Using Secondhand Timber

WOOD from packing cases, tea chests and similar sources can be turned into many useful articles. The first thing is to take the box or case to pieces carefully. Generally the boxes that come to hand for re-use are made of thin board, and any attempt to prize the boards from their fixings leads to splits and breakages. It is better to cut square across the box so as to clear the nailed portions of the ends. Perhaps by detaching them at one end it will be possible to prize up the other end so as to get at the nail heads with a pair of pincers and extract the nails. In doubtful cases, sever the boards at both ends; a tenon saw can be used, starting from the back of the box (the side farthest away from the worker). This method will shorten the boards a little, but a sound board will be obtained, which is what matters most.

Tea Chests

The sides are fixed to square framework, the nails or rivets being inserted from the outside through thin steel angle pieces. The only way to deal with tea chests is to cut each side away, clear of the angle plates. First, square a line across one side, well away from the steel; then (presuming that the top of the chest is open, leaving one edge not pro- tected by an angle plate) saw down two sides. Next, to get an entrance at the bottom of this side piece, bore a half-inch hole to admit the point of a keyhole saw, and saw along a line pencilled across. In plywood, it will not be easy to keep a straight cut with this saw, but the ply can be sawn square afterwards, when it has been detached by the three cuts mentioned. Thus one fair sized rectangle of plywood will have been removed from the box.

Proceed in the same way with the other three sides, which will leave only the bottom to be dealt with. Should the tea chest have all four sides on, then one must be cut away by using a keyhole saw in the first place. Another way is to cut through the corners with a hacksaw until the steel has been severed, and then to continue with an ordinary wood saw; we suggest a tenon saw because this, having fine teeth, will not mutilate or splinter the plywood; but a fine panel saw will serve almost as well, once the steel has been cut through. One side of the chest may have a small circular hole in it, closed with a tin lid. The best parts of the wood can be cut away, at either side, though for some jobs, the entire piece may be suitable. In making any finishing cuts on plywood, saw from the face or best side, since the tool will leave a burr on the under side.

Construction Methods

Since box materials are slight and thin, there is little possibility of using them without a supporting framework. In other words, use them merely to clothe or line the articles which are to be made. But a very light framework will suffice for small work, and all that is needed is some quartering measuring at least 1 ¼ in. x 1 in. in section when finished. Thus, for a job to be finished off neatly, material sawn 1 ½ in. square, may be used, and planed on all four sides, or two adjacent sides only, since at least two sides will be hidden from view by the lining which will be attached to them.

Another useful material for framework is batten, size 2 in. x ½ in. or 1 in. x ¾ in. Heavier jobs need 2 in.x 1 in. batten to stiffen them. No heavy nailing is permissible in this sort of work, but a much better job will result if screws are used freely, generally in Gauge No. 6. There is a very handy tool made which combines a boring appliance and a screwdriver. The screwdriver blade is secured in a simple chuck at the end of a spirally-cut spindle, something like the stock of an archimedean drill. When the handle is pressed down, the spindle revolves, so that a screw can be inserted or withdrawn, according to the direction in which the ratchet is set. Interchangeable with the screwdriver blades are three double-flute drills, excellent for making screw-holes in wood; they are fixed in the chuck by a simple ‘push’ action, in place of the screwdriver blade. This appliance enables light work to be done quickly and accurately.

A dodge worth remembering for locating members that have to be screwed to a framework is to tack down the covering, e.g. plywood, with four panel pins. Then, with a bradawl or the tool mentioned above, holes can be bored through the ply and sufficiently far into the frame underneath. By now inserting about four screws, the covering can be fixed in proper position, for the remainder of the screws to follow. Also, if nails are to be used throughout, the fixing by panel pins will make this operation easier. But there is much to be said for the use of small countersunk screws in jobs where neatness and strength are desirable. Plywood can be attached with Gauge 4 screws, ¾ in. long, and the heads will not be conspicuous after the work has been painted. It is seldom that salvaged timber is clean enough to be left ‘in the white’, ready for staining and varnishing, but even then small screws, neatly inserted, are not a great blemish.

FURNITURE CARE AND REPAIR – UPHOLSTERY RENOVATING the upholstery of chairs, sofas, and settees is one of the jobs which may be tackled very satisfactorily by the home craftsman.

It should be noted, however, that this article does not deal with the extensive repairs to framework and upholstery which, properly speaking, are the province of the skilled upholsterer, but with the repair of minor defects.


A hammer, screwdriver or old chisel, pincers, an upholsterer’s needle, and an appliance for stretching the new webbing tightly are all the tools required. The necessary materials are hessian and springs (where replacement of either is required), webbing, and a ball of good quality twine. A packet of 1 in. tacks completes the list, except for such covered studs, brass head nails and ornamental binding as may be necessary to match the design or ornamentation of the article being repaired. If an upholsterer’s needle is unobtainable, a packing needle will do perfectly well. Buy the very best quality webbing you can get, as the success of the work will largely depend upon the strength and durability of this item. The twine should be real upholsterer’s twine, and any extra effort expended in procuring the genuine article will be well repaid in both the strength of the finished job and the ease with which it is accomplished.

