Fame at last!

This week our restoration project was featured on RTE’s Nationwide programme, it’s only available for the next 21 days so be sure to watch the video and find out more about what’s happening in the house.

The Mount Stewart segment starts at 8mins 10 secs.


An update and request from the joinery team

Hi folks!

I know I know it’s been too long! We have been very busy working hard restoring windows and protecting various items throughout the house.

Everything is in full swing with a team of plumbers, electricians, plasterers, H&J Martin’s joiners and the fabulous, totally brilliant, not to be outdone, National Trust Project joinery team! Am I biased?

At the moment we are involved in the restoration of the French doors and their surrounding architraves all along the south facing side of the house. These rooms from a historical point of view came into existence when the house was enlarged quite considerably by the 3rd marquis of Londonderry, to the wonderful house we see today. The rooms in question, being built to serve as the suite of rooms and bedroom used by Theresa the 3rd marquises wife where of high importance and quality. They are also the rooms in which King Edward VII stayed during his visit in 1903. Sometime later around the 1950’s after the estate office in Newtownards was closed the rooms became office space to serve as the new estate office.

We first removed the shutter doors to repair them as per the instructions by the architect. The shutter doors had been reduced in size sometime in the past probably in and around the 1920’s to accommodate an opening sash fitted in the left hand door (when standing in the room) to allow ventilation.

image 1 with arrow image 1a with arrow

The task was to add new timbers to increase the shutter length bringing them back to the original height they would have been in the 1850’s

Image 2

We also removed the French doors so we could service them for two reasons:

1. By removing the many layers of paint which had basically fixed them shut since dear knows when.

2. Remove the sash introduced in the 1920’s which also had been fixed shut and return the doors back to their original appearance.


We in the National Trust are not in the business of dumping the old for new, we instead protect and conserve where possible.

The ethos in which the joinery team, in fact the whole the conservation team operate under when restoring anything is best summed up by our project curator Frances Bailey when she said, ‘we do as much as is necessary but as little as possible.’

So when we got the French doors on the bench in our workshop I began surveying them. I noticed the sash we removed looked as if it was original. The reasons being:

  1. The glass in the sash was cylinder glass, that’s the old distorted wavy glass you see in old windows, while all the glass surrounding it was plate glass. This would indicate the sash was older as plate glass was not used in the 1850’s, the time in which the doors would have been constructed.
  2. The door construction suggested it had never been altered or taken apart. It matches exactly the same profile as all the other doors on that façade including the saloon doors which we know for definite were made in the 1850’s.

In short I had a pile of unanswered questions.

So was the door originally made with an opening sash meaning we did not need to remove it, rather restore it?

If the sash was not original, why did it have glass that placed it being made in the 1850’s?

What a quandary, it was all very bamboozling. So I put my inspector Clouseau hat on and started to use what little brains I have.

Mars must have come in line with Jupiter as the answers came!

In the fine detail when I removed the paint I could see on the glazing bar (which was original) a timber section was added to beef up its size to facilitate the addition of a sash. Also the species of timber used in the construction of the sash (probably Douglas fir) was different from the door which was pitch pine.

image 3 A new section introduced to facilitate the sash

A new section introduced to facilitate the sash

Image4 this photo is showing the glazing bar tenon

The glazing bar tenon

So the door was made in the 1850’s. Later, probably around the King’s visit a lot of the original cylinder and crown glass was removed and a new invention, ‘plate glass replaced morit. At that time the sash was introduced to allow ventilation, as the only way to allow ventilation previously was by opening the door.

Could the family have decided that the king deserved a better view of the gardens rather than look through distorted glass? Or did they remove the original glass just to show off by having plate glass, the new invention which was also very expensive?

We will never know, we can only assume, and that’s the charm Mount Stewart has for me!

Mortise & tenon joints

A joint which is used on all doors or at least should be is a mortise and tenon joint. I have included a few photos of Trevor showing James how to form the joint being used in adding the new sections to the shutter doors.

Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (1) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (2) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (3) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (4) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (5) Trevor instructing James how to form a mortise &tenon joint (6) New member of staff!

I would like to introduce to you our latest member of staff, Mr. Stephen King. Stephen joins us for a year as part of a CITB training scheme and is a very welcome extra pair of hands. Stephen has many years experience in the building trade and is hoping to learn new skills during this project.

