Friday, February 12, 2010

Rebuilding termite eaten joinery.

I was recently approached by clients in Northbridge, who live in their 1903 semi-detached cottage. Joe and Anne's front door joinery had been eaten out by termites some time ago. The joinery was fairly standard, consisting of a 5 foot long 12" x 3" jarrah sill, jarrah stiles and mullions, headerand transom, with 2 leadlight sidelights, 3 top lights, and 2 wooden panels below the mid-rails.

Assessing the damage.
Amazing little things, termites. They had travelled up the joinery via the softwood beading and mouldings, eating out much of the jarrah transom just above the door, some upper areas of the jarrah mullions and stiles, and a significant portion of the jarrah sill. Most of the leadlight panes were held in place only by many layers of paint which covered the eaten out beading and mouldings.

After removing the security fly door, front door and leadlight panes, I was then able assess the extent of the damage. My task was clear - replace as much of the joinery as possible and rebuild it in situ as it was not going to be possible to remove the whole piece of joinery. I was up for a very interesting challenge!

Fortunately the four mullions/stiles and the header would all be able to be used, as most of the damage was surface damage. The termites had been after the softwood beading and mouldings. However the sill and the transom would need to be replaced, plus the wooden panels and all mouldings and beading.

Replace and rebuild.
First I cut out the sill (no easy feat) and replaced it. The only suitable material I had been able to find was find was a 10" x 3" piece of wandoo. It was heavy! I added a piece of jarrah to make up the width, under the door. The tenons on the bases of the mullions were still in good condition, so I was able to cut the sill to house it around them. The result was a very solid new joint between the mullions and the sill. Nice.

These pics show the sill being chopped out, and the new sill installed.
The next task was to replace the transom. Once this was done, I made new mid-rails and fitted these. Then the bottom rails of the side panels were constructed, and the panels made up and installed.

This pic shows the new transom under construction on the portable bench. There was a lot of hand work to do on site to make and fit the components.

After the refurbished joinery was cleaned up, the leadlight panes were put back in place and the beading mitre cut and nailed in place. Then the finishing mouldings were added around the wooden panels and in other places as required. Beads were added full length down the inside walls, and other finishing touches including sealants were added to hold together the render and mortar which was frittering down the openings adjacent to the joinery.

Re-hanging the security fly door was a challenge, as the opening was now slightly different to what it was when it had been installed. I had squared up the joinery, so there was a bit of trimming and fine tuning to do to re-hang both the security door and the front door. However the net result was a very nice job. It was all as solid as it would have been when the house was built in 1908.

This pic shows one of the completed wooden panels with new mid-rail above, mouldings added, beading completed and leadlight panes re-installed. All old nail holes and surface termite damage have been filled, so it's ready for painting. That's up to Joe and Anne now...

This pic shows the job almost complete. The joinery has been re-built, the security door re-fitted and hung. Now it was just a case of re-hanging the front door and cleaning up.
I am looking forward to seeing it all with a new coat of paint.

Honouring the original makers.
When I do jobs like this, working with old joinery and furniture, I always find myself thinking about the blokes who built the stuff in the first place. It was evident that most of the work was done by hand, including the dressing of the timbers. This was apparent due to the variations in the dimensions of the timber over their length - including the sill and the stiles and mullions. The bottom wooden panels had obviously been added on site by the carpenter/joiners who installed them, as they had used some of the flooring as the bottom panels. The floors are kauri pine, and the termites were not too keen on this. So there was mostly only surface damage to the panels. I replaced these with new jarrah panels. So here we are just over 100 years later - I hope my rebuild of this joinery has done the original tradesmen proud.
New life for damaged material.
After I finished the job, in my workshop I was able to re-use enough of the timber in these panels to make Joe and Anne a beautiful kitchen chopping board with breadboard ends. A nice touch to use some of the old damaged joinery and give it a whole new life again . Now that's a low carbon solution! Timber is a wonderful low-energy high-carbon material which can be re-used again and again for centuries, so long as it does not rot or is not totally eaten by termites!

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