Restoring A Rolltop Desk Back To It’s Former Glory

Posted on February 15th, 2016
Categories: Desks

Roll top desk1

Here is the before picture of the rolltop desk. The desk in pieces.

Growing up, I was impressed with rolltop desks. I remember seeing one in just about every western movie and TV show I had ever watched. A marshal, judge, doctor, banker, or someone of importance sat at one.

Decades of building custom furniture, and repairing antiques, I finally had a rolltop desk visit the workshop. After nearly a century of office work, this desk was in dire need of repair and refurbishment. Just about every joint was loose or broken.  I was able pull several desk parts free with little effort. The finish had worn away long ago with the wooden drawer runners. The shine of the brass hardware had tarnished to a near black patina. Drawer handles are iron, and had discolored badly as well.

First order of business, the desk was completely disassembled. Joinery was chiseled clean. The wrong glues has been used in numerous failed attempts to hold it together, for just a bit longer. Some of the drawer bottoms where held in place with drywall screws or nails. The poplar wood drawer slides were very well worn, as were a few of the drawer’s bottom edges. The bottom edges of the of the drawers had worn to a con-caved profile, sliding for decades on the drawer guides; these drawer guides are nailed to the sides of the desk.

New pieces were made to match where old worn sections were no more. The writing areas were originally covered with a green baize, bordered by gold-leaf tooled leather. I used fish glue to lay down the new green billiard baize. I then inlayed the tooled leather border. I really like the green baize. I have a fair amount of it left over, and intend to use it on one of my personal projects…

The finish I applied was a coat of linseed oil to enrich the depth of the walnut, followed by coats of shellac. This desk is now ready for the next one-hundred years of work. This is, to me, the Master’s workbench of the office world. I was honored to be able to restore this amazing rolltop to its former glory.

Roll top desk2

Another BEFORE picture of the rolltop desk being put back together.

Roll top desk3

Broken dovetail drawer.

Roll top desk4

After picture of desk restored to its glory.

Roll top desk5

Finished writing surface with green biaze with tool leather trim.

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Front view of rolltop desk closed.

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Pencil drawers with freshly polished brass hardware.

Roll top desk8

Detailed view of the green baize and tooled leather border.

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My Client Did Not Know What A Furniture Tenon Is…

Posted on August 21st, 2015
Categories: News

LOOK—My First YouTube Video!

I just got a GoPro camera for my hike on Mount Whitney two weeks ago, and decided to create my first woodworking video. It has taken a bit of study to learn the functions of the GoPro, and how to use iMovie.

Picking a subject for a video can be a hurdle, as there are so many things I could video about my work. Ironically, to learn how to use the GoPro, iMovie, and how to create an interesting video, is found on YouTube.

A repair and restoration project is currently ‘on-the-bench.’ I decided the best approach to my first online video is to educate. I explained to the client why her dining chairs fell apart. She could not understand my verbal explanation between dowels and tenons. So enjoy my first video on tenons! This video turned out like my first piece of furniture, so…

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Before And After Pictures Of A Dresser Make Over DIY

Posted on August 15th, 2015
Categories: Dresser

From time to time, I am presented with a project to alter the appearance of an existing furniture piece. The interior designer or client has a piece that is of good quality, has memories attached to it, and they want it spruced up to fit into their current updated home decor.

So was the case with a little girl’s Kermit the Frog dresser. The little girl was now a young woman, and wanted a more sophisticated looking dresser than the current lime green, with pink pull knobs.

The interior design firm Ramsey Engler Ltd. of Minneapolis, has worked with me on several projects over the years.

This time they needed to give an outdated, but well-made, dresser a major facelift.

First on the list was to create a toe-kick to lift it off the ground four inches. Ramsey Engler Ltd. then sent me a design pattern to ‘wrap’ the piece in. They wanted a white catalyzed varnish base, with a geometric motif pattern using a frisket film. This is something I learned watching the Hot Rod shows on TV.

