the dog is ill-amused

Rain again. And I was in the home stretch of furniture painting, too. Well, in lieu of enjoying photos of a deck full of lovely coordinated and cushioned seating groups, we’ll have a tutorial on how to date vintage wooden patio  furniture.

As you know, one of my little interests is rescuing abandoned wooden patio pieces. My collection currently includes specimens from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Here’s how to tell what’s what. Please note that my collection is of a certain type. It does not include fancy teak “Matisse” benches or rough Appalachian-style tree trunk and twig stuff.

Heft. The cedar or –heaven forfend! redwood – used in older furniture is much lighter than the pine or wotnot used in later years.If you pick up a piece and its heavier than you expected, it’s newer.

Back support. The back slats tell the story. The 60s piece here has thick, flat slats, about 2 1/2″ x 3/8″. The Jack ‘n Jill is from the 70s and has 1″ rounded dowels that  fit into a 1″ opening . The 90s chairs have 3 /4″ square dowels but narrow down to a 3/8″ circle that fits into a drilled hole in the upright post and are then nailgunned from the side.

80s(l), 70s(c), 60s(r).

Construction. The bolts are sunken on the 70s piece as opposed to protruding from a drilled guide hole on the 80s chair. Probably more to do with the manufacturer and the quality of the furniture than the age. In general, the wood is thicker (but lighter in weight) on older pieces.

Arms. The difference in color is the varying layers and ages of the paint. If it wasn’t raining today it would all be finished and look the same.

Style. Observe the chair arms: on the 80s chair, just cut off 2x4s. On the 70s J’nJ, the arms are more broad and have rounded edges. The front is wider than the rear. On the 60s chair, routing adds interest to broad arms. There’s even a hint of angled shaping on the legs. The cross piece on the front of the 60s chair has a decorative shape; again with the cut 2×4 on the 80s chair.

newest / oldest

But when it’s all finished in the same color, holding up cushions and surrounded by flowers, no one is going to scrutinize it or notice any difference. The thing that will leave the impression is your enormous good taste and eye for style.

While you’re painting, it might seem like a good idea to paint some pieces in accent colors but you can see that when you have competition for the eye from flowers, cushions and different surfaces like wood, clay and iron, the one color will serve as a unifying canvas.

So right now ’tis the season now for finding these treasures out on trash heaps. If you are so inclined, know that they have seen better days – people are throwing them out for a reason – often need repair or reinforcing or downright replacement parts. Whenever Sami takes anything apart, he reinforces the bolts with washers and he’s braced some stubbornly wobbly arms and legs with metal brackets.

bolts and brackets

These are benches that Sami made out of regular #2 pine.  It’s typical Sami style – more function than form and reinforced to within an inch of it’s life. He would have been good building prisons or bank vaults because he believes that design means structural strength and that’s the end of it.  These legs have given it up after many years of standing in rain and snow and had to be replaced outright.

dog butt not for sale

But you know, we’re dealing with wood that has been outside for decades. Sometimes the patient just can’t be saved. When that happens, you have to acknowledge the service it gave, harvest any usable parts, and then kiss it goodbye. And then start making the rounds on garbage day looking for more.

Morning and afternoon of the same day. The rare and beloved rocker looked so good but was rotten through and through. Better to give it up than let a guest crash to the floor.

all furniture finished in Behr Semi-Solid Deck Stain in “Evergreen” tint

9 thoughts on “Tutorial”

  1. Function over form is valued in a lot of various mediums.
    The Craftsman home is functional and highly sought after.
    The Danish style and craftsman era furniture is highly collectable.
    There is beauty in simplicity and function.
    Good job.

  2. My shorts wearing summertime flesh never touched its cushion, yet I mourn the rocker anyway.

    Like yon noble statue – you –
    Whom – before Pygmalion hewed
    Out of its marble womb –
    The stamp of Genius stained!

    Okay, but still.

  3. Sami and my father are like two peas when it comes to construction – my father built the kids a rocking horse that an elephant could ride without fear of collapse…

  4. I have some 1980s redwood patio furniture I plan to restore, where can I buy replacement spring metal band butt supports seen in the “newest/oldest” picture? Thanks

    1. I don’t know if you can buy them, Tyler. We just harvested all that we could from the furniture pieces that could not be salvaged. I had a big pickle jar full of good springs by the time we left NJ and we never had to discard any flat strips. My husband’s back up plan was always to go to a metal shop to get a few strips cut and hole punched for stand by but we never had to do that.

  5. I have the original 80’s redwood. Painted them many,many times. Unfortunately I threw out the original cushions because of mildew stain, and have never been able to replace them with the same kind. All other cushions are the wrong size and not thick enough. While browsing a thrift store last week,I finally found 4 armchair originals(only bought 2) in new condition. I was ecstatic, even though there was no lounge chair. I will never part with my old redwoods.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s