Thursday, 6 February 2014

A key

Over the last few weeks, I have been taking a furniture restoration taster class with a French furniture restorer who is here to work on the furniture in Longwood House. Longwood House was home to Napoleon when he was exiled here in the 19th Century. A lot of the furniture has been ravaged by the damp and abused by inappropriate use of polish. (Neverrr, use zee poleeesh!) Some has been sent to France for major work, and the rest is being looked after on site.
Mostly we are not allowed near any of the actual furniture since we are mostly complete novices, but we have been allowed to play with locks. Many of the keys to the locks on the furniture in the house have been lost in the mists of time so I was give a project: to remake a key that had been lost for a real and actual piece of Napoleonic furniture. 
Back of lock visible on the inside of the desk.

This one came from a bureau รก cylinder or roll top desk. I am hoping to pop into the house tomorrow when it is open for tourists and see if I can find the desk to photograph it.

This side of the lock would be embedded in the wood
 so the key would pass through the keyhole in the wood
 and into the keyhole in the lock.

The first thing to do was to remove the cover and clean the inside. It was full of dead bugs, cobweb, dust, rust and grime.

Then I was shown how to lubricate the mechanism and check it was working properly.

The key must fit over the central pin and have notches in the top edge to accommodate the two rings of metal that stick up round the pin. The blade of the key must be exactly the right length to push the sprung piece to the side and catch in the notch below to push the bolt out.

The same happens in reverse when you turn the key the other way to retract the bolt and unlock it.

This is what we started with - a key blank. It is pretty ugly and the blade is massive.

This is my finished key. With lots of supervision I cut the blade to the right size (length, width and thickness). Cut the notches in the end, filed off the textured surface and shaped the key to make it more attractive to look at and hold.

Emil encouraged me to add the two diagonal decorative marks.

And to shape the end.

Lastly I gave it a good polish. (It is ok to use zee poleesh for zee metal) It was really fun to see a real key emerge from the blank.

And look: it works.

When you turn the key...

the bolt slides out!

And when you turn it back again, it slides back in.

Now my key will become part of that piece of furniture and if you visit Longwood House you can see it, looking like it has always been there.

I am very pleased and proud to be able to say 'I did that'.



  1. Very well done! It's nice to see something well madeby hand. xxxx Dad

    1. I am going to have a go at the locks on the linen press at home one day...

  2. That is so clever, truly impressed. And to be able to work on a piece of history too!

  3. What a fascinating and interesting time you are having on the island! And what a great opportunity to be involved in a project like that - well done. Couldn't you engrave your initials somewhere on the key too - tee Hee - purely for posterity! ;-)

    1. Not sure I am clever enough to do initials! Love the idea though...

  4. Wow!!! I mean, just, WOW! What a fabulous thing to be able to do, and to say you have done! And what a great thing to get involved with. You are certainly beating those winter blues and doing new stuff! Way to go! xCathy

    1. Thanks I am so excited about it! I feel like I will be leaving a tiny piece of me in this special place. x

  5. That's fantastic! What a fun class. You'll have to let us know what we're supposed to use instead of zee poleesh! I bet you'll hear about some wonderful secret recipe!

  6. That is fascinating, quite often the workings of every day things are taken for granted its really interesting to see the internal gubbings and how it actually works ! :-)x

  7. Wow that is supremely cool! Out of interest, when should you use zee polish on old furniture? Or is commercial polishes that are the problem (ie homemade fine)?