Hearing Sounds From Your Furniture? It May Be Telling You Something

The space around this china cabinet door indicates the cabinet is not sitting level and the door probably sticks or scrapes. The cabinet just needs to be leveled.

Sometimes it seems that there just aren’t any quiet spaces or times left these days. Between kids, traffic, television, radio, iPods, cell phones and Harleys it is hard to find a serene nook to curl up in and just enjoy the silence.

One good place would seem to be an empty house or even a full house late at night after everyone has turned in. But then again, even the best of houses is not always silent. Each house has its own set of sounds that accompany it each day and night, and the sounds are often different depending on the time of day or night. The hum of machinery, the clicking on or off of the heating system, the icemaker filling up and the normal expansion and contraction sounds of a building are always present.

The same can often be said about the furniture in the house. Even the best piece of furniture is not always silent. So what does your furniture say to you and what does it mean? Let’s take a look at a few common examples.

One of the most frequently heard sounds from furniture, especially an older or antique chest of drawers or dresser, is a disturbing “bump” when you close a drawer. What’s the matter with it? It opens perfectly fine every time, but it has that disturbing bump when you close it. That is the sound of many years of use and few instances of maintenance. The most common cause of the bump is worn drawer runners that allow the drawer to drop slightly as you open it. The when you close it, the back of drawer front hits the rail between the drawers, thus the bump.

Empty the noisy drawer and remove it from the case. Turn it upside down and look at the drawer sides. Are they worn down? Place a straight edge along the bottom of a side to see how worn it really is. Then take a look inside the case at where the drawer runners meet the case. Feel the area with your fingers. Can you feel the groove where the runners have worn into the case? If the drawer sides are worn significantly, or if the inside case runners are deeply grooved, you have found the source of the bump. Drawer runners and case runners can both be repaired easily by a knowledgeable furniture professional.

Bedhooks in bed frames are built so they can be separated. This is one likely place for annoying bed squeaks.

Another common sound found in furniture is the annoying “scrape” often heard when opening a cabinet door. The first inclination is to think the door needs to be trimmed or shaved, but that needs some further thought. The cabinet was probably originally built on the square and the doors were probably square to start with, too. While it is true some doors or cases do warp over time, it is not the most common cause of the irritating scrape. The most common cause is that case has gotten out of square since it was placed in its current location. Perhaps it was never placed squarely to start with.

Stand back and take a look at the cabinet with the doors closed. Is the space around the door even all the way around or does it slope at an angle in some places? Look closely at where the top leading edge of the door meets the cabinet. Is the space even or is it wider at one end than the other? If the spaces are uneven around the door the cabinet is “out of whack.” Push up on one corner of the top of the case. Does the uneven space around the door get better or worse. If it gets better, that side of the cabinet needs to be shimmed on the bottom corner. If it gets worse shim the opposite side. You can easily shim the cabinet by sliding combinations of nickels, dimes and quarters under a front edge. They won’t compress over time as paper or wood shims, and they won’t leave a mark.

This late 1800s china cabinet has lots of individual glass panes that like to vibrate to the stereo. Finding which pane vibrates is simple. Just touch each one.

If you like to play music and have a good sound system you may occasionally get some backtalk from a china cabinet or bookcase. It will be subtle, but it will be evident. It sounds like a rattle, and it’s not very loud, but it has an odd frequency you can’t miss. Check out the glass panels in the cabinet. Slightly loose sheets of glass love to vibrate to the low frequencies of surround-sound stereo systems, especially if the glass is held in place in the door with wooden trim molding strips. Sometimes these strips shift position or work slightly loose in transport, and you will hear the vibration many years later. Locate the loose pane of glass simply by placing your hand on different panes. The loose pane will stop rattling when you touch it. The fix may be as simple as sliding a piece of cardboard under the trim molding, or it may require the removal and reinstallation of the panel.

One of the most annoying furniture sounds is the squeaking bed frame, not the bed itself. In this case, remember sound is caused by vibration and vibration means something is loose. It could be a joint in the headboard or footboard, but more likely it is in the joints where the side rails meet the headboard. These joints are meant to come apart, so there is no surprise that they may work loose and make noise. The simple fix is to remove the side rails and reinstall them. If that doesn’t work try spraying the joint with some upholstery-grade silicone lubricant. That usually will quiet a loud joint.

Then there is the ultimate furniture sound—the crash. If it is not accompanied by a scream, you probably are OK for a short time. If there was a human sound, you better get going. Good luck.

Send your comments, questions and pictures to me at PO Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423 or info@furnituredetective.com.

Visit Fred’s newly redesigned website at www.furnituredetective.com and check out the new downloadable “Common Sense Antiques” columns in .pdf format. His book How To Be A Furniture Detective is now available for $18.95 plus $3 shipping. Send check or money order for $21.95 to Fred Taylor, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423.

Fred and Gail Taylor’s DVD, “Identification of Older & Antique Furniture,” ($17 + $3 shipping and handling) and a bound compilation of the first 60 columns of “Common Sense Antiques,” by Fred Taylor ($25 + $3 shipping and handling) are also available at the same address. For more information call 800-387-6377 (Monday through Friday only, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time), fax 352-563-2916, or e-mail info@furnituredetective.com. All items are also available directly from their website, www.furnituredetective.com.

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