Call of the Woods: The Signature

As I worked on restoring the mahogany coffee table, I spoke almost daily with my brother. He was giving a dining table that had sat under a covered patio since moving to their current home a few years ago new life. We encountered many of the same issues and having an experienced craftsman as near as my phone made my job easier. We talked about almost everything, from tools to final finishes.

As I approached the end of my work on the coffee table, Bill suggested that I include the builder’s name since I definitively knew it to be my wife, Sandy’s father—Hiliary E. Mills. But where does one find the signature of someone who passed away more than four decades ago? I began with the obvious place—Sandy. No luck. She did not recall any document that we had where his signature appeared.

Having become a passable internet researcher in the writing of my Civil War novel, Angry Heavens, I decided to do some cyber detective work. The first place I looked was my Ancestry account and on Sandy’s family tree. As soon as I started, I found a document—her father’s Selective Service registration card. Right there on my screen was his signature; however, I wondered, “How do I get it from screen to the underside of his coffee table?”

I did a quick screenshot, and then I enlarged it until I thought it would be readable on the coffee table. After a little manipulating in Photoshop Elements, I had it as clear and legible as I was going to get it. “OK, genius,” I thought. “What do I do next?”

It was then that I remembered back to a time 47 years earlier when mother-to-be and father-to-be were decorating son-to-be, Christian’s, bedroom. Of course, we didn’t know until the baby came what the sex was going to be other than a few old wives’ tales about predicting the sex of an unborn. I think times were better back then. So, as we went about decorating the baby’s room, we had to choose a neutral color and a neutral decorating scheme. We chose yellow and Winne the Pooh.  Somehow in the process, we stumbled across a method for transferring outlined images to walls and even pulldown shades that we could then paint. That was the method I remembered and applied to Hiliary E. Mills’ signature. 

I took the copy from my printer, turned it over, and traced the signature’s reverse image over and over in the #2 pencil. With part one finished, I lightly sanded the signature’s location to create a cloud of lightened mahogany that you can see in on the attached photos.  I then took the pencil-image on the paper and taped the paper—copier side up with painters’ tape—to the table’s underside. Next, I took my pencil, shaved it off until an eighth of an inch of lead was showing, and turning the lead point sideways, I went over the signature until the reverse side gave up its pencil-image to the mahogany. Just like 47 years before!

Now making sure that we could see it, and whoever inherited it years hence, could see it, too, I went over that Selective Service signature with a gold pen. 

A unique and special table needed the builder’s signature. Oh, and I added my own initials and the restoration date in the left corner of the underside. I thought the restorer needed a little credit!

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