Stephen King

Our new recruit, Stephen King

The upskilling of persons in the various trades employed during this project is seen as a vital part of this projects legacy. Our two apprentices will have such a start in their respective joinery lives and will no doubt be very employable wherever they may end up in years to come. I know speaking for myself the knowledge I have gained so far is priceless, Trevor I’m sure will agree.

We need your help, we need wood!

I also would like to take this opportunity to ask if anyone has or knows where we can get old reclaimed timber. One species in particular would be bog oak which we need for the inlays to doors, floors and furniture.

Any reclaimed pine I would be only too glad to receive and one can be assured it will be put to good use.

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (1)

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house. (2)

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

Examples of bog oak used in the house.

An example of Bog Oak which is used in the house

I have included a few photos on a loop showing the work being carried out to the shutter doors and one of the damage which is typical of what we are finding.

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The wood we have used is Quebec yellow or eastern white pine. It’s a very stable and easy to work with (just like myself!) It is either the same species of wood that was used originally or it’s very closely related.


Suited and booted – Inspecting the drainage

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Joe Heaney, Building Surveyor for the project getting suited up to go down and inspect the drainage culvert that runs from the lake down through the property, under the courtyard and reception right through the gardens and under the main road and out into the lough!!

Excess water from the property should drain through this culvert down into the Lough but over time the culvert has collapsed in places causing the water to back up and flood the property and the gardens, especially during high tides. Part of the conservation project will be to identify the damaged areas and repair the drainage system to prevent future flooding.


Project Administrator

New mouldings please! Oh and while you’re at it, fill that crack!

Hello again folks!

This time I want to show you some of the common day things we are doing now. The window shutters belonging to the TV room window arrived at our workshop in need of some repair.

Trevor and Callum started on the new work top for the pantry and while they machined the timber needed, James and I rolled up our sleeves and got stuck into repairing the shutters.

First thing on the list to do was remove some of the mouldings which had warped and others that had come away from the door rails, they had been filled by painters over the years to the point that these mouldings needed to be replaced.

While Callum was proving himself on the machines, this was a good exercise for James to see how mouldings around panels are done and also the traditional way joiners of yesteryear made doors.

I have included a few photos for your perusal and please send in your comments.

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Pantry drawers finished, Saloon windows begin…

Hello again!

Well we have been busy beavering away in the depths of Mount Stewart. Fixing, repairing and discovering yet more problems, problems which are not insurmountable but problems which are part of the job we are here to do.

So the final pantry drawer has been finished and is just off to the painters. As usual, Callum did his lathe work in producing another handle from the beech mentioned in one of the last blogs.

Trevor also worked his magic showing James our apprentice how to splice/scarf new sections of timber into old ones.

This as a skill is by no means a simple one and should not be despised. To match in timber, one has to pick suitable wood with matching grain and then secure it to the old timber by leaving little or no visible signs that it has been carried out.

In the pantry we have painted a drawer front which hides the grain, so the focus was on leaving no signs that a repair was made, making the job simpler.

This drawer was unusual and different to its mates in that the drawer had no dovetail joints. It was simply and crudely nailed together! Trevor removed the nails and reused them as you will see in one of the photos.


The finished product!


Trevor hits the nail on the head!


The original cast iron cut nails


James, wise in joinery skills you will be!


The pressures on!

Now, Callum has produced the goods once again. I gave Callum a small task but a complicated one.

The task was to make two work stools, not ordinary stools but proper strong sturdy stools to help us as we fix the window shutters in the Saloon.

The picture below is what was given to him (kindly lent by Trevor) to build the stools from, he did so using the scrap timber we had left over from previous jobs.

Callum and I had a brief discussion over what was required and just left him with the drawing to sort it out.


This picture shows various items for a work shop but it’s the stool on the top right corner which Callum made

The following pictures are of Callum cutting the legs and also the joints where the legs attach to the top. It is the joint where the leg meets the top is the most complicated.


Callum has figured out the angle of the cut needed


As you can see the cut is beveled two ways! Awkward or what!




Callum has it well in hand and fine tuning the shoulders which attaché to the top


The first leg has been produced; Callum is displaying the angle of the leg


Will it or wont it fit? And yes it does!



The finished article!



Callum proving the stools stability and strength, looking rather pleased with himself and so he should be!


The lad is just delighted!

This exercise has given Callum yet more skills, he also has the enjoyment of using something he built, believe me that is a nice feeling.

I will take a few snaps with us using the stools and show them to you later on.

Keep watching this space, this is where it’s all happening!


Wood Worm attack!

On Saturday morning while working along side the contractor I discovered a small section of a floor in the flower room had or still is being eaten alive by wood worm!

