chair, circa 1890 -1910.
Getting rid of a century of dust!
Repairing leg on rocker, circa 1850
A gift from Gary – his special wood finish

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

One of the many lessons I learned years ago as a young policeman in training was to “watch the eyes”. The eyes will tell you everything, kid, the veterans would say. Watch someone’s eyes and you can tell when they’re lying, when they’re afraid, sad and when they’re broken. They’ll tell you when someone’s hiding something. They’ll tell you when someone’s crazy and when you’re going to have big trouble. Watch the eyes, kid.

We’re in trouble. Big trouble.

Since moving here a year and a half ago, one of the things we noticed and one of the deciding factors of choosing to relocate here was the friendliness. Not just a quick, “How are ya”, from folks we’d meet, but a genuine smile and, more often than not, a conversation. The government’s decision to incarcerate us all within the confines of, if not our homes, certainly within our personal space of six feet (or is it 23 feet this week) has taken a toll on all of us. Our walk yesterday through Staunton’s beautiful Gypsy Hill Park proved that.

Normally, people walking by would smile and at least say, “Good morning”. If you’d meet near the duck pond, some type of conversation would arise: the new geese, the number and size of fish in the pond or how beautiful it was to be at the park just then – even if it happened to be raining. The world is filled with Stauntons (or at least somewhat close to it), but something has changed.

No eye contact. Even folks fully encased in face masks, gloves and eye wear literally moved to the other side of the road, heads down, when either approaching or passing us. And, it wasn’t just us. Except for folks walking in pairs, everyone avoided everyone else. If we said, Hi, or, Good Morning, to someone, almost always…silence. People have moved beyond being sensibly cautious to being afraid. We’re in trouble. Big trouble.

Think of the differing and often conflicting messages we have been given by our so-called experts and elected “leaders”:

Wash hands often. O.k., sensible and good.

Avoid unnecessary contact with people that are sick or appear to be sick. O.K., Mama told us that.

You can’t tell if someone is sick, even they may not know it, so avoid everybody. Huh?

You can’t get a haircut, it’s unessential. Whaat?

Abortions are essential, so they’re o.k. No Comment.

Wear a mask. Weren’t people arrested ( Richmond, VA) just a few weeks ago for wearing a mask in public?

Wear gloves. Now we’re being told that wearing gloves might not be such a great idea. Just wash your hands.

This “Lockdown” is for your own good. Really?

You can get a hamburger or coffee only at the drive-thru. Oh, well, I wasn’t planning to wear this shirt for more than 4 days, anyway! (LOL)

You can’t attend a drive-thru church service. Hmmm, we’ll see about that.

Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot,  etc. are essential so they can stay open. I have no problem with that.

Small Retailers are not essential so they Must close. Really, who decides?

And, here’s my latest favorite advice from none other than the esteemed expert in viruses and contagious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci: Avoid going outside your home, BUT, it’s o.k. to “Hook-UP” with a Tinder or Grindr “date” if you think it’s worth it!! This would be a joke if this “expert” wasn’t so influential in directing the madness affecting all of us. (https://nypost.com/2020/04/15/fauci-endorses-tinder-hookups-with-a-caveat/)

The list of these conflicting and mostly unwarranted regulations and advice could go on and on. But, here’s the real problem: People are getting sick, really sick, from THE LOCKDOWN! Reports are beginning to surface that Suicide Crises Centers and Substance Abuse Hotlines are seeing dramatic increases in calls for help from people that can’t take this anymore. And that number most likely reflects those among us that are already or have been in some type of emotional or substance crises. Can you imagine the stress on a young family when the family income has been turned off? Or on a small business owner that has worked day and night to start a business to have it suddenly deemed, “Non-Essential” and shut down? This is not only nonsensical and unnecessary, but, I would say, probably sinful. Bureaucrats and self-styled experts have wrecked the lives of an entire nation and also taken away two things that are so important in times of crises: The ability to pray with and be with one another. Our country has gone through many wars, both on our soil and abroad. But, I am not aware of when churches were closed. Or of when we looked at everyone else with this fear and suspicion. Something is wrong. You can see it in the eyes, kid.

We can fight this virus. After all, we have had epidemic and pandemic viruses many times before. But, we are social and spiritual beings. Take that away and we’ll do to ourselves what no virus can.

See what happens when you keep me locked up!

There is the famous line in the movie, The Godfather:Leave the gun, take the cannoli. Even a hitman, after taking care of business, knew that being social was an important part of being a family. Can’t we, too, take care of business and still remain a family?

Pray, Be kind, Stay safe, Think.

The Impeachment Antidote!

I can’t take it anymore!

Turn on the t.v and it’s there. Click on the car radio…it’s there. Glance at a newspaper when picking up a cup of coffee…gotcha! Is there no relief from everything Ukraining on my parade?

The “leaders” of our country seem bent on arguing, posturing, riling everyone up, fabricating and just being nasty. Many, if not most, of them have never done an honest day’s work in their life. Yet, they create one “crisis” after another and try to pit one American against another. Their world is not the real world.

To find a world where civility, integrity, hard and honest work and common sense are, well, common, all I have to do is take the short ride up to our home building site here in Staunton, VA.

Construction may be the great equalizer. You can either do it or you can’t. It makes no difference if you are young or older, big or small, male or female. Where you are from or what you look like is of no importance. If you can do the work or learn, that’s all that matters.

If you’re like me and can’t take the daily bombardment of crazy anymore, come along for a peak into the real world…the building of our home.

Eric Argenbright, Owner of E&A Home Builders, supervising and banging nails!

Buck, the lead man, showing new guy, David, the details of setting roof trusses.
This ain’t DC, lots of teamwork here! Kyle, David and Buck getting it done.
Teamwork making progress
Windows going in…and look what’s on the roof!
The roofing crew in action…men and women!
All that hammering upstairs doesn’t slow down Buck, Kyle and David from working on the living room ceiling!

Now, don’t you feel better? I do! Turn off the t.v. and radio. Watch some real work getting done, meet and talk to your neighbors and see how nice this world really is!