Saturday, 11 June 2011

Highly Strung. Replacing Ercol Pirelli elastic rubber webbing

The natural rubber in the original webbing eventually biodegrades and sags

New webbing was ordered from . It arrived promptly and fitted perfectly.


To help fitting I made this tool out of an old bicycle spoke.

Contrary to the advice in the Skiddaw leaflet it's better to fit the short webs first as the long ones are easier to stretch. I also avoided using the silicon spray they recommend as I don't think it would be good for the life of the rubber. There is a definite knack to doing this, you need a good strong pull. I used pliers to hold the spoke/tool and as the loop pulled through the frame I used my other hand on top to lock the strap and prevent it springing back. A case of little by little. Once the loop has come through far enough (and prevented from springing back by a thumb on top of the seat frame), remove the tool before inserting the dowel.

Tadaa!!!! The finished object.

Wilson's Original Devon Wood Oil for Renovating Light Ercol Finish

Original Ercol finishes were sprayed on at the factory and this is outside the scope of amateur renovation. An alternative which can be used for the light natural finish is to use a wood oil. I have used Wilson's Devon Wood Oil on several projects around the house to seal oak veneered chipboard doors and a veneered MDF window seat. A single coat as used in the pic above produces a satin finish enhancing natural grain. My project to strip and re-finish a pair of dark colour Windsor chairs had got the first frame down to bare wood so a trial area was treated to check the finished colour on beech wood. The result is a touch paler and less yellow than the original light cloured kitchen chairs which I have but to my eye a great improvement on the worn out dark original.

There are some advantages to using oil over some form of varnish. There are no drips or brushmarks and any future wear marks can be re-treated to make an invisible restoration. The frame was given a single light coat, just enough to brush in well and cover any bare areas and was then rubbed down with a soft cotton cloth to remove any excess.

Wilson's Original Devon Wood Oil boasts that it is made from only natural ingredients including real turpentine which gives it a pleasant pine smell which disappears in time. It has recently been awarded a Royal Warrant and carries the coat of arms that says it is By Appointment to HM the Queen who no doubt uses it to polish Pholip's Wooden leg. (Here comes another superinjunction!).

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Fixing Loose Joints in Ercol Chairs, More Thoughts.

I describe using Chair Doctor Glue in my first post and over the last week I have been working my way through a pile of Quaker Windsor chair glueing loose backs etc. I have come up with a sequence which will I hope have the best chance of achieving a successful result. Leave the glue to harden fully for a day in between each section

1. Upend the chair and work on the joints where legs are fixed into the seat base and the H brace between the legs. Unless you can achieve a rock solid base there is no point in going any further

2. With the chair upside down again, glue the top of the back spindles into the arch. This sequence is favoured because it allows maximum free play with spindles able to be jiggled and twisted to maximise glue pentration into the fixing holes. When happy that the joint is well glued push spindles into the arch as hard as possible.

Note how flexing the back opens up the joint to allow glue in.

A ring of glue around each joint. When applying glue leave a gap to allow air to escape as glue seeps in.

3. Chair right way up, glue arch and spindles into seat base, when glue has penetrated, flip chair and glue where arch and wedges poke through the base. It can help if this area is roughened to soak the end grain as Chair Doctor claims to swell the wood as well as glueing the hole perimeter.

4. Everything should now be tight and twangy, if some spindle joints have failed to fix another tactic can be employed. This involves drilling the tiniest possible hole to allow the glue syringe to get into the blind socket of a joint. This is the reason that I recommend gluing the arch first as this gives it a better chance of achieving a strong joint as it is difficult to conceal a drill hole in the bow of the back. On the other hand a drill hole up through the seat base will not be noticed. If leg joints need drilling, do this from the inside to make holes hard to spot.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Ercol Model 252 Fleur de Lys Easy Chair

Sometimes free is just too expensive. I was looking for a couple of light finish 203s but someone responded to the wanted ad on our works virtual notice board offering a pair of dark 252s gratis. Well gift horses and all that. Surely it wouldn't be too much work to sand off the dark and refinish in oil? How wrong can you be? I had had a bad experience with dip and strip which had made a mess of one of the "family heirloom" utility chairs so resolved to do it the hard way. After many hours one is sanded ready for treatment. Some power tools were used but it is down to old fashioned elbow grease in the end. I think I have found a specialist stripper who can do the second one without damage so will report on their services in due course.

Whilst it is tempting to change a less popular dark piece to the natural wood finish more in fashion now there are pitfalls. In some places stain finds its way into an area of open grain and just won't sand out. Also I suspect that beech components with knots or coloured grain were sent to the dark finish production line to hide the wood imperfections. I'd say that an invisible refinishing job is impossible to achieve but it's not important if you just want furniture to use.