The film comes in different widths with adhesive on one side. It is applied to the cured painted surface, now the artiste can draw a pattern onto the frisket film. Portions are cut out using an X-Acto knife, these sections are removed to receive the additional colors. In this case, metallic silver paint was applied. After this was dry, a glaze varnish was applied.

Below are the photos showing the dramatic results. An old piece made new.

before and after

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dresser_radelow1._0005_Layer 2

dresser lime greenradelow_final_dresser

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It Was A True Honor To Create The Carving For This Beautiful Marquetry Headboard

Posted on August 8th, 2015
Categories: News

As Ken Stover a marquetry buddy of mine,  was creating a beautiful marquetry masterpiece, he approached me to see if I would be interested in doing the carving for the border of his headboard. Ken and Ronelle had previously referred me to a neighbor of theirs to build and Italian carved fireplace mantel and were so impressed with the outcome they knew I would be the perfect craftsman to compliment Ken’s marquetry.

Both Ken and I were one of the first handful of students to graduate the American School of French Marquetry.

Ken wanted to create a special headboard for his wife Ronelle. Ken designed this with marquetry from a table’s top by Jean-Henry Riesener in 1771. The table is located in the Petit Trianon at Versailles. This table is featured in Pierre Ramond’s book: Masterpieces of Marquetry (volume III) page,77: ISBN 0-89236-595-1.

This is the pattern Ken used to make full scale drawings for a queen-sized bed. Ken executed the marquetry using the ‘painting in wood’ technique, using sawn veneers imported from France.

I was truly honored to be a part of the piece and thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration of working with Ken.

marquetry packets

Ken’s marquetry packet of headboard.

carving curl

Aaron’s carving on air dried lumber.

carving at bench

Aaron’s carving on work bench.


Ken’s finished marquetry masterpiece being framed with Aaron’s French walnut carving.

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Interesting Video On An Actor’s Cool Wood Shop In LA

Posted on July 11th, 2015
Categories: Other Woodworkers

I came across this video on Nick Offerman, the actor from Parks & Recreation, who is also an avid woodworker with his own shop in East L.A.

He focuses primarily on hand-crafted, traditional joinery & sustainable slab rescue–working with fallen trees from throughout northern California and the urban LA environment.

I wanted to share this with my “peeps.”

Nick Offerman Woodshop

Offerman Woodshop

Click On Image To Visit The Offerman Workshop.

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View Never Before Seen Photos Of A J.Paul Getty Original! No Other Craftsman Has Ever Made A Re-creation This Perfect!

Posted on July 4th, 2015
Categories: Tables

aaron_radelow_tables_bookAaron Radelow, had the opportunity to work with the Getty to research drawings and materials to re-create a magnificent replica of a Pierre Gole table. The photos which have never been distributed below show both the original Pierre Gole table bordered by Aaron’s re-created tables.

For the past twenty five years, Aaron Radelow has been hand producing original designs and masterful re-creations. His diverse portfolio of work includes everything from Queen Anne dressing tables, Byzantine hand-carved gates, and rustic Morris chairs to now the replication of a Pierre Gole writing table.

These tables are his most treasured accomplishment which far surpasses the furniture of the modern woodworker today. He now can truly imagine what it must have been to build furniture for Louis XIV. He built two tables. One is a re-creation of the original piece on permanent display at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The other (contre-partye) is not known to exist.

To view more on his journey and the process of creating these amazing tables, click on the brochure.

If you like this information, feel free to reach out or share it with others!


The original J. Paul Getty Pierre Gole table bordered by Aaron Radelow’s re-creation tables.

Two tables

Detail view of the original J.Paul Getty Pierre Gole table with Aaron Radelow’s re-creation.



Blue Contre Partye

The Blue Contre Partye: This table is not known to exist. This is the opposite colors of the original table.







Blue Table

Detail of the Blue Contre Partye Table.










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Old Brown Glue – The liquid hide glue

Posted on June 4th, 2015
Categories: Other Blogs

This is a great video on Patrick Edwards explaining his liquid hide glue, Old Brown Glue. I used protein glues in my work exclusively as well.

