Nakashima-Widdicomb Restoration

Hello and welcome to my blog!  In this two-part series I will be restoring a Nakashima-Widdicomb mirror.  This mirror was part of a line of a furniture designed for Widdicomb Furniture Company by George Nakashima.  Over his career George Nakashima worked with both Knoll Studio and Widdicomb Furniture Company having designed furniture lines for both companies.  The line of furniture he designed for Widdicomb he titled as the Origins Group and it included this mirror.

This mirror took an unfortunate spill, the crash landing broke all joinery and splintered part of the base.  My goal in this project is to restore the frame and repair that which is damaged.  In addition to repairing the frame I have designed a supporting frame for the mirror that will provide a strong anchor to the wall without disturbing the integrity of the original frame.  The supporting frame will distribute the weight of the mirror evenly to this Nakashima frame and eliminate reliance upon two single points which ultimately bear load on four dowels at two corners.  While these connections continue to survive in the existing mirrors, I had a feeling that attempting to resuscitate the dowelled connections in this frame would be a risky proposition.

I began the work by disassembling what remained of the frame.  I could wiggle the remaining joints and so I knew the glue bond had been broken.  I knocked them apart with light taps from a mallet.

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The joint between members of this frame are simple doweled connections.

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Once the frame had been broken into individual parts, I removed the original triangular shaped inserts which retained the mirror glass.  These were held in place with small nails.

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The frame, now completely disassembled, was ready for restoration.  My attention was first directed toward the splinted parts of the frame.

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The first was easy enough to repair, I cleaned the area off with a plane and attached a new piece of wood.

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The second piece, not quite as easy.  I needed to work the area down to a flat facet in order to successfully glue new wood to repair the splintered piece.  I began work with a spoke shave until it was flat enough to plane.  To fill in the damage I needed a piece with the grain oriented similarly to that which was lost.

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I determined that wood split out from a board should look identical to that which splintered off of the frame, and so I used a bowie knife to split wood into an appropriated sized piece.   After which I planed one facet, then glued it to the damaged area.  This piece is difficult to clamp and so instead I bound it like a splint.

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Once the glue cured I was able to plane the top surface flat, first using a jack plane then followed by a smoothing plane.  I re-established the stopped rabbet with a paring chisel, first shearing the wood at the stop, then paring long grain to remove the bulk until flat.

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The glue up is now revealed and I believe it hides the repair quite well.

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Next I attend to the end grain, first sawing it near flush, then detailing what remained with a fine rasp.

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The rasps I prefer to use are hand stitched, as such the pattern is not perfectly uniform which serves as an advantage.  The hand stitched pattern cuts cleanly without leaving tooth marks.

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With the frame parts now patched I can turn my attention to the joined connection between sides, top, and bottom.  While the original connection held well over the past 50 some odd years, I had little faith that re-gluing those connections would provide a similar story of success.  Instead I decided to cut out the affected areas and replace them with mortise and tenon joinery.

While I would have preferred to cut through tenons I wanted to leave the exterior of the frame exactly as it was, and so I determined that triple tenons, cut as long as possible would provide a good amount of long grain glue surface.

The work began by splitting material to be used as tenons.  I like tenons to be perfectly straight grain if possible and that is best achieved through splitting.

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The existing connections are cut out to make way for the new wood.

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Some remnant of the dowel remains but it will not disturb the connection.  In long grain a dowel is quite suitable, being entirely long grain to long grain.

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The uprights are set aside to cure and my attention next turns to the base and top.  New connections need to be cut in to make way for triple tenons.

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The rear tenon is made short due to the fact that it would cut into the exposed ledge at the back of the frame.

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My work disappears when the connection is re-established leaving little evidence that a repair was made.

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Now that the mirror is once again whole, I can turn my attention to finishing the frame.  The original finish applied begins with a toner, which is a type of stain, used to make the walnut appear uniform.  After which the frame is sprayed with catalyzed lacquer.  This is a typical finish process used for a great deal of manufactured furniture.

Instead of spraying lacquer I wiped on blonde shellac.  Blonde shellac wiped on lightly has a very similar appearance to spray lacquer.

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I’ve decided that the original hanger should be replaced with a cleat.  A cleat, however, will require much more material to anchor to on the back of the frame.  With that in mind I decided to build a supporting frame to act as an anchor point between wall and frame.

A cleat will offer  a strong connection between wall and frame in addition to offering a consistent reveal between the wall and the frame.  It also offers contact across a larger portion of the frame and supporting wall allowing the load to be distributed across multiple fasteners.

In part two of this series I will detail the construction of the frame made to support this work.  Thank you for stopping by and I look forward to your comments.

Nakashima-Widdicomb Restoration: Part Deux

12 Comments

  1. Brian, I learn from you constantly. Thank you. I have a question concerning your vise on your work bench. That piece of wood that looks like elongated dovetails that forms the left side of your vise and the pice of solid wood to it’s immediate left. Can you explain how that is done? I think the piece to the immediate left of the elongated dovetail piece just floats there or is held in place by so unseen joinery, maybe sliding dovetails? Thank you.

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  2. Very nice Job, Brian. 🙂

    You’re large paring chisel caught my eye. I headed over to your ‘The Workshop’ page and found a nice enlargeable image of your tool wall, showing your collection of large parers (slicks?).

    From a distance, they look like rosewood Kikuhiromaru slicks (WS#2 or BS?). Am I close?
    Can I trouble you for their specs?

    May I also asked where you sourced them from?

    I’m currently deep, deep inside the rabbet hole of researching my all Japanese chisels acquisitions from scratch. As part of that I’m looking to purchase some large Japanese parers (slicks). Rosewood or ebony would be very nice for these (pushing only; no whacking). I’m looking for some good quality users that won’t break the bank, but I can stretch the budget if justifiable. My preliminary slicks short-list, is Kikuhiromaru (from So Yamashita at japan-tool.com) or some Koyamaichi (from Stu at toolsfromjapan.com). The Kiyohisa slicks (also from So Yamashita at japan-tool.com) sound like the business, but I can’t really wait a 4-6 year wait! (lol)

    It’s bewildering stuff for an autodidact, but I’m slowly getting my head around it all. Can I trouble you for any insights on your large parers (slicks?) or any of your other Japanese chisels?

    I appreciate that this innocent enough sounding question is much easier asked than answered and I would be *very* grateful for any insights that your might be able to offer.

    Thanks for your blog. It’s very nicely written. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Damian

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    1. HI Damian,
      Glad to hear that you are enjoying the blog!

      Very close, but those are actually Konobu chisels. Konobu are about one year wait and these are in Assab K120, which is a Swedish steel somewhat similar to Hitachi white paper 1.

      The Oire-nomi that I have are by Kikuhiromaru in white steel 1, Kikuhiromaru also makes slicks (Tsuki-nomi) and so they would be high on my list if I could not have these Konobu chisels.

      You might contact So-san and request some information on both chisels and then you can make your decision, either one will certainly serve you well.

      Cheers,
      Brian

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      1. Many thanks, Brian.

        So nice to get some confirmation that I’m heading down the right track.

        I’ll contact So-san in the new year when things settle down.

        Wishing you and your family a safe and happy festive season.

        Thanks again,
        Damian

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  3. Love the blog, it’s definitely worked it’s way to the top of my list to check frequently.

    Have you looked at surgical tubing for odd clamping? It looked like you were using painters tape in the photo above. I like the tubing, it allows considerable clamping pressure to be applied in strange orientations, and doesn’t have any adhesive to be left behind when done.

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