Sunday, December 16, 2012

Restoration: Old Trunk

Last spring, my father brought home an old trunk that his girlfriend, Cinda, was going to dispose of from her farm. I had no idea what Dad was going to do with it, so I asked him if he wouldn't mind parting with it -and he didn't. I had always wanted to restore something, and this was a perfect opportunity.

The trunk was in pretty bad shape. It was falling apart along the corners, and was warped from water damage in certain places. The bottom of the trunk was severely deteriorated. The hardware was rusted, but in good shape. The actual locking mechanism was missing, but that was no big deal to me.

The first thing I did was to secure the corners with screws, countersinking them. This allowed large gaps between the interlocking sides to be closed, and to help correct some of the warping. This was done for both the body of the trunk, and for the lid.

From there, I power-washed the entire thing, to remove dirt and dust. This was done for both the exterior and the interior of the trunk. It also stripped away some of the old stain and paint that had been applied through the years.

Following power washing, I disassembled the lid and the body, as well as the old hardware. At that point, by hand and by power sanding, I sanded the entire trunk, hitting every angle, surface, and side. That took off the majority of the paint and some of the stain. I then used tack cloth to remove dust from the body and the lid.

Because rain, and with open windows and doors, I set about repairing the lid by using wood putty. Because the wood putty was oil-based, it smelled horrible -and was dangerous to inhale. Large sections of the ridge on the lid were missing entirely, and I had to completely reconstruct them by building up three layers of the putty. I also took care to fill in major dents and surface abrasions on the lid, as well as the body. This was accomplished using a paint stick.

Later the following day, after time for drying, I set about by hand to sand down most of the excess putty, using an electric sander for a few of the larger areas. From there, I marked out the line of the lid ridge with a pencil.

At this point, I used a chisel and a hammer to carefully chip away the wood putty along the line I'd traced. Following dusting, I used caulk to fill in small nail holes, cover up screws, and to smooth out smaller surface dents and abrasions. I also refitted the interior floor of the trunk by putting in a quarter-inch piece of plywood for a smooth surface, using Liquid Nails, and caulked it.

With the the trunk's body and lid secured and repaired, I set about painting. I used some old paint in the basement from work for this -and fortunately, the colors I wanted to paint the trunk were downstairs. I used Duron (now Sherwin-Williams depending on the branch location) Row House Tan (flat, in three coats) to paint the inside of the trunk, and a high gloss black (in two coats) to paint the edges, corners, and bottom of the trunk.

From there, after thorough drying, I used inch-wide Scotch Blue Painter's Tape to cordon off the black sections, and set to work hitting the exterior body with Duron's Olive Grove in flat (two coats). While waiting for each coat to dry, I set to work sanding and painting the hardware in metallic bronze paint. New hinges and a handle for the lid were also purchased, and painted the same color. Each piece of hardware received two coats.

With everything reassembled:

I'm not sure what uses this trunk saw in its previous life. I have absolutely no idea what I'll use it for in the future, but at the moment, there are blankets being kept inside. Beyond being able to transform and save something physically, I was able to salvage and preserve a little piece of American history. And that, I think, is the best part of all of it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ideas and Innovation

A recent documentary I saw about the life of Charles Lindbergh revealed that his transatlantic flight to Paris was the result of a reward offered by a private financier. The stunning trip was not the result of a government-sponsored contest, or the command of a governmental institution that mandated someone cross the Atlantic Ocean regardless of cost. Rather, with the conditions right -a reward, fame, and setting a record- Lindbergh took on the task by utilizing both his skill as a pilot and carefully managing the weight load of the "Spirit of St. Louis", his rugged personal aircraft.

Lindbergh was not the first pilot to attempt the dangerous crossing. Others had attempted and failed -sometimes at the expense of their lives. Yet, the conditions that made men try their souls to cross the Atlantic were adequate commensurate to the risk.

Today in the United States, critics contend that there is no more innovation, and that there are no more success stories to be written -except unless coerced. This occurs, especially, in the area of alternative and green energy.

The argument goes something like this: The United States is at least ten years behind in the green movement because it has failed to invent, innovate, and embrace anything green. Because of this, the United States is seen as backwards, antiquated, and wasteful. Critics point to the United States government as the culprit for failing to push the people in the right direction, that of green sustainability. If only, they lament, the U.S. government would pass legislation restricting the use of traditional and fossil energy, and thereby force companies to innovate, invent, and embrace, then the United States would surely be the spearhead of a green energy revolution, c.f., "necessity is the mother of all invention".

Where, one wonders, were the laws that forced Lindbergh over the Atlantic? Where, one wonders, were the laws that forced Thomas Edison to develop his incandescent light bulb? Where, one wonders, were the laws that compelled Studebaker to catch up with Ford's automobiles? Where, one wonders, were the laws that compelled the creation of the vacuum, the jet plane, the internal combustion engine, the computer, the refrigerator, the smart phone?

It isn't that the United States opposes green and alternative energy. It's that the United States is intelligent about it: what use is a car to most Americans that runs on battery for twenty-something miles on average? How can the average American citizen truly tap into wind power when a billionaire cannot even successfully invest in a windmill farm? How can Americans rely on ethanol-diluted gasoline when such gasoline is more inefficient and a greater pollutant than its purer former composition? Such green technology and alternative energy is, simply put, not cost-effective. And sometimes, it simply comes down to the fact that something costs too much money to be feasible at all.

Yet, when products of any variety demonstrate themselves to be not just efficient and cost-effective, but more efficient, versatile, and cheap, Americans rally to their use. Gasoline, rather than coal-powered cars, rule the day. Provide Americans with a cheaper, more reliable, cleaner-burning, more cost-effective alternative to gasoline, and Americans will jump to it. Americans have always prided themselves on being on the cutting-edge, in terms of both innovation and consumption.

Yet this innovation and consumption are by no means the product of government regulation, intervention, or mandate. America has, technologically, medically, scientifically, and culturally, always been at the fore of invention. Americans lead, and do not follow. Across this country are financiers, businessmen, inventors, innovators, cultural aesthetes, scientists, and garage and basement-based creators with the ideas and resources to shape tomorrow. All they are awaiting are the freedom and opportunity to move forward. Yet, to do that, they must take those steps on their own, and not because the government said so.

Lindbergh risked his life in pursuit of a dream, a record, and a reward. Americans today risk much less -provided they are willing to take a risk at all. Perhaps that risk can be taken for a reward, be it notoriety or monetary. Or perhaps Americans will take those risks simply for the sake of pursuing dreams. And America is not yet finished dreaming.