Tea Caddy Restoration


I fell in love with this pretty worn and sad looking tea-caddy. It had as you will come to read a lot in my posts, potential. Now potential can mean many things. I am constantly being told that potential means work. And mess, and heaps of half finished projects strewn throughout the house, and more mess. 

To me potential is the restoration of a piece that is hundreds of years old. Potential is once again giving purpose to an item that has outlived its current use. Potential is the part salvage of hardware, veneer, accessories and components that will never be made again in my lifetime.

This little box would have been used to store tea. Loose tea, possible green and black with a glass mixing bowl to mix, or to store sugar. Usually lead lined with mahogany lids and delicately carved bone handles covering each compartment. 

Originally this caddy would have been finished in cuban mahogany with boxwood stringing and highly polished.

So, as my father would say, ‘it’s time to let the dog see the rabbit’, or get it cleaned free from dirt, and see what I’m dealing with.

A ‘little worse for wear’ would be putting it mildly. It’s chipped, damaged, faded, missing veneer and just sad looking in general. With the hardware removed, I can carefully remove the veneer.

   Next, the veneer. With veneer it’s important to establish just what sort of glue was used. You see hide glue in older pieces, and thankfully that’s what we have here. It’s easily softened in warm water, and can be used again as it remains quite tacky.


Once the veneer has lifted, you can let it dry. Be sure to dry it off as best you can otherwise it may split or warp. If it does, place it between damp grease-proof paper and weigh it down. A board, with some weights will keep it relatively straight.

Now you can check the box itself. Time to check any cracks, any splits and loose dovetails. Again, if it’s water based glue or hide glue in this case, a softening of the glue along with a clean of the joints will see it good as new. A clamp, and a 24 hour drying time will have you ready for the next stage.

The re-veneering.


I try to retain as much of the original veneer as possible, but in some instances this isn’t possible. Here there is some damage to the corners. But worry not. With old veneer it’s good to save as many pieces as you can from other projects. You’re bound to have something to match. Thankfully I had plenty of Cuban mahogany available, with some grain that matched pretty well.

Once the veneer was glued and clamped it was left to dry. I check the pieces to make sure that there’s no bubbling, or warping. They are cleaned, sanded and glued in place. Again, hide glue is used to secure them.

 The boxwood stringing is then added to the corners, it’s allowed dry overnight, and then it’s time for a extremely fine sanding. I’m careful with my sanding grits and work down from a fine to super fine grit. I’m aiming for a glass like finish and usually finish off with a super fine wet and dry paper.

The polishing can now begin. A mixture of methylated spirits and button polish makes for a fine sanding sealer. Usually brushed on with a polishers mop, and left to dry. Here multiple layers of polish was thinly applied until I reached a mirror like finish.

IMG_3056  After the final application the polish is left to cure. I tend to let it dry as long as possible, and in this case two weeks was sufficient. I then ‘cut back’ the finish with rottenstone, a fine powder.

The hardware receives the same attention. The brass lock, escutcheon, and hinges have been cleaned using a mixture of white vinegar, baking powder, and salt. Immersed and soaked for 30 minutes or so, the dirt just lifted. A rinse with water, a light buff with a cloth and some wax and they look as good as new.

The interior was lined with red felt, and is a lot more colourful and certainly less toxic than the original lead lining.

A final gilding of the delicate brass key escutcheon adds that little touch of elegance.



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