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Part 1 |  Part 2 |  Part 3 |  Part 4 |  Part 5 |  Part 6 |  Part 7

The Painting of Rooster

Part Two of a Seven Part Series by Bette Largent

To Fill or Not To Fill?

We stripped Rooster down to the primer
We stripped Rooster down to the primer using a heat gun that has both temperature and blower controls. These are available for under $30.00 at most hardware stores. Everyone who uses a heat gun soon creates their own bag of favorite tools. Ours is a companion tool that comes with interchangeable blades - a tear drop, a triangle and a square. We also use dental tools to clean out the fine detail lines of the carvings. Gloves are a must as well as a mask for protection from the fumes. If you have a nice breezy day and can do this job outside it will help in the ventilation. You can use a fan to pull the fumes down and away from you and the horse.

After careful stripping down to the prime coat we will sand off the remainder as it will better preserve the carving lines. In Rooster, the prime coat is white which tells us that it is a fairly recent application. The older lead based primers usually turn a honey or amber color. If you have questions about the type of primer that was used, a simple test kit is available at most paint stores.

What we found below the primer confirmed our suspicions
We also knew prior to working on this figure that it had been "restored" in the early 80's. As there were no log photos or records on this earlier restoration and the methods of restoring figures varies greatly, we will proceed as if it had not been done. What we found below the primer confirmed our suspicions from our tapping and thumping. Beneath all the paint and primer coat was a horse filled with nails, screws, and z-brads. It also contained large quantities of Bondo. Bondo - a two part filler used in the automobile industry is just that - filler. It's primary ingredient is talc and it was never intended to be a substitute for wood or glue. Filler, regardless of the type used, should be applied only to fill very, very small indentations, holes or cracks. It should never be a replacement for glue!

Beneath all the paint and primer coat was a horse filled with nails, screws, and z-brads
The wood in Rooster was in very poor condition as a result of improper repairs, age and the dry-rot created by the metal used in it's original construction. It some areas we found 20 nails per inch. The body box and the neck had shifted, causing the saddle area to cave inward. The resulting crack was filled with nearly an inch of Bondo. This had been applied like frosting on a cake. Original carving lines were completely obscured as well, especially in the area of the mane. The dry-rot had progressed to the point that the wood was reduced to particles, not fiber. The top of the saddle seat area was so cracked and thin that it was on the brink of caving in.

The neck and head had originally been nailed together. These nails had rotted through, the wood had shrunk, and the result was three large seams that were 1/4 of an inch apart. This had then been filled with Bondo. There wasn't a trace of glue in any of the areas. It was just a matter of time before the Bondo crumbled and the head would simply fall off the body. Some of the other heads on this machine had done exactly that. Just the process of removing all of the metal and filler resulted in a totally disassembled figure - literally a horse in a box.

At this point, an evaluation had to be made to determine which parts could be salvaged. Part of this evaluation process takes into account the fact that this horse would go back on an operating machine with over 100,000 riders annually. It was an outside row horse which meant it would receive a higher number of riders. In a private restoration these factors would not have been as vital. It would also determine the type or strength of the glue we would use in certain areas.

The rear portion would be replaced as well
The main body box would be reinforced from the inside. The back of the saddle which was more metal than wood would be replaced. The rear portion where the tail is attached was so riddled with dry-rot that it would be replaced as well. Also slated for replacement were the legs, hips, and one ear.

This particular type of horse was made by a manufacturer that was well known for metal in original construction. They were also known for lap joints in the hip and knees. Although these joints were meant to be an efficient method of construction, they have proven not to be the best type for many years of operation. The squeezing of the legs in transporting and the bumping during operations have resulted in breaks and a wide variety of temporary solutions. Most of these quick fix solutions result in even more damage as the figure ages. We will replace them with a glue and doweled joint.

Yes, the horse will still retain it's primary identity, such as head, mane, blanket, saddle and torso. Small dry rot spots in non-stress areas are not removed. They will be treated with ferring epoxy, a treatment for dry-rot developed for the boat industry. All the pieces and parts will be glued and doweled as the figure is reconstructed. For private restorations, the ferring epoxy can be used to save original carvings. It is not the answer for major carved components.

Calipers and exact measurements of the original pieces enable us to carve exact replicas. The pieces are carved slightly larger where they join the old piece. Once glued in place we can sand and shape the new piece to match exactly without any seam showing. The reconstruction and wood restoration on Rooster was done by Bob Cherot of the Montana Carousel Company, Inc. When so much of a figure has to be recreated it is an asset to have a carousel carver available to do the restoration. You will run the risk of hearing how much easier it is to "carve a new one". There is, however, a great respect for the carving style of historical figure by today's carvers. Just as many artists learn by copying the old masters, carver's can and do learn from restoring a historic figure. They also learn not to make the same mistakes.

To be continued........

Part 1 |  Part 2 |  Part 3 |  Part 4 |  Part 5 |  Part 6 |  Part 7

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Bette Largent is a professional carousel horse restoration artist from Washington State, and the author of Paint The Ponies, a guide for those who are interested in learning the art of painting carousel figures.

Click Here for information on ordering her book.

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