Thursday, February 9

The Pew Project

Today I begin a new project.  As I work through this project I will add photos and text to the end of this post, not by putting up new posts - this way it will make a more valuable resource for woodworkers who visit after the project is completed.  If you're interested in following this project, bookmark the post and drop in every few days.

I just discovered that Blogger squelches the ability to insert internal links, so I can not give you a "Click here to read the new stuff" link, you're just going to have to scroll down.  Sorry.

Sentimental Pews
The reason for this project is kind of a neat story in itself.  A local woman and her family have been attending the same church for as long as she can remember, and as will happen, they tended to inhabit the same pews each week.  When the church decided to remodel the sanctuary; installing all new pews, Tammy decided to buy the pews her family used because of their sentimental value, and have them converted into furniture she could use in their home.  Preserving those memories is her objective.

Project Objective
My assignment is to remove the upholstery, cut the 12 foot long pews down to love-seat length and refurbish the finish as best as I can without stripping them.  Then I'll deliver the shortened pew benches to her home for use in her daughters' rooms.

The First Step

Tammy had the pews delivered here and we managed to wedge them into my shop.  This forced me to clean up and clean out an area that has become kind of neglected.  My "assembly room" has in the past been kept clear so I could assemble large items if need be - the largest being a monstrous King size bed with storage under and closet space in the headboard.  But lately a collection of unfinished projects and assorted parts have piled up in there.  When I  heard "the guys" were on their way with the pews I had to rush to get the assembly room cleared out.  Even then only one pew would fit in there because there is no room to swing the second one around the first and they are far to heavy to lift the second up over the first.  So the second one is staying in my tool room for now.  I'll work on that one first. Then I can work on the second in the assembly room

Ripping the Padding
Now that I have details of what is supposed to be done, I feel  confident in starting in on the de-construction process.  I start by working a putty knife in behind the upholstery on the top edge and getting a bit of fabric I could grasp with heavy pliers.  Lots of staples here!  I continue pulling the top edge loose all the way across.

Because I am not planning to strip and completely refinish the benches I am careful not to tear up the finish any more than is absolutely necessary.

Once the back is loose and the foam rubber removed I begin working on the seat.  The cloth is tucked underneath the front edge and stapled prolifically.  I thought about rolling the pew on it's back to make getting at this edge easier, but that proved impractical: not enough room to do it well, and it's so heavy I'm afraid I'd tear my hip out again doing it by myself.  So I use a utility knife to slice through the fabric under the edge of the seat - I'll remove the stapled part after I've cut the bench down.

The two corners are very, very stubborn because of extra staples and multiple layers of cloth.  The middle part comes out fairly easily.  I did find that there is a span of unfinished wood where the fabric is stapled down at the bottom of the back - darn!

Once all the fabric and foam rubber are removed and carted outside, I can start yanking out staples.  These long ones are easy: grab them with pliers and yank.  The ones that remained driven flush to the wood will require "digging out" but with a minimum of digging, please!

It will probably take a couple of days working on this part time to pull all of the staples.

Remove an End
To lighten the piece a bit and hope that makes it possible to handle this beast my my self, I'm going to remove one end piece, and then cut the bench down to length.
 Inspecting the construction of the pew, I decide that the bench portion is mortised into the end pieces and held in place by screws that are angled in from the bottom and back.  On the back these screws are hidden by this trim strip.  To access the screws I have to remove the trim strip.
 I do that by speaking to it softly, holding my tongue just so and prying gently with a sturdy putty knife.  I do NOT want to break this trim strip as I will need to reuse it.

 This one was successfully removed, revealing the screws, just as I expected.  What I did not expect is that they are standard slot screws - I should have, these are old pews.  Fortunately I have some large, old, flat-blade screwdrivers.  I use a file to touch up the end of the one that will fit the big screws and *very* carefully extract the screws.  These things strip out very easily.  If the slot strips the only thing left to do is to drill through the screw head so it pops off. 
 Much to my chagrin, when I crawl underneath I find two problems.

One is that the center screw is an old round-head that someone put in here - and that they chewed it up pretty badly doing so.

The other is that the final screw is hidden under the front apron; which is also mortised into the end piece and nailed in pretty well.

Removing the chewed up screw involved punching the screw head with a large center punch to make a sort-of round depression.  Then chuck up a smallish twist drill in my electric hand drill and drill a small hole.  Then I swap out the smallish drill for a larger one and use the small hole as a pilot to guide the big one and drill through the screw head.  Once the big drill gets down to the screw shank, the head pops off and I move on to the next problem.

This apron is mortised in and nailed at both ends, and nailed to the center leg as well.  Fortunately it is not nailed or screwed to the underside of the seat.  It took some rather creative prying with lumber not a crow bar (don't want to chew up the rolled edge on the seat) to bow the apron out enough to pull one end loose enough to get in behind it with a small pry bar and detach the nails.  And of course this required me to be both in the center bowing out the apron and under the end ready with a pry bar to extract the apron.  That was quite a trick, let me tell you!

With one end loose I could wiggle, wedge, wiggle, wedge, the other end until it too was worked loose enough to work a small pry bar in behind it and pull the nails loose.

With that out of the way, and that last screw removed, a couple of good whacks with a dead-blow mallet and the end piece popped right off.

I'll quit there for today, and we'll pick it up here tomorrow.
Making The Cut

 After moving around enough equipment to clear out a workspace large enough to roll this 12 foot long pew around, I lay it over on its front and measure out the distance I need for a 4 foot seating area and a 1/2" stub that will fit into the mortise in the pew end.

I mark the line then back it up with masking tape.  The tape is to help prevent splintering as the blade comes up out of the wood.
 With the layout done I mount a good blade in my hand held circular saw and carefully make the cut up the back.  With that cut done I roll the pew up on it's top and find clever ways to brace it that way.  Layout for the seat cut is done the same way as the back was done.
 Both the part of the pew that will be kept and the cut-off part must be supported, especially as I cut through the rail along the front of the seat, this last little bit is all that hold the pew together and I don't want any of this bench crashing to the floor, causing kickback or pinching my blade when it separates.
 I place the pew end that I removed yesterday on a work bench and use a pair of vice-grips to remove the stump of the screw I had to drill the head off.  Doing this without chewing up the dado is slow work: Lock onto the screw, twists it a bit, release, grip the screw again, twist a little bit, over and over...
 Then I lay out the cuts in the top and front rail. The recesses in the end piece do not include these rails, so I have to trim the excess.
Finally I'm ready for a test fit.  It's really snug, but it works out just fine.

Next up: remove a gazillion staples - preferably without chewing up the finish and more than necessary.