What is Old Brown Glue? It’s Pat’s “boutique” version of hide glue, modified to give it better handling properties and a longer, yet variable, open time. It’s used by Brian Boggs, Kelly Mehler, and a host of antique repair people and chair makers who love the controlled open time, which can vary from 20 minutes to an hour merely by changing the temperature in the shop.

As is often the case, the glue was created to fill a need by its developer, who then concluded that others would also appreciate having it. To understand how it came about, we need to get a bit of background both on hide glue, and on the type of work it benefits. In Pat’s case, it’s marquetry and antique restoration.

A native of San Diego, Pat has owned and operated Antique Refinishers, Inc. in the same location for the past 35 years. After studying in Paris at Ecole Boulle under Pierre Ramon, he focused his business on restoring pre-industrial furniture, (18th and 19th century or earlier) and specializing in veneer and marquetry. Four years ago, he and Kristen started the American School of French Marquetry at the same location. It is the only school outside of Paris that teaches the French method of marquetry, which allows you to make multiple copies quickly and accurately using only hand tools . Veneers are cut on a curious device called a “chevalet,” or “marquetry donkey,” that looks like a cobbler’s bench on steroids. The school has been so successful that they are currently expanding the building.

“Originally, I started using a glue pot with hot hide glue. It did everything well. It was strong, transparent to stains, easy to clean up, reversible, economical, and the only adhesive which glues to itself both mechanically and chemically. That makes it ideal for repairing antique furniture, all of which, incidentally, was originally made with hide glue. If a joint breaks, you simply add more glue without having to clean off the old, and you get a perfectly strong joint.”
“One of the trends I see today is the use of non-reversible glues. Furniture that will last will eventually need to be repaired. In fact, sometimes, you need to repair during construction. In my restoration work, reversibility is essential. Hide glue is reversible, even after many decades.”

By manipulating heat and moisture, you can modify how hide glue behaves, affecting viscosity, open time, and cure time. This control is especially important with veneer work, chairs, and other complex assemblies. But hot hide glue requires almost constant attention, and sets too quickly for some veneer operations. “At times, you must overlap the veneer, because it can shrink and pull back from the joint while curing. Hence, you need a glue that takes a longer time to set, allowing the veneer to shrink before the seam is cut. Old Brown Glue does just that.”

visit to order your glue today!

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J. Paul Getty Museum Invitation

Posted on June 1st, 2011
Categories: Other Blogs

When we start something we never know where, or what it may lead to.
Pictured below is my Certificate of Completion from the American School of French Marquetry,
dated: September 20, 2002.

In the fall of 2009 I was invited to photograph my two tables next to the original on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum. It was once said by Albert Einstein, on achieving nuclear fission, that it can be likened to: “shooting birds in the dark, in a country where there are very few birds.” Einstein felt he would not see it in his lifetime. That’s how I felt about the photo below, not in my lifetime. Was I wrong! I had no idea that a satellite school of ecole Boulle in North Park, California would ever lead me to having my work photographed in the J. Paul Getty museum. While spring cleaning I stumbled upon my Certificate of graduation from ASFM. Reminiscing I remembered my hesitation to go, I thought I wouldn’t be ‘talented’ enough to do marquetry.

Onward and upward, start building
After “graduating” I spent 2003 building my chevalet and a cabinet for housing the thousands of pieces that would make up the marquetry for the two tables. During the day I worked on client’s projects, in the evenings and weekends I worked on my marquetry stuff; tweaking and refining my tools, sawblade
selection, and doing as much research on the tables as humanly possible.

Approximately six years later they were complete.

We’re looking forward to seeing you — and your tables
I e-mailed my contact, a senior curator, several photographs of the finished tables. I enquired nervously if his offer still stood about photographing my pieces in the museum. He wrote back yes, and put me in contact with his secretary to pick a date and time. Of course, the first date selected was pushed back! I thought damn, they’re having second thoughts.
Someone from above smiled upon me and the second day and time was marked on the calendar. All the while, Heidi was reassuring me that they’re very busy, and that in business dates are constantly being rescheduled.