I wouldn't try and do such an intricate piece again, but if something free and tempting came along....

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ercol Image Archive

Archive of Ercol Images

Chance Find. An image archive at the University of High Wycombe, home of Ercol. Historic pictures of furniture and production.

Ercol Windsor Utility Chairs

Shopping for something for an Ercol restoration project, (of which more another day), I came upon a couple of these. The original 1944 pattern Windsor utility chair still in service for shop customers wishing to rest their legs. Note the no 290 mark and trademark sphynx transfer.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Restoring Ercol Windsor Quaker Chairs.

Restoring Ercol Windsor Quaker Chairs.
My dining room set bought new 25 years ago had the low back Windsor “kitchen” chairs, but I always had a soft spot for the elegant high arched Quaker pattern which my parents had . I successfully bid on a very nice condition extending dining table, (the five legged one), and this came with four quaker chairs whose condition hadn't been described in the listing. I wasn’t bothered about them as I had enough kitchen chairs so when they arrived I wasn’t disappointed to find that they were perilously loose in most of their joints, and on a couple the backs rocked by about an inch and would have come out of the seat given a stout tug. They were also pretty dull and weathered so were consigned to the loft with the long term aim of disassembling and doing a ground up renovation one day. A few years passed and after finding how long Ercol renovation can take on another project I came across a product that offered the possibility of a quick fix.
First though some background on Ercol chairs.
The original Windsor chair was developed after the second world war as a result of Ercol getting a UK government contract to make utility furniture to replace the stuff that the Luftwaffe had reduced to matchwood during the blitz. The elm seat came about by a combination of coming across a large stockpile of the wood and by seasoning methods that kept the wood from the warping usually associated with Elm, The steamed and bent beeechwood back, spindles and braced legs follow the traditional design of chair-making followed for several centuries. My parents had some of the original utility chairs in the kitchen, they were much more square and sturdy than the later designs and took a real beating without complaint.
This no-nonsense design was refined to the much slenderer example which I had to repair.
Many Ercol chairs are 30-40 years old now and have withstood 2 generations of rocking children and the slim behinds which wriggled on them back then have mostly reached a new level of lardiness. In addition to these rigours the chairs have also been subjected to central heating and air conditioning shrinking the wood so it is no surprise that some are starting to get a bit creaky. The high backed quaker chairs are the worst in this respect. The length of their back components multiplies any loosening leverage force and stiffness of the structure is less than the lower round backed models. Integrity of the back arch is only partly due to where it is fixed and wedged into the seat (In effect a cantilever). Much of the strength actually comes from the triangulated support from the back spindles The triangles are very slim though and even on a nice tight quaker and you can feel the springiness of structure when you lean back.
On my chairs all of the spindles were loose, some could even be twisted, and shaking the arch caused visible movement. Googling around chair repair brought up various sites with the consensus that the chair should be completely knocked apart and all old glue scraped off before reassembly using natural animal glue (no epoxy or synthetics!). Initially I was up for a go experimenting with the worst of the chairs which was fit to fall apart with minimal force but whilst the project was on the back burner though I came across references to Chair Doctor glue.

Chair Doctor claims to find its way into loose joints by capillary action and in addition to glueing  penetrates end grain to expand the wood and lock up loose joints. Despite the looseness of my test chair the individual joins were all quite close fitting and it seemed a bit far fetched for the glue to work as well as advertised. The Pro kit with the larger bottle of glue comes with a hypodermic syringe and some blunt needles and I put about 2ml of glue in ready to "shoot up". Even the finest needle goes nowhere near penetrating the loose joins so I dribbled a ring of glue around joints and flexed the back to try and get as much glue penetration as possible. The instructions claim that joints will start to tighten in minutes and I was surprised to find that this was the case so it's important to work quickly and not try to do too many joints at once. Once this point is reached then put the chair away for 12 hours and don't be tempted to have a trial wiggle before full hardening has occured.

On my test chair I was pleased to find that overnight my loose chair had tightened up considerably. The chair felt springy with only a little telltale creaking from a couple of spindles which needed a second treatment.

So a success then? A qualified yes, very encouraging. Judgement is reserved until a few large friends have been to dinner though!

Even if your Ercol Quaker chairs don't seem loose yet it's worth checking them out for any squeaky spindles by gently flexing and twisting. Because the structural integrity of an aged Quaker chair is starting to get marginal any component not pulling its weight will result in more joints failing until you have a problem. It would seem like good idea to try and fix any squeakers with Chair Doctor as preventative medicine.