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Cedar Box Care and Repair

Tall hasp with feet half cleaned
Information about box finishes

Lane  boxes were finished with two kinds of top coats.  Early boxes (those with hasps) were finished with shellac and all others were finished with lacquer.   The solvent for shellac is alcohol and the solvent for lacquer is lacquer thinner.  Both finishes are relatively durable but both have been found to crack or "alligator" over time.  This appears as a rough and uneven surface.   Both finishes can be repaired by carefully sanding the rough areas and then re-applying a top coat of satin spray lacquer.  For those "purist" out there, you may have watched too many episodes of Antiques Road Show - go ahead, make the boxes look better - you'll be proud you did!  However, be careful, these boxes were sprayed with a red tinted lacquer.  If you strip the entire finish off, you will lose the original color.  Evidence of the coloration is easily evident.  The outside of the box has a different color than the bottom and interior.  So, LIGHT sanding using a 3M pad or 0000 steel wool is perhaps all you should do.  For example, half of the THF box above was simply cleaned (see below) and then top-coated with two coats of satin spray lacquer.  

How to clean a box

Lane boxes are between 20 and 90 years old.  Who knows what they've been through!   Cleaning can be done with any method acceptable for wood cleaning and products made specifically for this use would be fine.  Two products that aren't necessarily wood cleaning products but do a fine job are, for light cleaning, Simple Green and for heavier work, Krud Kutter really gets the job done.  Many of these boxes have been exposed to cigarette smoke and sometimes a heavy cleaning is necessary.  Again, a 3M pad, 0000 steel wool or a rag usually works fine to apply these cleaners.

A light sanding of the inside with 150, 180 or 220 grit sandpaper will clean up the inside and restore that great cedar scent!  This sanding can also get rid of the smell of perfume or the random crayon or pen mark that is often found inside the boxes.  If you really want that cedar smell back, you can apply cedar oil.  

After-cleaning protection

After you get your box nice and clean, you may want to protect the finish or just shine it up a little.

Look no further than Howard's Wax-n-Feed.  This wax and citrus blend works great and smells pretty good too!  You can find Howard's many places including on-line, Home Depot, Ace, etc.  Follow the directions on the bottle.  This finish can be put on your freshly cleaned surface or applied over your new spray lacquer coat as a protectant.  Don't apply it on the unfinished areas of the box (bottom and inside) as it tends to darken the wood and can be un-sightly.  

Box repair - Wood

Unfortunately, years of abuse and humidity changes can cause the wood of our boxes to split or crack.  The best remedy for cracks is glue - simple yellow wood glue.  Force the crack open as much as possible without making it any bigger and then force as much glue as possible into the crack.  Then, force the crack back together making sure to line everything back up and then clamp in place until the glue dries.  Clean up the glue "squeeze-out" before it dries with a wet rag to avoid problems later.  Clamping is best done with woodworking clamps but blue tape can sometimes work if the crack isn't displaced too much.   Follow the cleaning and protection processes above as necessary.  

Box repair - Hinges

The hinges of our boxes are probably the most frequently damaged hardware item.  Years of use often cause the hinges to become loose and misaligned leading to the lid not closing properly.  In the case of nailed-in hinges, aside from minor surgery, you may only be able to push in the nails that have worked loose.  You can us a little drop of C.A. (super) glue to tighten the nails but be very careful to not get it on the finish!

For pressed-in hinges there are three things that commonly occur. 

One, the pin holding the two parts of the hinge works itself loose and it protrudes out one end of the hinge causing the hinge parts to be misaligned.  Easy fix - push the pin back in with a nail-set or a blunt tool while the hinge pieces are held in alignment.

Two, the hinges are loose in the wood.  This problem may require the hinge to be removed in order to fill the enlarged hole.  Epoxy wood filler will do the trick but be careful because it can cause problems while reinserting the hinge if you use too much filler.  Although the hinges have a barb on the end where they are pressed into the wood, they can usually be removed with gentle even pressure without damaging the wood.

Three, the hinges are "sprung" or bent out of alignment.  This is very common and can usually be fixed by first making sure the hinge is completely set in both the lid and the box.  Then, with the lid closed, without pulling the hinges out of position, gently bend the hinges by pushing the LID in the direction of alignment.  Usually going just past the aligned position will lead to the hinges being aligned when the pressure is released.  Important, do this when the lid is closed!

Box repair - Lock-set and catch

More often than not the key to our boxes have been lost over the years.  (See Key Replacement section to replace your key.)  Without a key it can be hard to tell if the lock-set actually works.  If you do have a key and you can't turn the lock while the lid is OPEN, the lock-set may simply be frozen in place from rust or corrosion.  If the lock won't turn, first try spraying WD-40 in the key hole and down into the lock from above to see if it can be loosened.  The lock is very simple - the key pushes a thin piece of metal inside the lock that acts as a spring.  If the lock won't budge, remove it from the box with gentle upward prying pressure.  You will find the lock is not connected to the escutcheon on the front of the box - it can remain in place while the lock is removed.  The lock is held together by two small "ears" bent over.  Unbend the ears and inspect the inside of the lock making sure the thin metal spring is in the correct position for the lock to operate.  It should be very obvious to you how the lock works while it is open - not much to it. Reverse your procedure to put the lock back on the box.  Press it into place with steady even pressure.  A rag covered pliers works well and won't damage the wood.  

Sometimes the lock mechanism will move from locked to open but the lid catch doesn't get "hooked" by the lock.  The part of the locking mechanism found on the lid is called the catch.  The catch has a little hole in it.  The hole in the catch must be hooked or captured by the part of the lock that flips into place when the key is turned to the lock position.  Use pliers to manipulate/bend the catch into a position where it is hooked or captured by the lock.  Some trial and error and a low angle view will get the job done with some patience.  

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