So, the thought popped into my mind that a blog post would be in order.

What is wood worm?

Wood worm is a generic term used for any beetle larva which bores into wood.

These are the following;image002

  • Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium punctatum)
  • Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium rufuvillosum)
  • House Longhorn Beetle (Hylotrupes bajulus)
  • Powderpost Beetle or wood boring weevil (Lyctus brunneus)

Life cycle

The beetle lays its eggs into an existing cracks or holes in the timber. The eggs then pupate into larva and the larva then burrows downwards into the wood, only surfacing to hatch into a beetle to breed.

It is only when this last stage happens that you can see an infestation, as the hole you see is an exit hole.

As you can imagine the house staff here and in any older property watch out for the signs of an attack, so to be able to nip it in the bud. There are many different treatments for wood worm and all successful. Some are simple in that you spray or brush on a suitable liquid or some are very technical which apply to a piece of furniture which needs special care.

I have included as usual a few snaps of the damage the offending beetle has caused.

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Callum our apprentice making the drawer handles

Hello folks,

Once again I present to you another blog post.

This time it is as the title suggests, Callum our wonderful apprentice has excelled himself and produced two excellent replacement handles/knobs for the damaged drawer fronts you read about in the previous blog.

The story this time has an interesting background to it as the timber used was beech, but its source is quite unique.

The original handles after we removed the paint told us that they were made from beech.

This is not at all unusual as handles of that era were often made from beech as its tight grain makes it a dream to use on a lathe.

The beech we used for the handles came from a source of beech which I had. The story behind this particular piece of timber involves a bit of history involving my family.

My father now retired was also a joiner, who worked around the linen houses in Banbridge, my home town, as you can sense I’m proud of it too!

Banbridge as many know had in the past and was famous for it a series of linen factories producing linen.

One particular linen mill was called the Fergusson Factory simply named after its founding family. To the best of my knowledge the firm still operates but from a different location, moving from its magnificent but now demolished Lurgan Road complex to the Scarva Road as part of an industrial estate.

Now the interesting bit.

My father for many years provided his services for a local man who owned various properties in the town. This man who is now sadly deceased, I remember him with fondness due to his generosity to my father, brother and myself before and after his death.

I am very proud to say that due to his generosity in leaving me the entire contents of his workshop, many of the tools he left me are being used in the project here at Mount Stewart.

The next time you are here, look into the workshop. You will see one of his machines alongside many of his hand tools which are crucial to the operations here.

He not only gave me tools but also a varied selection of now rare species of timber. The section of beech we are using being just one piece of the collection, I know he would have been very happy and proud to have known his tools and timber are still being put to good use and are vital to the success of this project.

Now as you would all know well before the introduction of mechanical looms all the linen was produced on wooden looms.

I’m sure we can all picture the shuttle passing back and forth at a tremendous rate, bringing with it the linen thread which weaved with extreme fineness some wonderfully amazing patterns.

Traditionally the looms where made from beech, as beech has very tight grain and brilliant shock value, it was the timber of choice.

The picture below shows the section of the loom which we used to turn the handles. This can be clearly seen from its shape and the V groove was something to do with the part the shuttle moved on.

The end showing the profile of the beech section we used

The end showing the profile of the beech section we used

Cross section of the piece of beech

Cross section of the piece of beech

The section of beech has been squared up and Callum is now taking the edges off using a smoothing plane. This means that when it’s placed in the lathe it is easier to introduce the tool to commence shaping.

Callum rounding  the edges of the beech section  which makes it easier to start turning in the lathe

Callum rounding the edges of the beech section which makes it easier to start turning in the lathe

This picture shows the damaged handle’s which need to be copied.

The damaged handles

The damaged handles

Callum’s test run! The timber used here is southern yellow pine. As you can see it has a crack in it unfortunately rendering it useless.

The first attempt

The first attempt

Hard at it! Just look at the concentration and the sheer determination!

The concentration!

The concentration!

The first one done! And it’s as usual spot on!

Top class work!





What can I say! Good work Callum

What can I say! Good work Callum

The two knobs with the section of beech which they came from

The two knobs with the section of beech which they came from

Lathe work is a very satisfying and too many a relaxing hobby. In this case the lathe makes our workshop ever more versatile, with Callum ready and willing to turn anything that we need.

Well, just to keep you reading a wee bird has told me that we have to turn a test spindle for the new look Gallery.

So don’t worry folks I will keep you posted!

Bye for now!