J. Laffan Fine Art Conservation

Professional Conservation and Restoration of Fine Art and Antiques, Ireland

Repaing Wood Panels

Restoration of 17th C. portrait, oil on oak panel, 50x40cm approx.

Wood is an excellent support for oil painting, less prone to damage, good for fine detail and if surface cracks appear they will be very fine. But it has its own problems. Most panels are made from boards glued together at the edges with animal water soluble glues. It is worth remembering that wood is made of fibre tubes that suck up fluids. These contract when dry and expand when wet, all placed beside each other in a wide panel the movement can be considerable, so care must be taken to allow for this in conservation, also care must be taken when framing.

A variety of woods of different thickness were used, including: oak; chestnut; poplar; lime; the fruit woods; apple; cherry; and walnut.
Portrait of man in fancy collar, painted  on wooden panel that has split in half
The painting before any repair
Restored portrait showing no signs of having been broken
Completed work
This panel was made from two half inch boards. At some stage in its history keyed tabs were glued across the seam. The grain was in the opposing direction which can only have acted to put pressure on the join in humid conditions - contributing to the failure of the glue resulting in the painting splitting in two.
photo of back of portrait, showing two wooden panels that have become seperated
The two halves of the painting seen from the back
photo of the two panels joined together - correctly this time
The two panels securely fixed together
This panel was glued together using seven tabs (1.5×1.5x.5 inches). They were needed for extra grip and were glued with the grain in the same direction as the grain in the panel.