I inherited a lovely old antique dresser and mirror from my father’s aunts many years ago and it has travelled the world from Scotland to Australia, where it lived for many years with my family, and from Australia to Canada. It is rather bumped and scraped in places from many moves and in a few places it is “crackling” and has a split or two in the wood. To me it is like an old friend – I’ve known it for most of my adult life. I always kept the key safe just in case I ever wanted to lock any of the 6 drawers but in our most recent move the key was lost and I never thought it could be replaced … but then we did not know Allan.
As fate would have it another piece of furniture was damaged in the same move and Allan came to repair it. I asked if there was any way to make a key for a 100 year old dresser I owned and he commented (in his British accent) that “of course there is”.
The Rekeying Process
Alan removed a lock from one of the drawers and took it away for a few weeks. Sceptical me thought that there is no way a key could be made that would really work. Allan returned, with lock and key and amazingly we now have a lockable 120 year old much loved dresser. Here is how this happened:
- An “old” key was found – similar to what would have been used (it did not open the lock as that would have been much too simple)
- The end of the key was cut off and a “blob” of brass was welded to, and became the end of the key (brazing)
- Then the work begins. Allan spent an incredible four hours filing the key until it fit the locking mechanism inside the small lock. Magical!
Hints on care of antique furniture
Definitely a labour of love and we are so grateful to Allan. He also gave us some hints on how to cover some of the minor “flea bites” in the wood surface using a stain marker and a wax to polish the dresser. He also soldered one of the broken original brass handles so it is just like new. The dresser may not be museum quality but it was repaired as such. It really is special when someone has the talent and ability to be able to repair an old and cherished piece of furniture which all going well should last a few more generations.
If you have a family piece of furniture you love; look after it, use and enjoy it!
So there you have it. Yes, a 100 year old antique dresser can be rekeyed if you know the right person.
Thank you sincerely Allan!
A short story
In the dresser’s journey from Australia to Canada ten years or so ago (via China and a few other countries) a heavy 20 gallon drum fell on a corner of the dresser. Amazingly, there is only a small “dent” in the corner where it hit. I am sure if it had not been a solid wood, well made piece of furniture the results may have been quite different. Yes it is repairable but the dent adds character and is part of the dresser’s “story”.
Some things only happen once in a lifetime – and I feel this was one of those occasions.
- The dresser was not as old as we thought. It was made around 1900 and not 1850’s
- The dresser was factory made (assembly line) with a mechanical plane and not by hand
- If you are fortunate you might find a blank skeleton key that will fit your lock (they are not expensive)
- Starting with a reliable locksmith is the best way to begin – especially if you want the replacement completed correctly
Links & References
- Furniture styles 1600’s to present
- How to become a professional locksmith
- Cleaning and repairing antique wood furniture from Utah State University
- Smithsonian Museum on restoring antique wood furniture
- All about brazing from Wikipedia
- Information on caring for your antique or vintage wood furniture
- And finally, the million dollar question: “Should an antique be restored?“