The life of the twine will be considerably lengthened if it is drawn firmly across a lump of beeswax before use. The beeswax not only protects the twine from deterioration but discourages rust where the knots secure the springs.

For the purpose of these instructions it is assumed that the article for repair is an ordinary settee, but the method of working applies equally in the case of easy chairs or any of the more usual items of upholstered furniture.


The first operation is the removal of the canvas cover on the under side. Turn the settee upside down, supporting the centre of the seat on a chair . Release the tacks holding the canvas in place and remove it completely. If it is still strong and undamaged, lay it aside to be used again, but if it is faulty, measure it carefully for replacement.

To remove tacks from canvas and webbing, hold an old screwdriver or old chisel against the edge of the head of the tack and give it one or two sharp blows with the hammer. Be careful to sweep up all the tacks later as they are dangerous to the worker when kneeling at the settee during later stages of the work.

The webbing with the springs attached will now be exposed. Unless the repair consists of the UPHOLSTERY replacement or re-fixing of just one or two faulty springs, it is advisable to replace the whole of the webbing. Release the tacks securing the webbing to the frame of the settee and cut loose the twine securing the springs. Make a careful note at this stage of the method used by the upholsterer to tie the springs in place.

Next turn the settee back to its normal position and release the top cover all along the front of the settee and turn it back, complete with the stuffing. It will be necessary, of course, to remove first the covered studs, brass head nails, or other ornamental fixing, together with any gimp or binding employed. Lay aside specimens of all these for use when selecting replacement patterns.

The released springs should now be examined for wear and distortion. Take an old spring to the upholsterer’s shop when ordering new ones, which are quite cheap.

It may be necessary to buy a different size of spring from the original to allow for the results of long compression of the remaining springs.

Now for the front edge of the settee. It is assumed that this is boxed with suitably padded wood. Repairing a sprung edge is rather beyond the capabilities of the amateur, but it may be fairly simply modified by a wood frame and then treated as a boxed edge.

At this stage in the work it is convenient to examine the joints of the frame for any looseness or weakness. Ordinarily, these may be made good by gluing and screwing. A point to remember here is that when re-gluing any joint the old glue must first be completely removed, or failure will result.

When it is seen that the frame is satisfactory, cut a strip of new canvas or hessian about 5 or 6in. Wide and the length of the front. Double back about 1 in. of this, and firmly secure it to the top member of the front frame with tacks. A length of twine is now loosely tacked close to the tacked edge of the strip of canvas to act both as a guide, and a support to the stuffing for the rolled edge it is desired to form . Take the old stuffing, if you are re-using it, and beat it with a stick to loosen it and give an even texture, then form it into a roll by tucking it in and around the twine which is tacked at the edge. The canvas strip is then turned back over the rolled stuffing and firmly fixed to the top member of the front frame.

Turn the settee bottom upwards so as to facilitate the fixing of any new springs. Remember, -also, to strengthen the fixing of the old springs where necessary. The new springs should be secured exactly on the site of the old ones which they are to replace, and securely stitched. Note that in all good class work the springs are not only strongly secured to the canvas underside of the top cover, but are also tied to each other to prevent any chance of slipping. Examine the fixing of all springs which are to remain, and re-stitch firmly wherever it is necessary.

The new webbing may now be fixed in place. Since this bears the whole weight of the person using the settee, it is obvious that it must be firmly secured. Double back 1 in. to ain. Of the webbing and secure it by three or four tacks to the site of the first cross strip. The outside end of the webbing is first fixed by two tacks through the single thickness, and then is cut off about 2 in. longer than the width of the settee, and the overhang turned back and fixed by a further two or three tacks.

Continue this process from end to end of the settee until all the cross strips are in place. Those from end to end of the settee are then fixed. Note that they are threaded alternately, over and under the cross strips.

The springs are now stitched into position at the intersections of the webbing . During this stitching, the string is joined in one continuous length from spring to spring throughout the whole job.

Now stand the settee back on its legs for the next stage, the replacement of the cover over the boxed front. The canvas lining is first stretched down and secured to the frame. Then the stuffing is carefully arranged and spread evenly over the rolled edge, the top cover drawn down and fixed . The edge of the cover is hidden by leather binding in the case of a leather or rexine settee, or by gimp in the case of a plush, velour, or similar-covered fabric settee. Suitable ornamental nails are used. With the fixing of the canvas over the springs and webbing on the underside, the work is complete.

The working instructions contained in this section may be taken to apply to the repairing not only of settees but to upholstered chairs and sofas.

In the case of chairs, when fixing the springs they should be stitched. You will usually find that an odd number of springs normally five or seven has been used originally. It is well worth while when needing extra furniture of this kind to take the opportunity to buy a secondhand article cheaply and spend a few leisure hours in putting it into good repair.

Points to watch are strength and solidity of the framework and freedom from wood decay . Similarly, the stuffing and upholstery generally should be examined thoroughly, for signs of moth larvae and insects.

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