In my last post I talked about some of the problems involved with the use of plywood and MDF in furniture construction. I’m sure that some people that read that post are convinced that I must be an insane old man, however yesterday my mistrust of MDF was once again confirmed, when I received a table leaf for repair.
In this photo you can see some of the damage to the lower edge of the leaf. It appears to have somehow gotten wet. I don’t think people realize how often these types of things happen.
The steps in any repair or restoration are to evaluate the piece, then identify the damage, form a plan of restoration and finally complete the repair.
Evaluation: A 15 inch wide table leaf, with a 3/4 inch MDF core the ends are built up with two additional layers of MDF, it is veneered on the top, bottom and all edges except the ends which have a solid wood half round nosing. The edge veneer covers the ends of the nosing. The top consists of four book matched strips of figured veneer. The veneer is thin modern veneer with a paper backing. The finish is probably some form of conversion varnish or catalyzed finish, common solvents have no effect on the finish.
Moisture damage and chipped veneer. You can also see that whatever was used to fill the grain has turned white. The seam between the MDF and the nosing has opened up due to the MDF expanding.
You can see here that the moisture has penetrated the finish and swelled the MDF opening the seam.
Here you can see that the MDF is swollen and separated from the nosing.
Here you see that a seam between two of the strips of top veneer has opened and the MDF has swollen underneath raising and opening the seam even more.
In this photo you see scratches in the veneer not related to moisture. There are two areas of similar scratches.
Repair Plan: Basically we have 5 types of damage that need to be addressed, chipped veneer, scratched veneer, swollen MDF, open seams and color and finish loss. While any thing can be restored, these materials and construction techniques cause unique challenges to the restorer, some of which are. 1. You cannot sand scratches out of this veneer it is too thin. 2. Expanded MDF loses it’s structural strength and will not return to it’s original shape. 3. The veneer is applied with a non reversible glue so it can not be lifted to reshape the substrate.
These things plus several others mean that the cost of returning this piece to it’s original condition would far out way the total value of the table. I of course will fix this leaf up so it won’t look too bad but it will never be truly restored.