Kennedy Furniture Conservation- Wood Brothers Threshing Machine

Ralph Kennedy of Kennedy Furniture Conservation in Mount Carrol, IL,  goes into each of his restoration projects with a strong cornerstone of conservation principles.

“Understand the materials which you are about to work on before you begin.  Understand the limitations of treatments judged appropriate for that object.  Understand the characteristics of products you intend to use.  And of critical importance is to resist the urge to apply your ‘taste or preference’ in any of your treatment processes. The retention of all original parts and materials of the given objects is also critical.”

This was the mindset Kennedy had going into the restoration project of the largest physical object he has ever worked on: A Woods Bros. Threshing Machine dating back to the early 1920s.

If you’ve ever driven through rural America, you’ve likely seen one of these machines abandoned and rusting away at the edge of a field or tucked away and falling apart behind a barn.  However- until about 1940, these machines were critical in limiting the labor necessary to process and separate grains from their stalks and husks.  They were a crucial piece of equipment in every farming community.

Kennedy was commissioned to work on one of these machines by the Naper Settlement in Naperville, Illinois.  The settlement is a 12 acre outdoor historical museum which received the thresher as a local donation and funded the restoration through a grant made available by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Kennedy and his wife Mary Jane have done restoration work, mostly furniture-related, for nearly 50 years.  This was his first venture into heavy farm equipment.  He estimates that it took him and his small crew nearly 800 total hours to appropriately research, document and restore the thresher.

“Our toughest struggle was dealing with the condition of the degraded paint and determining the best way to manage that problem.  Simply stated, we wound up using paints as close to the original as possible to treat non-moving parts; the siding, frame etc…  We cleaned and ‘lightly touched up’ the moving parts.”

As more and more of the damaged paint was removed, more rusted and corroded metal began to show.  This is where Abatron products played a large role in these repairs.

“We used LiquidWood® wood hardener, WoodEpox® filler and FerroBond P™ metal-patch on this project.  We chose these products because of the ease of use, flexibility of function, the safety of the products’ use, and the overall success we have had with them on past projects.”

Pictured here is one of the tailing elevator tubes from the thresher, which required extensive patching with FerroBond P™, a spreadable metal-filled epoxy putty. A form was installed to hold the shape of the tubing while the epoxy was applied.  After curing it was ground smooth and eventually painted.

Naper Settlement is currently building a new structure to house historical agricultural objects, photographs, and a wide range of items related to American ingenuity in that sector.  This is where the restored thresher will be displayed.  These historical items had a significant impact on the origin and growth of communities all across the United States.

Kennedy Furniture Conservation has done work for over 60 different museums from 11 different states along with countless projects for private clients.  A sample of its work can be found on its Facebook page and Ralph is available to help on your upcoming restoration projects.

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