Turnings for An Historic Building

Turnings for An Historic Building

Every once in awhile I get phonecalls from contractors who are working on historic buildings and are in need of some turnings. Such was the case when the Welsh Owens building in downtown Charlottetown was  undergoing a renovation/restoration. The pillars on the street level facade of the shopfronts had to have the bottoms replaced. 140 years of rain, snow and sun had taken it’s toll on the lower part of the pillars. They needed to be exact replicas and a ‘split turning’ which gives them a flat back, which is not something you find easily. So you have to call the Crazy Old Lady in the country….

Owens Welsh Building

I love this old building which was built in 1872 for two prominent politicians, merchants and shipbuilders named Lemuel Owen and William Welsh, the Italianate style building was and still is located on lower  Queen Street. This large four-story structure with decorative brickwork, wooden pillars, round-arched upper windows and a row of three storefronts with wonderful display windows has played an important role in the history of Charlottetown and remains one of the most impressive buildings along the historic streetscape.

Over the years it was home to prominent newspapers of the bygone days, as well as other various retail shops but it is best known for its wholesale grocery businesses (J.T. Peardon’s, R.E. Mutch and Company and later the Kay’s Brothers). It suffered three fires throughout it’s life that had damaged the interior leaving the exterior walls intact.

“The building was purchased in 2009 by CADC to ensure that it would see restoration at some point and not be demolished. CADC completed environmental and structure testing on the building along with testing on the brick exterior. It was determined that the building was still structurally sound and ready for restoration. The building remained on the market for three years and had some interest from several buyers. The building was sold to local property development company APM in the summer of 2012 and restoration began.”

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEI

So love these ceilings..unbelievably beautiful

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEI

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEI

Massive old timbers, I am just so happy that this place has been saved. The photos are from the CADC collection.


These are the pieces sent to my workshop to have replicas made..they were in a pretty sorry state. They were originally old growth pine.

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEI

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEI


I milled some blanks out of big planks of douglas fir, which would stand up well outdoors, the result gave me wood that was 5.5 inches thick and 11 inches wide, I cut that into lengths that would give me the height I needed and nice surfaces to glue up.Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEITo be able to have these turned then split in half I used yellow glue spread sparingly on each inside surface of each blank with large sheets of white paper in between. I left them for about two days firmly in the clamps to dry before I put them on the lathe.

Owens Welsh building Charlottetown PEIFor added security while turning I mounted a false plate of 3/4 inch plywood on the end with the tailstock, mounted a 6 inch faceplate securely to the other end. Sometimes if you tighten the tailstock with a split turning it will pry the pieces apart when you tighten it, the plywood avoids that disaster. These were heavy large blocks and the wood is soft.

douglas fir split turningdouglas fir split turningFirst one finished with many more to go. Once you get them to this stage things go relatively fast. douglas fir split turningAfter they were all turned and removed from the lathe I crossed my fingers that the last step would work…The last procedure is so cool and still to this day gives me a big thrill. I take a large chisel and mallet placing the point of the chisel directly on the joint where the two pieces of fir are joined together…then tap it gently and carefully making a wedge between the halves, then slowly wait for the paper to tear….

douglas fir split turningAnd it starts to pull apartdouglas fir split turningAnd there you have it, two exact halves to help make a series of flat backed posts. These just give you the best feeling in the world, I love a challenge every now and again.

douglas fir split turningI sanded the paper away on the backs before I packed them up for delivery. I didn’t have to paint them but did fill the checks and sand these four before they were put in the boxes.

douglas fir split turningThe final result..here they are on the almost finished building, looking like they had always graced the bottom of these pillars. I love that aside from my surfacer and the electricity to run my lathe, they were made by hand just like they would have been 140 years ago.

douglas fir split turning


owens welsh building CharlottetownA beautiful shot of one of the restaurants and my turnings that call the Owen Welsh building home. LOVE the bright red door !! Thank you to the great folks at Discover Charlottetown for this photo.


The post Turnings for An Historic Building appeared first on Cattails Woodwork by Brenda Watts.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.