We’ve inherited a box of old badly damaged pony legs with
butted joinery which have been clad in copper and tin sheeting.
The tacking lines along the leading edges of the butt joinery are so badly damaged
by the tacking one must speculate about the advantage of such a repair
as it exacerbated wood substrate issues and nearly destroyed the legs.
We are reminded of the folk adage, “If the disease does not kill you, the medicine will!”
We originally thought these broken legs were a thing
of the past, an anomaly, until we saw a teeny bright
bit of copper on our Buckskin Lily Hunter, right.
Once we had the eyes to see the shape of these
repairs under paint, we saw they were everywhere!
What is the origin of the cladding?
Was it placed on the horses at the time they were created as a way to create additional strength and smooth contours around a potentially weak joint of seam?
Was the cladding an addition to areas with breaks and erosion used as a stop gap measure by maintenance workers who did not have woodworking skills?
Was there simply no dollars within their budget to perform proper repairs?
1) The creation of the horses were executed by skilled woodworkers.
The incorporation of complex joints into the knees and thighs speak to an understanding of how wood performs and what is necessary in creating a viably engineered structure.
We surmise no skilled crafts-person would incorporate such cladding as the tiny tacks would undermine the original structure, create a surface not in keeping with authentic carving and lead to finish/paint problems throughout the horse’s life.
2) Not all members are clad. Some horses have cladding on several joints, like the Turquoise Parker Pony shown above. Other horses have none at all.
Some horses have strangely asymmetrical cuts of sheeting with
an over-layering of thin straps over the top, shown above, left.
This is consistent with a “fix.” This is clearly not part of the original engineering.
A number of horses have copper/tin wrapped around the tail stumps,
such as our Dappled Grey Water Horse, above.
The cladding extends up onto the rump like a patch,
then cuts in an irregular pattern around the tail proper.
Again, not all horses have tail repairs with this cladding,
nor is it applied in exactly the same way from horse to horse.
Sometime during their long life when maintenance was looking for quick fixes which would not require expensive skilled labor repairs, they did this. Maybe it was a common repair with carousel people as we’ve heard it mentioned by others.
The cladding is contributing to the viability of specific joints,
but the downside to these patches is fracturing paint and
the unknown atrophy of surface wood beneath.
We suspect rot under the patching, but cannot tell the extent.
Dealing with rot means expert woodworking treatments.
Also, the tacking lines may have undermined the wood substrate
requiring additional repairs. How does one create a treatment plan
without having knowledge of the actual damage?
An interesting bit our master blacksmith shared about certain copper sheet cladding: Depending upon its thickness and blend of alloys; if the metal is subjected to high heat, then immersed in cold water, it will become pliable for a period of time!
In the case of the carousel horses, we surmise a pattern was taken of the area which was failing, strategically cut out with metal shears, then put beneath a torch or dropped into a forge until it was red hot.
Once the cladding reached a certain temperature it was immediately immersed
into cold water until it could be manipulated without burning hands.
The temporary molecular shift allowed the repair person to mold it around
the damaged member, much like aluminum foil, occasionally lightly tapping
it with a mallet to create necessary folds and contours.
In the end there was just enough time to penetrate the edges of the metal with a succession of box nails in order to assure the sharp edges were securely affixed into the wood.
After it cooled, they built the area up with a plaster mixture and painted
over the entire piece, essentially creating an exoskeleton or a barely visible
cast over the degraded element. So we see very knobby knees and bulked tails!
Written by Kate Powell ©MPF Conservation.
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