The Drive to Los Angeles and the Getty’s Loading Docks
Loading the tables was hectic enough, but driving to Los Angeles with these two pieces was at times heart stopping. Heidi and I drove her car because the windows have a heavy tint and we could keep the entire vehicle cool with the A/C. I can now appreciate what a driver for Brinks Security must go through. Seems as though when one drives with something valuable or, someone has a new expensive car, it appears that mayhem is jumping out from every corner.

Arriving safely at the south entrance, where all freight and artwork arrives to be inspected and unloaded, we stopped at the guard house to sign in. Through the gates was a long steep and winding drive to the loading docks. Our official greeted us and handed Heidi our security badges; the place was bustling with vendors, workers, and contractors or all types.

We loaded the tables onto a cart for the journey upstairs into the museum. Our curator arrived to escort us to the huge freight elevators, the type one would only see on an aircraft carrier. They’re huge! It was Monday. This is the one day of the week that the J. Paul Getty museum is closed to the public. Walking through the hallways and rooms one quickly is taken back in time and filled with the feeling of what it must have been like living and working in the King’s Court. A call went out disarm the security system and to remove a section of guard rail. We were then joined by a second curator. Our two curators placed the original on a section of the floor that we were allowed to walk on, I placed my tables flanking the original. I couldn’t believe it, it happened. There they stood in my disbelief, I wasn’t dreaming. We were then joined by a third curator.

Three Curators and Three Tables
I’ve met many people, many different personalities through my work: executives, lawyers, stockbrokers, doctors, all very smart. However, meeting a major museum curator is something quite different to be sure. They are extremely educated, intelligent, highly professional, and not easily impressed. They’ve seen the best of the best the world over for many decades. My little tables had somehow managed to captured the undivided attention of three senior museum curators, this to me was even more unbelievable than photographing my tables in that room. I had also given them something they had not seen before — the contre partye. If one works diligently and with passion, one has a damn good chance of shooting a bird in the dark, in a country where there are very few birds.

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Out From the Ashes…

Posted on May 31st, 2011
Categories: Other Blogs

The Knox automobile company was founded in 1900, and had a short life building some very unique American automobiles; the company went defunct in 1914.

The photograph at left shows all that remains of an original “double porcupine” 1904 Knox, one of three known to exist. It’s owned by neighbor, friend, and craftsman extraordinaire, Alan Schmidt, owner of Horseless Carriage Restorations.

I was born in San Diego, California in 1969. Over the years I’ve noticed changes in the weather, specifically the Santa Ana winds. These winds have increased (in my opinion) over the last four decades. Unless you live in southern California, you most likely don’t understand what these winds represent. Santa Ana winds are strong and extremely dry desert winds (in layman’s terms). The RH (relative humidity) is usually below 10 percent. Temperatures vary, but most are very warm to hot (70 -110+ degrees). Being a furniture maker, I’m constantly monitoring the RH and temperature with a hygrometer; checking the moisture content of the air.

Southern California has been in the grip of a drought for what seems like an eternity.The result of this drought unfortunately is dry brush that covers millions of acres. On October 21, 2007 the above mentioned turned into a weapon of mass destruction. A taste of Judgement Day.

Where there’s smoke — there is fire!
The wind was gusting a recorded 120 mph. Ever seen horizontal fire? At night? Propane tanks, car fuel tanks, homeowner’s stores of ammunition and other garage stored flammables were exploding less than one-thousand yards away. I was scared, yet calm and focused. Thoughts flashed through my mind, I have a workshop full of tools, equipment, and valuable materials. This included my ivory Gole tables, along with customer’s expensive furniture pieces, and a 1907 Oldsmobile. My home is full of furniture I’ve made, and the items I have collected over the years (memories). Below: Tractor-trailer melted away (aluminum’s melting point is 1220 °F).

It is amazing how our atavistic hardwired survival mode kicks in, and nothing else matters but survival. Nothing. All things mentioned above (for me personally) had zero value at that moment. I only grabbed items that would insure the survival and safety of my family, friends, animals, etc.

