The Building Conservation Directory 2021

123 C AT H E D R A L COMMU N I C AT I O N S T H E B U I L D I N G CON S E R VAT I ON D I R E C TO R Y 2 0 2 1 METAL , WOOD & GLASS 3.3 DECORATIVE TIMBER REPAIRS ROBIN RUSSELL T HE TERM ‘decorative timber’ is used here to include joinery and timbers that are visible and not structurally supporting any other part of the building. The component may be a window, door, skirting, a screen wall or panelling, or a fancy beam. The issue may be that a piece is missing or that it has been damaged by decay or insect attack. Or it could be an old repair that is very visible and disfiguring, which the owner wishes to repair it in a more aesthetic way. In some cases the original timber will have a decorative finish (paint, wood graining or varnish for example) which also needs to be retained. REPAIRS v REPLACEMENT The first question you might ask is why bother? It may seem simpler to replace damaged timberwork than to repair it, but the amount of historic fabric that can be saved by repairing rather than replacing is truly significant and, by doing so, architectural features and decoration are retained. Where a building is listed, consent is required for all alterations, and conservation officers obviously much prefer repairs. Furthermore, the timber available today cannot match the quality of timber found in historic buildings. Often we find that the windows we are renewing are 20th-century replacements while the historic ones are still serviceable, even if in a shocking condition. And finally, the costs of repair are often (but not always) lower than replacement. If people realised how much of the historic fabric can usually be saved, when they took into consideration the value of the historic fabric combined with the lesser intervention that’s likely and similar or lower costs, it’s certain many people would choose repairs rather than replacement. Unless of course that is, they foolishly think a new item has got to be better. METHOD There are several approaches that might be adopted when dealing with a repair. They include letting in or splicing with new timber alone, a full resin repair, insertion of a timber section but adjoined with resin, or reinforcement by joining fragments together or by attaching them to a substrate. Alternately the decayed or damaged timber may simply be consolidated as it remains using resins or adhesives. The method of repair chosen will be based on several factors, assessed on a case by case basis. Minimal intervention: consider what would be the most effective way of removing as little historic fabric as possible. Functionality: how the component is used and the environment in which it is located are also vitally important. Some repairs may only be possible using a resin as in certain instances modern, resins completely out-perform timber repairs. Building up a rotten glazing bar on a Georgian window, for example, may avoid having to replace the whole sash. Aesthetics: one factor is whether the repair is to be finished with something opaque (such as paint), or whether the repair will be visible through a stained, translucent or natural finish. If the latter, it may be important to make the junction between the two materials as neat and as invisible and so aesthetically pleasing as possible. Decorative timberwork on the outside of buildings is extremely vulnerable to poor maintenance, ill-considered repairs and inappropriate replacement, and fine examples like this are increasingly rare. (Photo: Jonathan Taylor) Panelling often splits because the panels have been fixed so that they are no longer able to move, and decay can be an issue where in contact with damp masonry. (Photo: Robin Russell)