Thoughts: The Slow Work


This is what I have been doing for the past couple of hours.

Doesn’t look like much, does it?

It is a dining room table that the woman I love and I bought a few months back at an auction. It turned out to have a wonky leg, one that just didn’t feel as firm as the others. and despite a lot of babying, last week the wonky leg broke off.

Now the table is upside down in my dining room. That’s the leg on the left of the picture, and where the leg is supposed to attach on the right. Both were a mess. As close as I can tell, there have been three repairs made to the leg. There are three kinds of glue in the mix, and two kinds of wood putty. There are also a couple of really long screws that as far as I can tell, didn’t attach to anything but glue and putty. So much glue and putty in fact, that the leg and the table don’t come close to fitting together.

And what was the solution to that? It seems that the last person who repaired the leg stuck a piece of wood between the leg and table. It didn’t exactly fit, but they had a solution for that too – pour in so much glue that it filled in the spaces.

All in all, kind of a mess.

The table is beautiful. Mahagony (a beautiful but not very strong wood). The drop leaves are two very wide boards. The legs end in hand carved claw and ball feet. It is graceful and gorgeous. Except of course, for the leg thing.

So I am in restoration mode. And it’s slow work. Restoration always is.

The first thing is to scrape, cut or pray out all the stuff that should not be there. As much of that gunked up glue and goo and putty as I can, without pulling apart any of the actual wood. Scrape out a little. Fit it together to see how you are doing. Scrape a little more. Repeat.

I’ve made progress in the past two hours, but I am nowhere near the next step of actually putting the thing back together. There’s more pulling apart to do. More tearing out a little and testing. Tedious, and I am only good for about two hours of tedious at a time.

It’s not unlike therapy, or coaching, or helping someone through a spiritual crisis. There’s lots of ways to do it fast and wrong, but to do it right, you do it slow.

Not everyone is cut out for it. Sometimes, despite having a lot of restored stuff in my house, I wonder if I am cut out for it. It would be way easier to let the old broken stuff go.  Take the table, for instance. We bought it cheap. It was near the end of the auction and the crowd was spent out. So we could let it go and there’d be no huge financial loss.

But it’s beautiful. It’s perfect, in fact, except for this wonky leg. It is hand-made, wood pegged (Not a screw or nail in it except for the screw repairs that went nowhere.), hand carved legs. Old. The real thing. Someone spent a lot of their life making this thing.

To toss it out would seem like a sacrilege.

So I am doing the slow work. Depending on how much time I have this week, I might finish it this week. It might go into next week. My love and I have company coming this weekend, and there is a real possibility our company might have to deal with an upside down table in the living room. (Fortunately, they are a good friend. We’ll be forgiven, I am sure.)

In the end, I’ll have 10-20 hours doing the repair. Most of it undoing the old repairs. That’s the way it works, be it with people or furniture. But saving wonderful things is a noble work.

That’s what my father taught me. Not by words, but by the way he lovingly and slowly restored things in his own house. I used to hate helping him. It was so slow. But like so many things we hate when we are young, we come back to them as adults. And as an adult, I, again and again, took on the slow work of restoration, at times on things, and at times on me. Now and again with people I loved.

The restoration on the leg won’t be perfect. But it will be good. It will be solid. The table will again be stable and strong along with its beauty. And I will have overcome my worst nature and done the slow work.

I will be better for it.

Be well. Travel wisely,


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