The fire whipped through our area about 3:30 am. I’ll never forget one instance though, the worst sight and sound for me. A large stand of old eucalyptus trees, off Bandy Canyon Road, was going up in flames. If you’ve ever stood at the southeast end of Lindbergh Field were the jets power up for take off, throw in some loud cracking, and you now know what it was like to hear that burn. This was the moment I knew the schummer hit the fan for us.

From the ashes a Phoenix is born…
There is one thing to be said about fire versus any other natural disaster, it is cleansing. The old weathered fencing, the termite infested home, and old sick dying citrus grove, etc., all gone. It has taken some folks, if not more, until now to get their lives together, running smooth, and back on track. Then there are those that didn’t packed up and moved on. Of the things lost, it’s the ones that truly cannot be replaced such as family, pets, or the photographs or videos of children growing up. Almost everything else can be remade, or reacquired.

This is where I come in, well, for part of it anyway. We humans are given only so much time to walk this earth, some less, some more. So sometimes we need the assistance of others because we just can’t do it all, even though we would like to! Alan asked if I would like to build the coach for his Knox touring car. I said yes. We hashed out a deal and now I’m working to get her done. When she’s finished she’ll be good to go, and ready to bask in the sun at Pebble Beach. I’ll be posting photos of the progress, the rebirth…

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Back to the Future, and it’s still here!

Posted on January 23rd, 2011
Categories: Other Blogs

The photo on the left is of a digital veneer caliper measuring a thickness of 1.65 mm (0.0649”). The piece being measured is sawn French walnut veneer. Yes, I saw my own veneers, or purchase veneer from Patrick George in France (I have that URL on my links page).

When my clients step up to the plate and make the decision to invest in a piece of my art, (yes I wrote art) they want the damn thing to last. I hope they want it to last, this is what gives fine objects increasing value. A decorative art piece should be able to be handed down from one generation to the next.

Now your thinking: “What does this have to do with sawn veneers?” Lemme splain… For furniture pieces, and I mean furniture pieces, sawn veneers or antique veneers are what “should” be used in the construction, that’s my judgment.

If one is going to veneer wall paneling in a hotel lobby or an office, of course I recommend commercially sliced veneers. What’s the difference between sawn and sliced? Cost for one, nor will it ever be feasible to surface large areas with sawn veneer. The hotel or the office will be in a person’s lifetime gutted and dumped in the nearest landfill.

Let’s go back in time, about two-hundred-fifty years, to a furniture workshop in Stadt Neuweid, Germany. We’re at the workshop of David and Abraham Roentgen. From 1672 through 1760 the father and son worked together. Roentgen employed fifteen cabinet makers, this number swelled to an impressive two hundred at one point. These men created some of the worlds most sophisticated and mechanically complex pieces of furniture ever seen — for a very important clientele.

These exalted pieces of furniture were veneered with incredibly colorful marquetry, created with exotic wood veneers sawn to 1.5 to 2.5 mm thick. All woodworkers understand that wood changes color (fades or darkens) with exposure to ultraviolet light. The Roentgens knew this as well, for clients would call periodically to have a piece returned to the shop to have the faded marquetry scraped. By scraping only three or four thousands of an inch, all the brilliant colors would return. This process could be repeated many times throughout the life of the piece.

Back to the Future! One can see the Roentgen’s furniture in museums the world over. Why? Simply because the thickness of the sawn veneer propelled these pieces far into the future; our today, our children’s tomorrows.

The photo on the left shows a piece of commercial sliced veneer crumbled by my hand like a potato chip. The veneer’s thickness is 0.018” or 0.4572 mm straight from the mill. When glued to a substrate, it’s sanded, now it is even thinner. Imagine this piece somewhere in the future being refinished.

The probability of the veneer being sanded through to expose the substrate is really, really good. So, I try to find veneers that were sliced at least twenty or thirty years ago. Of course there are “certain” times that using sliced veneers is unavoidable, and I do use them — from time to time.

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