Today I got started on an exciting project for the nursery! I’m going to be restoring and refinishing the oak cradle that my maternal grandfather slept in as a baby. It’s from the early 1900s (originally bought for his much older sisters) and it’s been languishing in storage in a pretty bad state for many, many years.
I’m not going to be doing this alone, but rather with the generous help, advice and expertise of my talented dad, an expert woodworker. His help is quite necessary because, as you can tell from this picture, it’s missing some legs! Two of the legs were sadly and rudely broken off at some point. The mortise joints on one end are in bad shape:
This one was originally covered by a rough T-shaped metal brace.
Here is my dad holding up the broken legs:
You can see in the above photo that the original legs (quite short) are screwed on to some longer legs. These longer spliced-on legs had wheels on them, presumably so some unknown relation could wheel the baby bassinett around instead of bending down and rocking it.
Our plan is to take it apart, sand it (that’s my job) and then fashion a new mortise joint to replace the broken part and splint the new joint onto the existing leg in order to preserve it (that’s Dad’s job). Other assorted projects include replacing the bottom slats with something a little more supportive and full-coverage to hold up the mattress and blankets, and filling in the old screw holes with wood in order to drill new holes to replace the stripped ones. Oh yeah, then we have to attach some antique rockers that Dad happens to have, so it actually rocks again.
Whew! Did I mention I’m also planning to make a mattress-cover-plus-bumpers bassinet set? To prevent squirmy babies from squirming out between non-regulation-spaced spindles? Well, I’m trying to focus on first steps first…
Dad got me some specialty sanding tools to deal with some of the ancient, thick, dried-up white paint hiding in the nooks and crannies of all those beautiful oak spindles:
The “tadpoles” are neat little curved rubber widgets that hold sandpaper and allow you to sand curved bits easier, and the abrasive cord will allow me to floss around the tightest bits of the spindles without going crazy. I also brought my rubberized gardening gloves so my hands wouldn’t get eaten up by the sanding cord.
Once I used a stiff brush to get rid of all the cobwebs, we applied some intense force (ahem, I held on while Dad winched like hell) in order to remove the ancient screws that hold the ends to the sides. As you can see above, I’ve already got one side piece off and ready for sanding, which I then worked on while it was held upright in a sanding vise:
And then I went to work! With my gloves, my sanding floss, my tadpole, a brush to remove the grit, a knife…
And then after about 45 minutes I started to see the beauty of paint. Friends, these spindles are ridiculous. Beautiful, but ridiculous. There are so many of them! And the tiny bits of paint left are so ridiculously stubborn. I don’t know if it’s possible to get everything clean enough. Paint would cover over all these problems quite nicely, you know.
So, for now the plan is to work on this side piece for a while longer, and then test it with an oak stain and see what the spindles look like. If they look passable, then hooray! If not, hooray! because we will then skip the intense prep and just paint them with white paint. I think it might look kind of cool to have the spindles white and the rails a wood stain. Hopefully not too mismatchy. I am not a big fan of matchy-matchy stuff, but I don’t want it to look like we got bored painting the cradle and skipped the rails!
I’m very excited about this project, even though it was a little bit discouraging to start today and be temporarily thwarted by stubborn paint. It’s a small and more portable solution to my earlier to-crib-or-not-to-crib dilemma, and it restores a precious family heirloom to a useful and beautiful state. Our baby will be the fourth generation of Barnard family descendents to sleep in this cradle, and snuggle in with all about all the happy ghosts sending their sweet blessings.