Monday, July 5, 2010

Anatomy of an antique church pew

As mentioned in a previous post, I bought some 100 year old church pews from a Church in San Francisco that is remodeling. All they had left were the longest pews at over 20 feet. That is too long to be useful, or even to transport, so I cut them in order to load them on a trailer and now they are at my house.

I always like to see how things are made, and my cutting of the pews allowed me to see how they were constructed; it wasn't what I might have guessed. Because the pews were centered around an altar in a corner of a room instead of the front (do Methodists call their center of attention an altar? I don't know), the pews were built curved to fit the room. I imagine there was some industrial steam powered wood bending machinery involved. What I thought interesting is that they appeared to have made a "lumber sandwich" and instead of using 3 pieces of wood they split one piece in two and sandwiched a different wood inbetween. That way the grain is the same on the front and back of the finished bench. What a thoughtful method of construction. Not like the frankenlumber you see today in furniture. Also note that the thicker top of the bench back is different pieces fitted together. The seat of the bench is small pieces fitted together and shaped for comfortable sitting.

My plan is to leave one end of each pew intact, saw to desired length, then attach another end to the other side, resulting in something that looks like the original, only shorter. The person selling the benches told me there were a bunch of shorter ones that fit in corners, but all the shortest ones were the first to go. Only the long ones remained as they were only useful to someone with access to a woodworker. So here I am, the "junior woodworker" as my BF calls me; ready, willing, and hopefully able to take this project. I've set myself a deadline for end of summer to get this done. Luckily the finish has a lovely patina that I don't want to mess with. I'll have to repair some scratches and scrape the gum off the underside and not much else.

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