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Restoring Interior Woodwork
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By James Mott

Generally speaking, the standard of restored interiors of listed and period buildings in this county is shocking. Repairs are badly executed, the addition of new work is often ill conceived, mouldings reproduced to match originals do not, lost / damaged original ironmongery is replaced with inferior off the shelf products and finishes look as though they have come out of a treacle tin…………

On the other hand, there are extremely well executed projects that have been carefully researched, detailed and supervised - the end result being an interior which is functional, aesthetically pleasing and with the benefit of being serviceable for future generations. This article aims to give a brief overview and some pointers as to how to approach the restoration of an historic woodwork interior.


Authenticating original features

Simple observation, exploratory work and research will reveal the original features and what are later editions. With a listed building the features introduced that are not original are deemed part of the listing, although in some cases, with permission, these can be removed in favour of returning to the original. If access can be gained to similar buildings nearby, this is often extremely helpful.

Restoration or Conservation ?

It is most important that the methods to be adopted for a particular project are clearly decided upon and stated from the outset. Clients, architects, conservation officers, contracors and tradesmen will all have very different views and understandings of the two principles.

Incorporating new Features

This should be carefully considered and either be done completely in keeping with the original, or if appropriate, deliberately designed in a modern way so as not to detract from the existing.

Complying with modern building regulations
 
If a building is being significantly changed, added to, restored etc. permissions will need to be applied for, and works specified with need to satisfy not only the modern building regulations, but also the local conservation officer whose primary interest is making sure that original features and the integrity of the building is maintained. Introducing new services into an existing interior can often be challenging - however with a bit of exploratory work, services can successfully be incorporated into or behind the existing features without too much trouble. 


Complying with modern fire regulations

If a building needs upgrading to conform to the new fire regulations ( as all non domestic buildings need to as of the 1st October 2006 ) and in the cases of some domestic buildings ungoing alterations, a plan needs to be drawn up detailing the proposed changes and agreed with all interested parties. Most problems seem to surface with the upgrading of original timber doors to turn them into fire doors. Specifying changes to upgrade doors can range from simple solutions to extremely complex problems to overcome. Most doors I have encountered that have been upgraded for fire would not even pass a 15 minute fire test !! The common standard solution of specifying an intumescent strip, brush smoke seal and thicker door stop with a door closer and latch is not enough. Put simply, this is a specialist field and advice should be sought from a expert. To specify a suitable upgrade method, consideration needs to be given to the size, thickness of the door components and panels, the integrity of the glue joints and structure, the materials, the frame and any voids found from previous fitted ironmongery. It is also vital that whatever upgrade methods are proposed, that these theories are scientifically based and can be backed up with the relevant available fire test data.

To strip or not to strip ?

In recent times, it has become fashionable to strip previously painted woodwork for so-called aesthetic reasons. Softwood joinery was almost always intended to be painted and so historically, joiners had no qualms about using inferior grade timber, knowing it would be painted. Stripping the paint will therefore often reveal a large number of knots and timber defects which were never supposed to be on show. With this in mind, it is usually not advisable when executing repairs and or restoring painted or polished woodwork to strip the finish before - far better to do no more than to remove the finish locally around the area to be worked on.

Ironmongery

Most old ironmongery, even if badly worn, can usually be restored by a specialist metalworker to be functional again and has the benefit of keeping the character of the building intact. If ironmongery is lost or missing, a replica of an original can be made to exactly match. If new ironmongery is to be used, this should be carefully researched to find suitable products and will take considerable time to find authentic produced pieces, to match in with the existing ironmongery on any given project.

Making mouldings to match the originals-accurately

Obtaining a copy of an original moulding (even quite common ones) is basically impossible. These cannot be purchased ‘off the shelf’, and will need to be machined by a knowledgeable woodworker who can make, or has made, cutters to match templates taken from an original section. A moulding can be replicated by using several methods (or a combination) - drawing around the profile, using careful measurement, using a set of profile rods or by taking a cut at an existing juncture e.g. on an architrave at the connection to the plinth block with will cause no damage to the existing fabric. Cutters are then specially ground to the given profile.

It is worth pointing out that with recent changes to the woodworking regulations, cutters must be ordered as a set of four, consisting of 2 main cutters and 2 chip breakers. These requirements have been introduced for safety reasons and a set will cost anywhere between £80 – £140!! Many moulding sections (an architrave for example) use 2 or more sets of cutters - its worth remembering that when specifying new work, that detailing lots of different moulding profiles in short runs will become extremely expensive. It is possible to purchase authentic mass produced cutter profiles off the shelf, which are considerably cheaper and are a consideration to keep project costs down.

Specifying the works

In the interests of all, a well detailed specification needs to be drawn up particularly if the project is to go out to tender, which gives thorough detailed information on not only the scope of the work but also gives information on the methods and standards expected. Money spent employing a consultant to detail a project (if you do not have the specialist knowledge yourself) and to advise you, will reap dividends with tighter contractor prices and the contractor / tradesmen left in no question as to the whole scope of the work expected of them.

The common practice of producing a very basic scope of work and relying heavily upon the contractor / tradesmen to interpret this, worked well in the now distant past, when companies employed highly skilled, knowledgeable and conscientious tradesmen. Most contractors now take on projects, often a long way from home and rely entirely upon employing local sub contractors. With the decline in traditional apprentices and training, it is an unfortunate fact, that locating craftsmen with the necessary skills and knowledge to take on timber repairs is extremely difficult.

Samples & sample rooms

Even if ironmongery, finishes, timber, are specified very exactly, it is important that before proceeding with works that proper samples are produced at the outset to make sure that all parties are happy with the proposals. Again, to avoid any misunderstanding of methodology and standards etc. a sample room or designated area should be worked on first and completed for inspection before proceeding with the whole works. This gives an opportunity for all parties to view and discuss the proposed finished work , critique and iron out any issues requiring attention. Special attention should be given to repair methods, joints, moulding profiles (that they do actually match) ironmongery and the finish applied.

The interior environment

It is worth considering, that excessive shrinkage, cracking and distortion within the interior of a building can be caused not only by the obvious - presence of damp, subsidence and movement, water leaks etc; but also from a badly positioned radiator, strong sunlight , lights, wall heaters and heating systems that are not controlled or monitored properly. All these factors need consideration to make sure that the restored interior remains stable for the future. Something as simple as introducing a window blind, can stop strong sunlight causing distortion and fading of finishes. Most problems occur with the expansion and shrinkage of timber. It is therefore important that whatever heating is present is suitably controlled with this in mind. Buildings that have undergone extensive restoration or have been unoccupied for long periods are often unheated and damp. Dehumidifiers can sometimes be utilized and any heating should be introduced very gradually, a few degrees higher each day to avoid rapid drying out.

Regular maintenance

A simple visual survey of an interior done regularly will reveal any issues had have surfaced and can be dealt with to avoid permanent damage. Because of the nature of timber which shrinks and expands with changes in temperature and humidity, a newly fitted fire door for example, may need adjusting within 6 months so as to work properly. Keeping up to date with touching up and re-coating paint work will avoid the need for a major repaint and French polished surfaces finished with wax should be regularly waxed to maintain and build a patina. Simple, regular maintenance will keep the interior of your historic building looking and functioning well and will be enjoyed for generations to come.
 
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Comments
mouldings
by Optimum Brasses
19:25, Sunday 11th September 2011
This is a very good article, and I agree with nearly all of it. However, there is a better way to make copies of timber moudings can quite easily be made without the use of a spindle moulder with special cutters. This is by use of a scratch-stock.This is a simple tool that takes about half an hour to make. Essentially it consists of a matching pair of L-shaped pieces of hard wood that can be bolted together with bolts and wing-nuts. In the inner corner of the L a shaped blade is held. The tool is used at right angles to the length of timber and makes a screeching noise in use. The steel blades are not difficult to make with a grind-stone. The length of timber can be partly rebated or shaped with existing moulding planes so that the scratch stock only needs to do the fiddly bits
 
 
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