Historic Wood Restoration, Repair, & Replication
Restore Your Historic Wood’s Original Color, Detail, and Beauty—Without Permanent Alteration
Throughout history, humanity has had an affinity for wood, using it both as a simple building material and as a canvas for beautiful, ornate works of art. In historic structures and homes, we often see these two roles merge, as wooden elements serve both a functional and decorative role.
Unfortunately, wood is an organic material, susceptible to a variety of damage. Moisture from storms, bad plumbing, and poor drainage can cause swelling, warping, mold, and other water damage; regular use can cause gauges, cracks, and splitting; insects can eat away at the integrity of a structure; even UV exposure and light from the sun can fade previously beautiful colors and patterns until those details seem lost to time.
At John Canning & Co., our artisans have decades of collective experience in restoring and repairing historic wooden elements and structures back to their previous glory. From gentle cleaning to the application of compatible (but reversible) coatings and finishes to repair and even full replication of components, our craftsmen are highly skilled and motivated by a deep respect for the underlying history that the wooden components embody.
“Canning understands materials and specifications, especially traditional materials and techniques, and understands and appreciates the benefits of a truly collaborative effort in design excellence. [WV Capitol Dome]”
— ELIZABETH A. MOSS, LEED AP, ARCHITECTURAL CONSERVATOR, SWANKE HAYDEN CONNELL ARCHITECTS, NEW YORK CITY
“Canning’s craft and artistry take aspects of a design to absolute levels of refinement that bring new works to unexpected levels of delight. Visitors are amazed that such craft is still alive and well in our expedient world.”
— JOHN I. MEYER, AIA, MEYER & MEYER ARCHITECTURE AND INTERIORS, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS
“I have had the pleasure of working with artisans in many countries overseas. Canning truly ranks among the best in the world!”
— VIVEN P. WOOFTER, IIDA, CULTURAL HERITAGE OFFICER, OVERSEAS BUILDINGS OPERATIONS, US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
While the exact process followed for a particular project are of course dictated by the specifics of the project, most wood restoration and repair projects will follow the steps and process discussed below.
Before conducting any restoration or repair work, our first goal is to understand the history of the structure. What was the building’s original purpose, and what role did the woodwork play in that purpose? These details are most often discovered through a combination of archival research and physical investigation. In tandem, we must also understand the full scope of the overall project—including the budget, expectations, and aspirations of the owner and other key stakeholders—in order to appropriately plan and coordinate between other trades as necessary.
Once we fully understand the scope, challenges, and details of the project, we must evaluate the structure as it currently exists. This evaluation and analysis is invaluable in determining the best path forward, offering insights into details such as:
- The precise species of wood used
- The age of the wood
- The current and original finish
- Finish types (i.e. shellac and wax, stain and oil, or aniline dyes)
- Types of joinery, such as mortise-and-tenon or the use of rabbit skin glue as an adhesive, etc.
- The use of veneers versus solid woods
- Identifying boiserie (cast compositions made with plaster and linseed oil) or ormolu (decorative plaster castings)
Additionally, physical examination allows us to document any areas of damage, stabilize the structure as necessary, test various cleaning solutions, and draft an initial treatment proposal.
If the treatment plan is to include conservation of the wooden structure, the goal is always to identify the mildest solution which can be used to achieve the desired result. Extreme care is taken to ensure that the solutions will not change the original color, appearance, or texture of the wood, or otherwise damage the structure.
If the treatment plan is to include repair to the wooden structure, the precise actions that we take will be dependent on the type of damage to be corrected. Repairs may include the removal of incompatible finishes, the application of more suitable finishes, Dutchman repairs of damaged or deteriorated areas, the removal of incompatible species of wood (if repairs were made in the past), and more.
In the event that a species has gone extinct and can no longer be sourced, it is often possible to replicate the color, grain, and overall appearance of the original wood with substitute materials such as plaster. Called faux bois, this method can also be more cost effective than employing a woodcarver to carve a detail or component from scratch, and may offer an alternative for projects with tight budgetary constraints.
The costs associated with wood restoration, repair, and replication will depend upon a number of factors specific to each individual project. Some of the most important considerations include:
- The type and species of wood and other materials being worked with
- The size, complexity, and scope of the project
- Accessibility (example, whether scaffolding will be required to conduct the work)
- Whether the underlying structure must be repaired, stabilized, or restored
- For projects located in public spaces, whether the work will take place during business or off hours
For this reason, it is difficult for us to state what typical costs might be for the “average” project. The surest way to get an accurate picture of what the costs may entail would be to contact us directly.
In addition to wood restoration, repair, and replication, we specialize in a number of other complementary services, including: