Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Restoring A Tired Old Shove Ha'penny

Even though the game of Shove Ha'penny is not nearly as popular as it once was, boards can still be bought new from various sources. At best these will be made from solid hardwood, usually Oak or Mahogany, possibly even hand made and very attractive. The cheapest available are usually made from particle board, laminated with hardwood. Perfectly serviceable for play, but often uninspiring to look at and more prone to irreversible damage, particularly if accidentally exposed to moisture which will often raise the veneer.

Alternatively, there are numerous older boards to be found if you're prepared to hunt around antique and collectors shops, and so long as you're careful to avoid obvious damage and unacceptable warping, you'll end up with a much more attractive board, and often a far superior playing surface. Inevitably, an old neglected Shove Ha'penny Board may need some TLC before it's ready for play, so here are a few tips for restoring a solid wood board to playable condition.

The principal faults with this old Mahogany Board are one or two splits in the wood, tarnished Brass Lifters which are stiff to use, a surface which is dry and marked, and the Brass end rail is tarnished and loose. In it's favour, the splits are minor and not in the playing zone, the board is still totally flat and un-warped, and all lifters are in situ and not significantly bent or damaged.

The surface of a board of this age is always going to have a few dints and dents, and may also have some staining. In practise all but the deepest gouges are acceptable, but if you're unsure, it may be worth sliding a few coins up the bed to check that all is well before purchase. Staining can often go too deeply into the wood grain to be easily sanded out. The last thing you want is a sanded out trough in the playing surface, so do judge whether you can live with any staining which may have to stay. The stains on this board have been caused by leaving Ha'pennys on the surface (note the Queens Head), probably in a damp environment. I decided to leave them since as stains go, these are thoroughly 'in chararcter' with the game, and don't look too unattractive.

The first job was to strip all the metalwork off the board, including the tricky job of removing all the old rusty tacks from the curved end. Often these will break as you try to lever them out, leaving the only option to hammer them flush with the wood. The dowels on this board are used to lock-in the Brass Lifters. Polish all the Brass with an appropriate paste, but on an old board like this I don't like to go for a high sheen, just clean of staining, rust or corrosion. When replacing the end strip, be careful not to use tacks which are either too long or too thick, as the wood may be liable to split. There is likely to be quite an accumulation of old chalk in the grooves, removing this with a folded piece of sanding paper will help when relocating the Brass Lifters.

I've tried a few different polishes for the hardwood surface and have come down firmly on the side of Black Bison Fine Paste Wax Polish. This polishes up with a dry and exceptionally smooth surface, without any hint of the persistent 'tackiness' you'll get with some other products, Briwax for example. If your board appears to be unfinished wood with a very smooth surface, you may decide not to add anything, and I would always advise a 'less is more' approach to the actual playing surface. Any amount of stickiness or tack will seriously reduce the glide of coins on the surface, and may prove difficult to clean or polish off once applied. I've seen varnished boards, but this doesn't seem a very good surface to me. If you want a high sheen, I'd say you're going to have to learn the time consuming process of French Polishing.

Standard wood glue and clamping should fix any splitting of the wood, but a major split on the playing surface could be impossible to repair effectively and may prove to be a board which is more trouble than it's worth.

You don't need to blacken the scoring areas, chalk marks should show up well enough on bare wood, but it can make for a neater finish to the board. There are two ways of blackening the strips, one more attractive than the other in my opinion. Some use Blackboard Paint for the job, but this is perhaps only appropriate on a cheaper model as the paint can leave quite a thick finish. Much better is to Ebonise the wood in some way, and I've had good results with a bottle of Black Indian Ink, masking tape, and a small piece of cloth, as shown here.

The finished board could perhaps do with another wax polish, but has a beautifully smooth surface, and all the lifters work well now. Total cost including purchase from an antiques centre was less than £25.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this info, it will help me restore a slightly tired handmade board, especially the polishing side.

Mark said...

Thanks for that. Some people avoid polish altogether, and I've started using paraffin as an alternative. Just avoid anything with bees wax, it never seems to entirely dry, leaving a slight tackiness. Best of luck.