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The furniture doctor.

"When my publisher told me it was time to revise this book, I sat down and read it over," says author George Grotz, "and I'll be darned if it didn't all sound pretly interesting and reasonable." For a fellow who was just a 40-year-old when he wrote it, Grotz adds, "I sure was smart."

But now, after 20 years, this Madison Avenue dropout, who left advertising to enter the "strange but happy world of people who are always fussing around with their furniture," has updated The Furniture Doctor with the latest prices--"Boy, we sure have had a lot of inflation in the last 20 years"--and even some admissions that in the first edition he was wrong about a few things. "To give you your money's worth," he says, he has written a new little section on the modern finishes and "almost a whole other book about using tools you'll need in restoring and refinishing furniture."

The name Grotz may not be a household word, but it is as familiar as Chippendale and Hepplewhite to members of that broad American subculture for whom antique collecting is a second religion. Calloused by hands-on experience and armed with delightful anecdotes from the refinishing shop of his "infamous Uncle George" (to whom the book is dedicated), Grotz has written an even dozen books on antique furniture, including the classic From Gunk to Glow. Of them all, however, The Furniture Doctor remains best known. It is a handy reference as well as a good read on antique furniture, its identification, acquisition, restoration and repair. More than 300,000 readers have already testified that this book is just what the doctor ordered. The "second opinion," updated and revised, is destined to be at least as popular.

As a practitioner, Grotz resembles more a wise, old country doctor than some multi-degreed specialist. From his bag of 18 readable chapters, he pulls out case after case of simple home remedies for sick furniture, remedies that may spare readers some big doctor bills.

"Why buy clamsp," he writes in the section on "Easy-to-Make Repairs," when you can make your own from a few blocks of wood? To glue on the amputated legs of a chair, use a rope and a stick, a kind of makeshift tourniquet to hold things together. Simple illustrations show how to perform the operation.

How do you straighten awarped board? Easy. Lay it concave side down on wet grass for a few hours under a hot sun. Or concave side up on a steam radiator, weighted with a heavy rock.

As for putting things back together, Grotz has definite ideas. "No nails! No nails!" he wails, "...the only way to hold furniture together is with glue. Also, you can't use screws, angle irons or metal plates," he adds. "That way lies, if not madness, at least the town dump. no fastening device made of metal is ever one-tenth as good a joint as wood glued to wood."

Grotz is only too happy to lance long-festering misconceptions about antique styles. In his chapter "Furniture Periods--Exposed at Last!" subtitled "Please, Mr. chippendale, couldn't you slice the baloney just a little bit thinner?" he points out that we Americans, for all our intelligence, "for some reason ... still cling to our inferiority complex about European furniture of the 1700s--most of which is pretentious, some of which is vulgar, and all of which is effete."

He has also developed a sixth sense for sniffing out fake antiques. He eleaborates in a section subheaded "A shameful guide to some nefarious practices that I am sure no reader of this book would ever stopp to using." And the reason there aren't as many fake antiques in American as in European furniture is only because American antiques haven't been around as long. "We are doing our efficient American best, however," he writes, "to catch up as fast as possible."

Almost self-defeatingly, Grotz then goes on to explain the techniques for faking antiques. These include everything from weathering and creating fake worm holes to spattering and veneer removal. "Probably a quarter of the supposedly Colonial pine chests for sale in antique shops today," he writes, "began their lives as veneered Victorian pieces."

In this own unique way, Grotz brings us up-to-date on which tools of the trade are good and bad. While heaping praise on his good old Sears, Roebuck belt sander (with advice not to put the belt in backward or use it on real antique tables of pre-Victorian vintage), he has nothing but contempt for orbital sanders. The orbital sander "makes a great gift--for someone you hate," as he puts it. He conjectures that the man who invented the orbital sander "must have been a fiend with an insane hatred of people who like to fool around with wood and finish it so that you can see deep into the grain where Mother Nature gleams and glows in the candlelight. Without any nasty little semicircular scratches to ruin the view, that is! For little round scratches are what orbital sanders are all about."

About Victorian furniture, he would have us know that it was always "more a state of mind than a style." And that more of it was made in the United States than in England. Colonial furniture, on the other hand, he finds most appealling. "It had what artists call 'functional design,'" he writes, explaining that if something is made from a purely practical point of view, it will be beautiful. "the tavern table, the sawbuck table, the hutch cabinet, the settle chair, the Windsor chair --all were built to do a job," he says, "and do it well."

Even as "Doctor" Grotz believes that furniture should be held together with glue, so does he obviously believe in holding the 353 pages of The Furniture Doctor together with continual applications of humor.

If the book has one flaw, like the book the little girl borrowed from the library that told her more about penguins than she wanted to know, it may inspire you to try so many things that you won't know where to begin. But wherever you start, here you'll find the answers to everything you've always wanted to know about refinishing furniture but were afraid to ask for fear of appearing stupid.

As for any fear of your copy of The Furniture Doctor soon being outdated by still another revision, forget it. Unless you become interested in how to refinish furniture in outer space. That's the only thing missing.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Allen, Michael
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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